If you’ve reached a quarter of a century you need to understand what separates the men from the boys – from coping with danger to a working knowledge of the world before Breaking Bad. Oh, and admitting you’ve left it too late to be a professional footballer. Deal with it.
1. How to play something on the piano
Just one piece, that’s enough. When people shout “Encore!”, you can modestly get up and say it’s someone else’s turn.
It’s dangerous to know more than one piano piece, because when people shout “Encore!”, they don’t actually mean it. They want to get on with their lives. Heaven forbid you take them seriously and hammer away all afternoon. Just give them the theme from Hill Street Blues and stand up again.
2. How to undo a bra
(Whether it’s your own or someone else’s; I’m not judging you.) Come on, it’s not that bloody difficult.
You just have to locate the little metal clip bits and sort of push them towards each other before you pull them apart, although the pulling shouldn’t happen until you’ve sort of unhooked them. Or do you unhook afterwards? Hang on a minute while I try with mine. Give me a second – those clips have to be here somewhere. Ah yes. Off we come. Hello boys.
Anyway, it’s doable. But you do not need to know how to do it with one hand. Nobody can do that, except God and Peter Stringfellow. So put down the Martini and concentrate.
3. How you would react in a danger situation
Would you leap to the front, instructing and helping? Or would you crouch at the back, sobbing and vomiting with fear? People say, “I don’t think you can know until you’ve actually experienced a gun siege/plane crash/shipwreck/stag night.” But look deep into your soul. You know.
4. The difference between ‘infer’ and ‘imply’
You may infer from this that I’m implying language is important. From which I infer that you don’t, which is not to imply that you definitely don’t, only that I infer it. Good luck.
5. That you’re never going to be a professional footballer or cricketer
Too late: the boat’s sailed, the ship’s sunk, the clock’s ticked, it’s never going to happen. Play a bit of squash for fun, and start looking after your knees.
6. Which great writers it’s OK to say are terrible, and which not
If you dismiss DH Lawrence or Henry James, people will think you’re clever, quirky and discriminating. If you denigrate Joseph Conrad, George Orwell or Vladimir Nabokov, they’ll think you’re not a proper man.
7. Whether or not you like golf
If it’s a yes, you should also know that this does not mean you should have golf calendars, mugs, hats or other memorabilia. At 50, you might find yourself doubting the decision and yearning for socks with little clubs and tees on them. At that point, read this again.
8. How to put backspin on a cue ball so that it will hit the red and stay still
Do you need more detailed instructions here? Ask someone else.
9. How to change a tyre, bleed a radiator, replace a fuse and hit a nail with a hammer without making it go all wonky
These things are tremendously boring; it’s no good trying to learn them after 25, because a sense of mortality has kicked in. I, for example, will be going on a course in car maintenance on the day they discover the elixir of eternal life, and not a moment sooner. If you don’t figure out your basic maintenance skills by the age of 25, you never will.
10. That if you want to ‘be a screenwriter’, you can’t just…
…sit there waiting for Steven Spielberg to ring the bell with a suitcase of money and an idea about an alien that rides a horse.
11. That if you want to ‘be a photographer’, you can’t just…
…sit there waiting for someone to phone you up and say there are 12 hot girls on a Caribbean beach waiting for you to snap them.
12. That if you want to ‘be a celebrity chef’, you can’t just…
…oh, let’s be honest. You’re 25. Man up and get a job in a shop.
13. What your personal method is for putting a cover on a double duvet
Get that sorted, then don’t be swayed by other people’s quicker and better methods. You’ve got your system.
14. How you vote
The options are all much the same, so you needn’t bother listening to all the pretend arguments and policies every time an election comes round. Treat it like a football team: pick one and stick with it. As a reward, you can have a hot dog at half-time.
15. That there’s no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’
(Unless it’s, you know, hookers and coke.) Watching Big Brother, listening to Take That, reading the Sun… These aren’t “guilty pleasures”. They’re your taste. Unlucky. Nevertheless, own those choices.
16. That a wedding isn’t like a normal party
If you’ve said you’re going to go, you have to go. And you have to buy a present, and wear what they tell you to wear, and don’t start a fight or wet yourself.
17. Some stuff about the world before you were born
Things happened before twerking and Breaking Bad. If you failed to pay attention at school, have a bit of a google around the Norman Conquest, the Reformation, the Second World War and the 1966 World Cup. These may all come up in conversation and you shouldn’t look blank.
18. How to take other people’s feelings into consideration
This includes your family. Be the peacekeeper. Yes, even with him.
19. Which red you like and which white you like
Don’t get too panicky about oaked and unoaked, volumes of fruit or mineral tangs. “Spanish red, Australian white” – that’ll do for now.
20. Which shoes to wear when
You’re too old to team trainers with everything, but too young for the politician’s ubiquitous lace-up. (Sandals? No age is correct.) It may be that you favour an “interesting” shoe or brogue; a colourful snakeskin, perhaps. That’s fine. I won’t give you a hard time. I’ve socialised with murderers and kept smiling. But by 25 you should have at least two types of shoe, which I appreciate may mean simply “two pairs”, but you should no longer be relying on the single style to take you through a game of park football, a job interview and dinner with your mother.
21. The concept of limited finance
It’s got to come from somewhere, and it’s going to run out quite soon. You should also know how to complete a tax return accurately, or, if you want to complete it inaccurately, the phone number of a great lawyer.
22. That this is it, physically
You’re not going to get any taller. Your chest has stopped broadening. Your thighs are as thick as they’ll ever be. Your hairline is, if anything, going backwards. From now on, we’re just talking about maintenance.
23. Never to underestimate women, who are exactly the same as men
Yet also completely different in every respect.
24. That you’re very, very young
You’re not allowed to moan about being old until you’re at least 28.
25. How to get around the place without a sat nav
It’s all very well as a backup but, by now, you shouldn’t be fully reliant on a mechanical Mummy telling you when to turn left.
© Victoria Coren/GQ.