Bombarded by petty rules, bossy advice and celebrity tittle-tattle, we have forgotton how to be adults. It's time we grew up, says Michael Bywater...
"...My grandfather was born in 1888 and he didn't have a lifestyle. He didn't need one: he had a life.
He had a hat and a car and a wife and two sons and a housekeeper and a maid and a nanny for the children, and the housekeeper had a dog and the dog had a canker and lived in a kennel.
My grandfather read Charles Dickens mostly. Sometimes they went on holiday. His house was furnished with furniture.
There were some exotic things in it, brought back from exotic places. The most exotic things were African carvings and Benares brassware. The African carving had been brought back from a war, possibly the Boer one.
The brassware was brought back from Benares by my grand-father's friend Dr Chand, who lived next door but was a Brahmin from Benares.
Dr Chand didn't have a lifestyle either. Nobody had a lifestyle then, because there was nobody to tell them to, and anyway they were too busy having lives.
They were grown-ups. They went about their business. In my grandfather's case, it was seeing patients and making them better, where possible. In Dr Chand's case, it was the same, because he was a doctor too.
I suspect that my grandfather's life was real in a sense that my father's life hasn't quite been, and my life is not at all.
The crucial difference is my grandfather's lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is a hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, occasionally aware that the life that exists only to be examined is barely manageable; barely, indeed, a life.
It is a preparation for a life. The consistently introspective life of the Big Baby is as much a simulacrum as life on Big Brother.
To keep the simulacrum going we need help. And we need that help because that help is available.
It's the old paradox. We need distraction from our fragmented and solitary lives because the distractions available to us have rendered our lives fragmented and solitary.
And we need lifestyle advice from magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers precisely because we are being nagged about our lifestyle all the time by magazines and websites and newspaper supplements and health advisers and personal trainers…
If one of the markers of adulthood is autonomy, then one of the preconditions of autonomy is being left alone.
My grandfather wasn't nagged. Once he turned 21, he was a man, and a grown-up, and nobody battered him round the clock with opportunities he was missing, miseries he didn't know he had, aspirations ditto, inadequacies doubly so.
Nobody told him about being good in bed, grooming tips, what his car said about him, what he should have to eat, how much he should drink, what his house said about him, how Benares brassware was so over, where he should go on holiday, what this season's must-have product would be, how his suits should look.
He knew some of these things, and didn't care about the others because nobody was drawing them to his attention. He knew what his suits should look like: trousers, waistcoat, jacket, all made out of the same material.
He knew about grooming: you shaved. He knew what he should eat: breakfast, lunch, dinner. He probably had no idea that good-in-bed even existed, or that furniture did anything except furnish, or that where he went on holiday was of any significance, or that his car said anything about him at all, except 'Oh, here comes Dr Bywater, I recognise his car.'
But the Big Babies have no such autonomy, and are harangued to death; nor have they learned the adult trick of simply ignoring the fishwife-and-huckster voices. Instead, Baby tries to comply.
Believing it when he is told that he is unhappy, he then believes the cure the same fishwives and hucksters proceed to offer..."