Everyday Life Lessons
Amusing mid-life lessons to unravel best-kept secrets
Are there things that took you years to discover? It was only a decade ago that someone explained to me about the petrol tank thing. On the dashboard of your car, there’s nearly always a drawing of a petrol pump plus an arrow indicating the side of your car that houses the petrol cap.
Bingo. With various cars over 30 years, I’d tried to remember each time I drove in to fill up. I’d crane around, trying to spot it. I’d pull the petrol latch as I drove, hoping the door would spring into view.
It was all pointless. I’d always get it wrong, ending up with the hose pulled tight over the car, trying to stretch another millimetre out of the rubber tube so I could lever the nozzle into the tank.
That’s when I debate whether I should pull even harder on the hose(possible downside: a broken hose,petrol splashing everywhere, my own painful death through fire),or move the car.
Naturally, I never moved the car.Now, though, I know better. I glance at the ideogram, and, whistling a jolly tune, nose my car calmly into the right spot. Life is good. Why didn’t someone tell me earlier?Then, two years ago, I learnt how to clean silver with baking soda, aluminium foil and hot water. You have some tarnished cutlery or jewellery?No more scrubbing away with silver polish and an old toothbrush. The foil creates a chemical reaction in which all the tarnish instantly flees the silver and ends up on the foil.I don’t how it works, so don’t ask me. But you could clean all the silver in Downton Abbey and then,10 minutes later, be sitting in the butler’s pantry swapping stories about the lords and ladies upstairs.
Why isn’t there some sort of manual, given to all of us when we turn 18, explaining both these life lessons?When it comes to adding to the sum of human happiness, this information is better than designer clothes and first-class flights.
But, lo, what’s this? A third revelation arrived just recently. It’s information which, had it emerged earlier in my life, would have saved—let me do some mental arithmetic—174 hours of frustration, bad temper and self-contempt.
Here’s the thing: Apparently,there’s a common standard used by the manufacturers of fitted sheets.They are designed so that the label goes on either the top left or the bottom right of the mattress.
Align it in this way and you’ll never again experience the deep unhappiness of trying to fit the short end on the long end, and the long end on the short end, and then having to start all over again, cursing yourself and lamenting the unfairness of a heartless and unprincipled world.
Of course, even with the new method, you’ll probably discover you were trying to fit a queen sheet to a double bed, or a double sheet to a queen bed, so life remains a sub-optimal experience.
Maybe there’s a solution to this problem too. Perhaps there’s some trick in which people fold the sheets origami style—the double into a peacock, the queen into poodle—ready to put on the beds.
Who knows? My only certainty: There is so much wisdom I have yet to receive. Is there a way, for instance, of packing a picnic cooler so that the meat doesn’t end up wet? Or a way to make compost in which it all doesn't turn into bug-filled sludge?And is it possible to install 12-volt lights in the back garden without rats chewing through the power cord about three days after you put in the work?
I fear, on current experience, I'll be told the answer to all these things when I’m 104 and can no longer bother installing backyard lights or packing a cooler.Couldn’t someone, right now, write a book containing the full list of tricks? You could call it Life: A User’s Guide.
It’s true that I have already learnt some of life’s best lessons. I know that whiskey is always a mistake. I know that bacon, while delicious, inevitably leads to regret. And I know that its never a good idea to buy cheap tools.
I can now put away a power cord so it doesn’t tangle (learnt at age 35); I can uncork champagne so the contents don’t end up on the floor (age 45); and I can fry an egg so the bottom doesn’t end up hard and dry (just last week).
But, still, the questions swirl. How do you clean dog hair off the floor of the car, since the vacuum cleaner makes no difference? How do you open one of those juice or milk boxes without the contents ending up all down your shirt? And how do you stop crumbs accumulating in the cutlery drawer, even though nobody ever goes near it with a piece of toast?
With luck, my life still has a decade or two to run. I’ll need it.There remains so much to learn.For instance: How does one amass a cellar of elegantly aged red wine if some jerk keeps drinking it as soon as it arrives?