There is a famous list of eleven rules wrongly attributed to Microsoft magnate Bill Gates in which the author metes out advice to secondary school students who are about to enter the real world of life and work. From rule 1 – “Life is not fair-get used to it!” - to rule 11 – “Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one” – the list is a salutory wake-up call to young people who think that the world owes them a living.
I am well aware that ever since Moses told the children of Israel that life in the wilderness was a piece of cake compared to slavery in Egypt, every generation has moaned about the uselessness of their offspring. In fact, one of the reasons I looked forward so much to adulthood was the prospect of telling my own children in a sneering and condescending manner that they didn’t know they were born and we had things much tougher in our day.
This is a theme I have developed to such an extent that I now view my childhood with grime-tinted glasses, regaling my uninterested children with lurid tales of being forced down the mine at five years of age and only owning my first pair of shoes when I got married. I have also developed my own set of rules, similar to the ones above, that will guide my descendants through the pitfalls of leaving school and gaining employment:
Rule 1. Find out from your parents where they keep the bread, the butter and the cheese. Then ask them for a quick lesson on how to make a sandwich. Believe me, it only takes a few minutes and the money you will save in a year by not sending out for a jumbo breakfast roll in work will pay for that holiday in Santa Ponza that you seem unable to save up for.
Rule 1a. Orange cordial plus water made up in a bottle at home can be just as nice but much less expensive than a can of coke.
Rule 2. Learn how to do some of those old-fashioned jobs like washing cars and sewing on buttons. One day you might be thankful that you did.
Rule 3. When you join the workforce, other people will not necessarily be impressed by designer clothes and branded runners. Working people are allowed to buy their clothes in Dunnes and Penneys without fear of ridicule.
Rule 4. It is very possible in this enlightened age that you will still get that dream job if you turn up for the interview with bits of metal adorning various parts of your face. But don’t be too surprised if you don’t.
Rule 5. The cost of a hair-cutting kit works out at approximately the cost of three trips to the barbers. Think about it.
Rule 6. Despite what your friends say, a car is still a luxury for many people. I had to work for years before I could afford one. Believe me, you wouldn’t be happy if we simply bought one for you. There is no greater satisfaction than working hard to achieve something.
Rule 7. Incredible as it seems, it is possible to be cool and not share your taste in music.
Rule 8. If you want to be treated as an adult, you are expected to share the “adults’ jobs” around the house. Yes, really.
Rule 9. If you do not set your alarm clock, it is possible that you may not wake up in time for work. If you do not bring a key, it is possible that you will find yourself locked out when you return home. If you do not put your dirty clothes in the laundry basket, it is possible they will not get washed. None of these is your parents’ fault.
Rule 10. You would be embarrassed if your mother and I started snogging passionately on the settee with you in the room. So please do not do the same with your boyfriend / girlfriend / whatever.
Rule 11. Your dinner may well be “gank” but at least your mother went to the trouble of making it for you. Honesty is not always the best policy.
Rule 12. Antiquated old wrecks we may be but we still remember the “staying out at a friend’s” line. If we don’t challenge you on it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have successfully pulled the wool over our eyes – we may be more enlightened than you suspect.
Rule 13. Please don’t call me by my first name. This implies some sort of parity. Even when I am a weak and incontinent old wreck who giggles to himself for no reason, I will still be superior to you, sunshine.
Rule 14. Your contribution to the overall household budget comes nowhere near the amount it would cost you if you moved out. So if you really are “a bit short this week” try stopping smoking and drinking. As the sign says in shops, please don’t ask for credit as a refusal often offends.
Rule 15. When you go around to other people’s houses, they put on act for you, just as you put on an act for them. This is simple manners. In actual fact, every family is just as odd, weird and fractious as ours. You just don’t get to see it.
Rule 16. As a parent, I have the right to bore the pants off you with long and uninteresting stories from my past.
Rule 17. Feel free to ask for advice. But as Brian Clough used to say, “If you have a problem, come to me, we’ll discuss it and then decide that I am right.” You will get to do the same yourself one day.
Rule 18. Shouting never wins an argument. I merely raise my voice to you whenever we have a disagreement. Learn to tell the difference.
Rule 19. There really isn’t €60 worth of difference between one bottle of smelly water and the next. It is possible to get reasonably-priced toiletries that smell okay.
Rule 20. You don’t have to take an interest in politics and I understand your point that it isn’t cool. Just don’t come complaining to me about income tax, the health service, public transport or employment legislation when you don’t get a service you believe you’re entitled to.
Rule 21. Whatever problem you might have, we always had it tougher in our day. This might or might not be true but you weren’t around, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The problem of course is that young people never listen to their parents anyway so the above rules are superfluous. It is the duty of the young to rebel and make their own way in life. It is the duty of parents to worry.
Even Bill Gates’ parents must have had their doubts at times.