10 Things I Wish I'd Known At Seventeen

The one really good thing about not being a teenager is that, particularly by the time you reach your 30s and 40s, you've learned a few things that, had you known them in your teens, would have saved you a lot of time, a lot of bother and a lot of angst. For example, and I'm not being all virtuous here, but I have only been truly hungover on three occasions and not since I was 19. The first time, I was too young to know any better. On the second, too thrilled with the lack of parent or teacher to resist the temptation. And the third, too hacked off with an employer who treated their staff like cattle and made the mistake of having a free bar at the Christmas party. But it didn't take me long to realise that no night of intoxicated and joyous abandon is ever worth the awful after-effects. In that regard, at least, I was a very quick learner.

But there are other things that take a bit of living to figure out. That, even if someone told you it, you wouldn't believe or understand until you'd been through it. You've probably learned them all by now. But, just in case, and in the event that someone not so world-wisened has dropped by, here are my top ten words of advice for the young.  

1    The biggest strawberry probably has the least taste. 

Okay, you probably learned the literal version of this when you were about eight. But it applies to lots of other things too. If you're anything like me, time after time you see something that looks a thousand times better than everything else around it, and you have to have it. When you get it, you're disappointed because nothing can ever truly live up to that much anticipation. Yes, sometimes the best things really do come in small packages.

2    No matter how many times you've heard your grandparents' war/childhood stories, when they're gone, you'll wish you'd listened more carefully.                 

We all love and treasure time spent with our grandparents, right? Treats, hugs, and very little chance of being told off. But sometimes, even the best of us get a big fidgety when gran or grandpa is telling us the story about the 'day war broke out' for the umpeenth time. This reaction is normal, of course it is. But, trust me, they won't be with you for ever and one day, when you are no longer able to ask them about it, you'll think of a thousand things you ought to have discussed with them.

3     No matter how often you swear you never will, one day you will hear yourself using that phrase your parents used with you.

Even I, as a non-parent, now realise there's a reason parents say certain things. One, there's a limited number of ways you can say anything. Eventually they find their favourite and repeat it. Two, it's useful to have a set phrase to draw on when kids are playing up. You don't always have time to reason. And three, their parents used it on them. It's an endless cycle and there's nothing you can do about it.

4     You can't run away from trouble. There ain't no place that far.

Okay, I'm quoting Uncle Remus in Song of the South here, but what he says is true. Eventually, if you do something wrong, the truth will out. It might only be a vase you broke that you blamed on the cat. Or a hat that you deliberately 'lost' because you hated it. But you'll get found out. And no, I'm not daft enough to use my own examples here. Besides most of my misdemeanours already got found out. And that's the point. As Uncle Remus probably also said - you may as well fess up now.

5     The 'lifeplan' that you and your friends made – I'm talking to the ladies here – is a useless exercise and will have no bearing on your life. 

I'd strayed from mine by the time I was 19. You really can't see what's up ahead, what opportunities, or setbacks, you'll experience. You might imagine meeting the bloke you're going to marry at 23 and marrying at 26, having three kids (two boys and a girl) and being made a director of your firm by 30. But this is very, very unlikely to happen. Of the friends I had at school, as far as I know, none of us followed our supposed plan. And that's good. Would you really want to know what you life would be like? Every step of the way? Exactly!  So why give yourself a target you know you will never hit?

6     That, no matter how 'well' you do in life. How fulfilling/rewarding/impressive your job/lifestyle/family life is, there will be someone – most likely several someones, perhaps even people you are related to – who will refuse to acknowledge that it's any good. 

When this happens, and I'm, so far, yet to meet anyone this hasn't happened to, you have to draw a deep breath and ignore it. Life isn't about impressing other people – particularly people who go out of their way to be unimpressed – it's about being content. And only you can know if you've achieved that.

7     One day, quite suddenly, and probably sooner than you think, you will feel old. 

For me it came the day I found myself having to explain the concept of the television test card. Yes you do remember it! Oh, just go Google it! The feeling of being old passes quickly enough, but it takes some adjusting to when you realise that there are grown adults who can't remember basic, everyday things like close-down, Co-op stamps and Crackerjack. But you'll manage. And, eventually, you'll be glad you can remember those things. Trust me.

8     There will come a day when you will seriously consider lying about your age. 

Believe me, by the time you've ticked that age box on a form a few hundred times (especially once you start advancing into the one that looks worryingly like middle age), you'll resent having to label yourself all the time. It's not that I mind being the age I am, it's just that I mind being asked about it for the purposes of planting a big label on me. I am not my age, my dress size, my  asthma, or my ethnicity. While I have never actually lied about my age, let's just say, should someone estimate it (and it be less than it should) then I am unlikely to correct them. And, before you wonder, so far no-one has over-estimated my age so I haven't decided on what course of action to take in that eventuality.

9     One day you will have a birthday when you don't know, three months in advance, what you would like as a present.

As unlikely as this seems when you are a kid, there will come a day when you have been able to treat yourself from time to time. This means that, come birthday time, it can be a bit more difficult for people buying you presents. It's not that you have everything, but that you have all the obvious things. But that's okay, it's a good thing. And birthdays can become a bit more of a surprise!

10  The line between stone cold sober and one too many is much finer than you think.

No matter how much we train ourselves to be sensible, there will be times when we drink at least one glass of chardonnay too many. This does not mean that we will have an horrendous hangover come morning, or that we will humiliate ourselves by dancing naked on the table. But even one more glass than we're used to can have certain consequences. We can become more verbose. We can reveal just that little bit more information than we might have done earlier in the evening. If you think you're one of those people who doesn't have any secrets, just take an extra glass or two next time you're out with friends. Crush on a friend's hubby? It's revealed! Secret lust for Andrew Marr? You said it! The truth about that weekend in Blackpool? Now everyone knows!

And no, these aren't my confessions. Again, I'm not that stupid. Plus, it's just after eleven and I just had a strong coffee. Now, try me again around nine …