“People give advice, but they do not influence anyone’s conduct”

I hate advice. No good ever comes of giving it, and nobody ever listens anyway. It’s one of those things you just have to put up with, like colds, dust, and celebrities. The only useful lifestyle advice I’ve ever seen was printed on the side of a matchbook (‘Keep dry, and away from children’) and there are some types that should be simply be banned:

There’s plenty more fish in the sea
I know this. I don’t want the other fish. I want the fish who just left me for that guy in her office, a man who may be more attractive than me and less irritable and who earns an extra 25K a year, but who is undoubtedly in every other way an evil idiot. I want that fish. Not least because she’s still got half of my CDs and one of my favourite t-shirts, and I miss the smell of her neck.

Mind you don’t hurt yourself
Always handy for all of us who haven’t realised that hurting yourself is a negative experience, and to be avoided. ‘Mind you don’t get your head caught under a falling building’ – that’s another good tip. ‘Mind you’re not directly underneath when an asteroid hits’. ‘Careful you don’t suddenly turn into a unicorn’. These are examples of a broader type of advice, which includes the classics ‘Mind you don’t spill that’, ‘Mind you don’t trip’ – and boil down to ‘Try to avoid having an accident that you’re already doing your best to avoid’. But ‘Mind you don’t hurt yourself’ remains easily the most infuriating, not least because it’s generally offered by a person who isn’t currently carrying something heavy and awkward down a flight of stairs, while watching someone who is.

Serving suggestions
Pictures on the side of food packets, advising you how to serve what’s inside. ‘Put it on a plate’, seems to be the gist of it, or ‘If you’re feeling wild, stick a bit of lettuce next to it. Oh, and a slice of tomato. Go nuts. Live the dream.’ Do they think that people don’t know how to serve crackers — or are the words genuinely there to cover the company in case some lunatic tries to sue after discovering that a plate and garnishing aren’t included in the deal? “What, you mean if I open the packet I don’t find an already-hot stock pot of delicious food, complete with side dishes, table cloth and a rustic table… but just some raw ingredients? Just as well you put ‘Serving suggestion’ on the side, my friend, or I’d be chasing your lying ass through the Supreme Court. Damn.”

Left a bit…
Total strangers, giving you advice on how to park your car. They never tell you anything you don’t already know, and merely make you feel pressurised at a time when you could do with being left alone. And given they’re always standing on the pavement, what evidence is there that these people know how to park in the first place? Who knows if they can even drive? They might just be field operatives from a weird sect of terrorist pedestrians, trying to get everyone to mash up their car.

Collect the set!
Often found on the packaging of things which are ‘collectable’ purely in the sense that you could, if you had nothing better to do with your time and money, buy more than one of them. Dressed up as a new hobby which will be fun and fulfilling, it amounts to nothing more than a demand that you acquire more than one example of whatever rubbish they’re hawking. Tropical diseases! Small, undistinguished pebbles! Bumper packs of toilet tissue! Why not collect the set? Well, because it would be a fucking tragic thing to do, that’s why. Next question.

Light blue touch paper and retire
Our species has evolved – or so we are told – through the survival of the fittest, though I’m unclear as to how that explain a lot of the humans I run into on a daily basis. If some of these people are too dumb to realise that you shouldn’t put lit fireworks in their mouth, evolution is telling us we don’t need them in the gene pool. Unless this advice actually means that after lighting a firework they should stop working, go live in a golfing community in Florida and spend a lot of quality time with their grandchildren, in which case fair enough. I have no problem with that.

Leave it Gary, he’s not worth it
Actually, this advice is worth listening to. The bloke Gary wants to have a fight with almost certainly isn’t worth it. The only problem is that by shouting this advice – standing right in the middle of the action, bristling with indignation and aglow with dangerous excitement – you’re only likely to make the bloke want to hit Gary even more. A far more useful piece of advice is ‘Leave it Gary, I’m not worth it’, which is what I always shout when someone wants to hit me. It generally confuses them enough to give me time to run away, especially if they’re not actually called Gary.