CRAIG BROWN: The greatest life tip is… never, ever try DIY!

CRAIG BROWN: As top celebrities bombard us with advice, the greatest life tip is… never, ever try DIY!

We live in an age of advice, most of it unwanted. 

As I have pointed out before, nowadays you can’t walk 20 yards in a railway station without being told to care for others, avoid slipping, carry water, keep a safe distance, look out for anything suspicious, and so on and so forth.

Authors, too, are catching the bug. Three new autobiographies all contain words of advice.

As readers of the Mail’s serialisation of his memoirs will have spotted, comedian Jimmy Carr’s autobiography contains a list of his ‘special rules to get through life’, most of which promote old-fashioned puritan values of hard work and a stiff upper lip.

‘Make Hard Choices’ he advises, adding: ‘It’s pretty simple. If you can be hard on yourself now, you can be fit and rich and happy and all that good stuff in the future. But you do have to start now.’

Another section is headed: ‘Tiredness Is the Softest Pillow’. He advises: ‘Work hard both physically and mentally, because working works, a tired dog is a happy dog.’

As readers of the Mail’s serialisation of his memoirs will have spotted, comedian Jimmy Carr’s autobiography contains a list of his ‘special rules to get through life’, most of which promote old-fashioned puritan values of hard work and a stiff upper lip 

It’s tough, hardy advice that might easily have sprung from the pages of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting For Boys.

Baden-Powell was no slouch when it came to handing out advice. 

‘Choosing a wife is a most delicate and difficult job, and fellows are too apt to fall in love with a pretty face and not to look too closely into the character behind it,’ he wrote. ‘It is the character which makes all the difference.’

He certainly took his own advice, putting off the fateful decision until he was 54 years old, at which point he married a woman 32 years his junior.

It’s tough, hardy advice that might easily have sprung from the pages of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting For Boys

When he first spotted her, he didn’t see her face, but was impressed by her purposeful stride, which suggested she had a lot of common sense. 

They didn’t meet, but two years later, on board a ship: ‘I recognised the same gait in a fellow passenger.’ 

He realised it was the same woman. ‘So we married — and lived happily ever after.’

Gyles Brandreth’s new autobiography includes advice he was given by his American cousin Betty’s husband, Sloan Wilson, who happens to be the author of that brilliant, unfairly forgotten novel The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit. 

Wilson’s advice is much sharper and less bullish than Jimmy Carr’s. Some of it, though quite specific — ‘Liquid shoe polish doesn’t work’, ‘Beware of people who are always well dressed’ — remains true.

Other bits of it are far more sensible than any advice offered by Baden-Powell, who was always trying to mend things with a knot or a sharp stick. 

Sloan is having none of it. 

‘When things break around the house call a handyman. No intelligent man is capable of fixing anything unless he has made home repair his business.’

In other areas Sloan is paradoxical, but with an underlying wisdom. ‘Friends are fun, but they are more dangerous than strangers,’ he told Brandreth. 

‘Strangers ask for a quarter for a cup of coffee, while friends ask for a thousand dollars, no questions asked.’

Gyles Brandreth’s new autobiography includes advice he was given by his American cousin Betty’s husband, Sloan Wilson, who happens to be the author of that brilliant, unfairly forgotten novel The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit 

Bob Mortimer is another comic who happily dispenses advice to his readers. 

Right at the end of his new autobiography, he offers a long list of dos and don’ts, including this wise and kindly advice to those afflicted by chronic shyness, as he once was.

‘If you yourself are a shy one, then please try not to settle for living in your isolation cage. Take every opportunity a stranger or colleague or associate may offer and run with it to the moon.

‘There is no need to be scared of people or believe that what you have to contribute is worthless. People are generally nice and most of them are extremely boring most of the time.’

The rest of his advice swings from the sensible to the offbeat. 

‘Always be on time and always be quiet when others are sleeping’ strikes me as undeniably sound, while ‘Always keep some pocket meat or cheese about your person’ is possibly more open to argument.

Other top Mortimer tips include ‘Avoid mirrors, especially fleeting glimpses’, ‘Do not fear the elasticated waistband; it can be a good friend’, and the rather more niche: ‘If you have previously rejected the Caramac bar, why not give it another chance?’

Next week, I will continue to explore the current mania for dishing out advice, good and bad, as well as offering a few handy hints from years gone by.

Bob Mortimer is another comic who happily dispenses advice to his readers. Right at the end of his new autobiography, he offers a long list of dos and don’ts, including this wise and kindly advice to those afflicted by chronic shyness, as he once was

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