In this hilarious extract from their new book, Did I Say That Out Loud?, Jane Garvey and Fi Glover reflect on the life lessons they wish they’d learnt earlier
FI ON THE THINGS WE SHOULD KNOW BEFORE LEAVING HOME
There’s a lot of noise before you leave home. Everyone tells you you’re a grown-up, but in the same tone of voice they’ve used since you were 12. You think you know everything. You’d be fed up with people telling you that you don’t know everything if only you weren’t so convinced that you do.
But perhaps it might be one thing that we can all agree on much further down the line – that when we were young we didn’t know much at all.
I’m pretty sure that I ignored anything my parents said to me between the ages of 15 and 25, but if those same words had been told to me by literally anyone else then I might actually have listened.
So here is a list of genuine things I wish I had known before leaving home at the tender age of 17, released like a dove in a Bonnie Tyler video into the wind machine of life…
- Don’t leave home at 17. If you can help it. Spend as much time in the proving drawer as you can. The final bake will be better. It’s not always possible, I know. It wasn’t for me. But don’t rush out if you don’t have to.
- If the chicken smells off, it probably is.
- If he smells off, he probably is.
- If you smell off, go and see a doctor.
- Most of the time it is sensible to do what the doctor says. For example, always finish the course of antibiotics. I had simple, albeit painful, tonsillitis in my 20s. I didn’t finish a course of antibiotics and I went back to work within three days. I ended up with a ‘quinsy’ tonsil – and, yup, that sounds Dickensian because it is. It resulted in a doctor having to pop it open with a scalpel. Imagine The Exorcist and you are there. I was in a hospital in Dundee for longer than I cared to be. I have nothing against Dundee, it’s a delightful city. It’s the hometown of Lorraine Kelly AND the resting place of the Discovery – but I don’t live in Dundee, nor did any of my friends, and if I’d just stayed home for another four days and finished the course… etc, etc. Repeat to fade.
- While we’re on the health thing – for heaven’s sake learn some first aid. Don’t be one of those people who ‘didn’t know what to do’. You don’t have to train to be on a St John Ambulance team, but why on earth wouldn’t you learn how to save a life if needed?
- Read Anne Tyler. I can’t quote great chunks of her wisdom – or even name her characters – but I know that all she has written about relationships and family life has stayed with me and informs many of my decisions without me realising it. I think it’s called redundant wisdom, isn’t it? It’s the stuff that we put in our heads and don’t always use but can call on when we need to. It’s like central heating for the mind. I’d also highly recommend anything by Elizabeth Strout, Maggie O’Farrell, Nora Ephron, Nick Hornby and a bit of Siri Hustvedt, too. (Although I think Hustvedt is the ginger shot at the juice bar, so don’t worry if you can’t take a whole one.)
- Lovers will make you high, friends will make you happy.
- Never sacrifice the latter for the former.
- While we’re on the love boat – if he/she says he/she loves you within a week of meeting you, it’s probably love that he/she loves more than he/she actually loves you. Beware of the lover who loves love. And good luck with that sentence.
- No one really cares about cellulite apart from you, and you can’t even see it most of the time, so is it worth worrying about?
- Avoid changing rooms with mirrors where you can see your cellulite just on the off chance that No 11 has started to bother you.
- Have you ever, and I mean ever, not liked a friend of yours because they have put on or lost a few pounds? Did you love your parents/ aunts/favourite teachers any the less when they got wrinkles? Nope. So please don’t think about laying that judgment on yourself.
- Don’t reheat rice. Or if you do, reheat it in a microwave until it is like tiny pellets of hardened uncooked rice that appear to be inedible. Then they will be inedible. This method makes sure that you throw it away.
- If a pair of shoes is too tight in the shop, they will always be too tight. Walk away, sister, just walk away.
- Ask lots of questions. Then actually listen to the answers.
- Saying sorry feels good as long as you mean it. Saying sorry when you don’t mean it will turn you into a pain.
- Get pets and look after them well. It’s worth it.
- Don’t get houseplants. No matter how well you look after them they will die and it won’t have been worth it.
- Parking fines don’t pay themselves.
- Avoid peach schnapps.
- The expression ‘first impressions count’ is b*****ks. I have close friends whom I couldn’t stand when I first met them. I now love them. Some people get nervous when they meet others for the first time. Some people are just having a rubbish day. Friendship is like feeding broccoli to a three-year-old – you do have to give it at least a couple of tries.
- Kindness is next to wisdom. Find kind people and stay close. Possibly consider being the kind person yourself.
- The saying ‘A change is as good as a rest’ is b*****ks, too. Often in life I have found sleep is exactly the answer
JANE ON WHY IT’S GOOD TO KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW
You’re right about a great deal here – jolly well done. You’ve certainly nailed the big stuff on love, pets and books. But wrong on houseplants, I’m afraid. I’ve started to invest in these lately and they’re surprisingly forgiving. And, I think, they can lend a faintly bohemian air to what we now call a ‘space’. And when they dry up or the cat attacks them in a fit of feline pique, just buy another, you tight-fisted twit.
Peach schnapps? Right again. I would also add to the list any alcoholic drink of a novelty colour, Pernod, obviously, and Limoncello (even if you have all had a ‘great night’ and you feel an urgent need to ‘round it off’, NO ONE NEEDS A LIMONCELLO). Also: any form of Croatian fig brandy. That’ll rattle right through your Balkans, I can assure you.
I used to leave home regularly as a very small child, hurling a few skinny-ribs in a tartan holdall with my teddy. I was woefully misunderstood, and it was high time I made my own way in the world. The rest of the household got on with their dinner and after a few minutes freezing on the doorstep I stood on tiptoe, rang the bell and was usually readmitted without a word being said. It was a long walk back up the stairs, trying to retain my dignity as I put teddy back in his place on my bed and squashed the jumpers back in the drawer. Maybe next time.
When I did it for real, I was 18 and heading for university. Mum had packed me two mugs. One was for me, the other ‘in case you make a friend’. I think low expectations are a good thing on the whole. She also warned me not to go to bed with wet hair. My sister didn’t come to the door to see me off; she was busy dragging all her belongings across the landing, laying claim to the biggest bedroom at last. No doubt she was mourning my departure in her own way. Dad drove, full of blood-curdling tales of his National Service in Nottinghamshire in the 1950s, apparently to reassure me. He’d seen off the Russians all right. I didn’t know much about what to expect but sensed that freshers’ week in Birmingham probably wouldn’t involve fending off Commies. There was a toga party though, and a Cheese and Wine Mingle.
You’re right, Fi. Seventeen is too young. I think 18 is young. Though maybe I was a very young 18. I think 25 might be about right, if everyone involved can stand it that long. But that assumes everyone has a home prepared to accommodate them, and I know now that isn’t true.
Another thing I also know is that my fixed, predictable, solid family home was a mighty blessing I took for granted. I mocked it and was glad to be free of it, but I always knew it was there. Still there. I could always go back, and they’d let me in.
This is an extract from Did I Say That Out Loud? Notes on the Chuff of Life, to be published on 30 September by Trapeze, £16.99. To order a copy for £15.29, go to mailshop.co.uk/books. Also available as an ebook and audio book