Wednesday, 23 April 2014

How not to become Ms Phillips

It's been a while since I posted here. Turns out that it's not the first year of having a toddler and a baby that is the hardest, but the second. Occasionally I have spare time, and occasionally I have bursts of brain activity, but rarely at the same time. ("Don't worry," said a friend, "my mum says the first thirty years are the hardest.")

Mums are full of good advice like that. I recently came across a print-out of an email my mum, Ros, sent me in 2005. I was writing lots of columns at the time - mainly The Independent and New Statesman, sometimes The Guardian and Times Educational Supplement and others - and pitched a piece to the New Statesman on how a young leftie columnist like myself can avoid becoming a Melanie Phillips type figure in the future. It was commissioned, though considered too risque for publication. But the list my mum sent me (all my best work is hers really - we joke it's written using my first name and her surname), is wonderful.

I am 35 now, and struggle sometimes with my carriage leaning to the right slightly as I hurtle down life's tracks, just as I struggle with train metaphors. All my conversations are about house prices and primary schools. Worse, I start these conversations. FML* as people my age pretending to speak like we think young people do would say. (*Fuck My Life). I'd use a hashtag but I've reclaimed my desktop from what used to be my office and is now my son's bedroom and can't seem to find the hashtag on this keyboard. So rereading my mum's list has come at just the right time. Obviously Nelson Mandela is now dead, and it is partly my mum's doing that I was born middle-class (point 9), but it remains brilliant. I hope you enjoy it too.

How not to become Melanie Phillips

1. Keep it real, innit! I mean, make sure you meet real people as it is not so easy to slag off asylum seekers etc if you know a few.

2. Ask yourself how you would feel expounding the grumpy old fart stuff to the face of the person you are slagging off.

3. Don't be starry eyed about people/ideas to start with, then they won't disappoint so much! But remember no-one (or hardly anyone) is as bad - or as good - as you might once have thought.

4. Don't work for publications or write for slots that expect you to be grumpy - what else would they want but grumpiness, for heaven's sake!

5. Don't take yourself too seriously.

6. Don't wear a severe hairstyle, wire rimmed glasses etc. Or you'll have to live up to it.

7. Don't confuse grumpiness with realism - of course as one gets older one gets a bit more circumspect and that's fine, but it is still possible to be optimistic about a better world even if it appears to be a longer and more arduous route than one first hoped i.e. It's okay to get more right wing about means, but not so much about ends, and many people confuse the two and think they have to throw the (ends) baby out with the (means) bathwater.

8. It is fun to fulminate, but that doesn't make the fulminations appropriate. Find other ways to have fun. Get a life.

9. Don't be born middle class. It's the upbringing that comes to reclaim the grumpy ones. They were only flirting with radical thoughts.

10. Imagine you were trying to justify your grumpiness/bitterness to Nelson Mandela,

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