Posted by Tania Kindersley.
You know that I am tremendously each to each, and laissez faire, and all those things. I never really understand the impulse people have to instruct other people in how to run their lives. (A friend told me yesterday that she has someone who arrives in the house and at once starts complaining about the dogs and telling my poor friend where she is going wrong, in matters canine. I find this inexplicable.) I dread sentences that start 'You should', or 'Oh, you must'. It is the cussed in me that so resists the hideous Must-have, beloved by the magazines.
But, I am all for what the magazines call, with equal ugliness, 'Top Tips'. 'Helpful Hints' is almost worse, but I suppose there is no good collocation. The thing itself, though, must be good. It is the excellent but non-prescriptive sharing of wisdom. I crave top tips, as long as they are not forced on me. Years ago, someone once said to me: would you rather be happy, or would you rather be proud? It sounds stupidly reductive, and it would fit on a bumper sticker, but once you start thinking about it, it turns out to one of the most useful questions one can ever ask in life. I love William Zinsser's advice that you should never use a long word where a short one will do. I am, as you have probably gathered by now, enduringly obsessed with Occam's Razor. There is the homespun: soup is always better on the second day. There is the practical: brown parcel paper and an iron will get wax straight out of the carpet. There is the philosophical: prejudices are what fools use for reason.
My tip of the moment is: if you do one thing today, call your old people. My poor parents are not very well at the moment. Everything hurts. I spoke to them both in the last forty-eight hours. I cannot make their aching bones stop aching, or halt their horrid ailments with my bare hands, but I can make them laugh for ten minutes. It really does appear that laughter is the best medicine. They respond particularly well to teasing. It takes hardly any effort on my part, but I can leave them feeling better than I found them, just because of one antic conversation. I get the bonus of a small glow of achievement. I spend half my life regretting that I can do nothing about the women of the Congo; I feel the usual first-world guilt that I am not going and doing some honourable aid work. (Acutely aware of my limitations, which are legion.) But I can make my old mum and dad laugh. It's a small thing, but it's not nothing.
Now I should like a tip on how to listen to the TUC conference without wanting to throw heavy items at the radiophonic device. I am an old lefty; I love and believe in the idea of unions. But there is something about those self-righteous union leaders, with their canting and their clichés and their crass holier than thou that makes me want to shout.
At the moment, I am looking at pictures of coos and flowers and tree bark in an attempt to restore my equilibrium: