TERRY PRONE: Futility of celebrities penning letters to their mythical teenage selves

Victoria Beckham and her 17-year-old son Brooklyn; Ms Beckham has written a letter to her teenage self.

Every celeb wants to demonstrate that she’s just like us which she sure as hell isn’t, writes Terry Prone.

THERE’S a special place in hell reserved for two kinds of people. The first are the inventors of the flat roof, which has caused more grief to humanity than any other aspect of construction.

The second is for whoever invented the device of getting famous people to write letters to their younger selves.

Like the flat roof, on the face of it, these letters are a good idea.

They allow the celeb (most recently Victoria Beckham and Caroline Wozniacki) to be self-deprecating, and self-deprecation is adorable

Every celeb wants to demonstrate that she’s just like us which she sure as hell isn’t.

In Beckham’s case, it permits her to share that when she was a teenager, she was so plump (her Victorian word) that the teacher put her at the back of the class group.

But the key thing about these essays is the underlying assumption, which is that, once you’re in your 30s or 40s, you have achieved a level of wisdom about the present and the past permitting you to hold forth and lecture your adolescent self about the truths of life.

Eternal verities, here we come.

Because what we’ll kindly call the insights involved refer, for the most part, to only one mythical recipient, teenagers do not, as they should, rise in a body and tell the lecturing oldsters to stuff it. Also, of course, this is the kind of offering which tends to be read by an older generation anyway.

The younger generation are too occupied getting on with what the younger generation, in any century, is supposed to do: Take risks, make mistakes, try the impossible, sulk on a cosmic scale, drink themselves stupid, cope with acne, withstand the godawful peers with whom they are afflicted and seek to disregard the preaching of their elders.

The notion that the younger version of oneself is seated, hands folded in lap, ready to attend to the lessons learned by their older self misses every available point.

Starting with the belief that we learn lessons as we go through life.

We don’t. We kid ourselves that we do. But whenever we’re unfortunate enough to knock up against the people we went to primary school with, the most obvious factor about them is that they’re exactly the same.

The snide, sneering bullies are still snide, sneering bullies. Just older. The diligent perfectionists are still egging to meet every deadline and have every surface shining brighter than a TV ad for Flash.

The sports-mad ones are still talking about Ironperson stuff and mini-marathons. They look older and wiser. They are older. Full stop.

I knew a hell of a lot more at 18 than I do now.

I knew, for example, that “cleanse, tone, and moisturise” was the greatest load of cobblers dreamed up by cosmetic manufacturers to try to flog more stuff.

I knew that teachers who cosied up to their students and let fall casual references to pop songs were: a) creepy, and b) always six weeks out of date with the song citation. I knew that porridge was a gloopy abomination I would never, ever eat once I was grown-up. I knew that chips, crisps, Crunchies, and chocolate biscuits made you fat, but did it ever stop me?

No. Because adolescence is such a war zone that chips, crisps, Crunchies, and chocolate biscuits are the equivalent of GI rations: There for the eating as compensation and fuel for the miserable wider context.

Investment, too, I was a hotshot on, knowing that three investments are essential and life-enhancing.

One is a car, which is a ticket, not just to ride, but to permit its owner to live free and get away from awful people, including those living in the family home.(Even the happiest family has moments that call out for vehicular escape).

That first Fiat 850 was expensive, but until the brakes failed and it ploughed into a parked Jeep, was pure wonderful. The first week I could do my driver test, I did it and from then on, life was good.

The second investment worth making, even as a broke 18-year-old, was in technology. Don’t want to boast or anything, but I was the first person in Ireland to own a portable computer.

OK, “portable” is stretching it a bit. It weighed the same as a container ship and was the size of a wheelie suitcase without the wheels, but it meant I could work anywhere.

Well, anywhere with a table or desk sufficiently strong to support the weight of a container ship.

And the little floppy discs were so cool.

The third investment I was sensitive to from the time I was 12. Great high-heeled shoes are always worth the money spent on them.

Give you all the joy of alcohol without the hangover, all the high of cocaine without the let-down.

Mercifully, I didn’t get any advice from my older self, but if I had, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it, so busy was I coping with the tsunami of advice from every other older person.

The constant pressure to get into shorts and sweatiness started in school and although gyms weren’t as prevalent, back then, one was surrounded by a collective conviction that exercise was good for you. Also bran/roughage, getting up early, and not squeezing pimples.

Remember Edmund Hillary, who said he climbed Everest that first time, because “it was there”? Ditto pimples. They exist to get squeezed. What other purpose could they serve?

Another piece of advice was that you should have a tidy desk. I didn’t have a tidy anything. I had to throw myself into the bed from the bedroom door, so high did the constant detritus rise.

My deskmate, Treasa Drea, bought herself an extra sturdy, extra long ruler so she could gently but firmly relocate the mountain of copies, books, pens, scarves, Crunchies, and unidentified unflying objects over to my side of our shared work surface.

My car was and is a moving skip.

This may explain why I have never seen a skip that I didn’t love and want to scavenge. Nobody, then or since, has ever produced persuasive evidence that tidiness is next to Godliness or contributes to a stellar career.

Rather the contrary; research does suggest that having too scrupulously clean a home tends to be associated with, if not directly causative of, childhood asthma.

Even at 18, I knew, instinctively, as does every teenager, what advice to reject. Any advice coming with the phrase “Trust me,” for starters.

It’s like when people on the radio say “To be perfectly honest with you,” thereby establishing that this is exceptional to their usual pattern. When someone tells you they are trustworthy, they are SO not. Sometimes, back then, “trust me” came holding hands with “I went through the same thing.”

The experience referred to may have had points of commonality, but it’s never the same as the agony being experienced by the teenager at the time.


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