In which the cool don't rule (after school)

Finally, a real scientific study has proved true what we’ve secretly known all along: that being cool in high school does not make you cool in later life. 

Published last week in journal Child Development, the 10-year study on students from the age of 13 up to 23 looked at “pseudomature behaviours” – acting older than one’s age in a variety of romantic, social and delinquent ways. Findings showed that while the rebellious kids were more likely to be popular among peers at 13, all that behind-the-bike-sheds kudos declined over time and actually ended up having an inverse effect, with formerly ‘cool’ teens struggling to make friends by the time they reached their early 20s. 

It’s the kind of news that makes you want to rush back in time and tell your former awkward young self that it’ll all be ok. “Hey Lauren,” I’d whisper to 13-year-old me as she turned down an invitation to drink Bacardi Breezers in a park to spend an evening working on her poetry journal. “It’s fine, those are not your people. Give it a few years and you’ll have legal access to all the sugary booze you could not want; but also legitimately great friends to not drink it with.”

Then 13-year-old Lauren would smile a big, gap-toothed smile (like all the coolest people, I didn’t finish losing my milk teeth until well into adolescence) and we would high-five before I faded into the sunset. It would make a brilliant film. You’d go and see it, wouldn’t you, because chances are you weren’t a cool kid either.

If I’m honest, I’ve never trusted people who were popular at school. Without a good dose of pubescent humiliation, how would you discover who your real friends were? How would you give one of those humble interviews when you’re a wildly successful adult, talking about how the bullies ultimately made you a stronger person? Of course it would be heaps better if there were no bullies at all - but then maybe that would make us ALL popular kids, doomed to failed relationships as soon as we hit our twenties.

And while there’s a genuine argument for encouraging children to stay children for as long as possible, plenty of us non-populars were precocious in our own ways too. In fact I’d say much of my own teenage behaviour was so pseudomature that it skipped right past the drinking and fumbling stages and left me about 38 inside, wryly observing the world from the edge of the party and refusing to engage with anything I deemed a ‘teenage cliché’. Among the clichés I rejected: were recreational drinking, under-18 discos, owning a mobile phone before 2003, and talking to boys. Any boys.

It’s possible, thinking back on it now, that all of this painful cynicism was a much greater effort on the part of coolness than it would have been just to go and sit in the park with the others. So maybe we should cut the popular kids some slack –they probably care far less about it than the rest of us do

Things my mother has taught me


On how to shop:

A gal needs two great shopping companions; fate and destiny. When dithering over a purchase, put it to the back of the rail and walk away. Then come back in a few hours (exact time is proportional to how much or little you are dithering), and if said item is still there in your size, it is meant to be. You must buy it or spend the rest of your life weeping gently in front of your wardrobe.

However, if it has gone then it clearly wasn’t The One and you must move on, free from resentment, full of purse and happy in the knowledge that someone else now has the problem of trying to match shoes to such a tricky hem length.

Also, nothing can ever be bought unless you can first name at least three items already in your wardrobe that it could be worn with. This has saved me from a fate worse than jeggings on more than one occasion.

On how to contribute to society:

Always vote. Vote because of the suffragettes, and vote because so many other people in the world can’t. Vote even if you are uncertain or unbothered, because otherwise only those with absolute views will be represented – which isn’t representative at all.

On household maintenance:

Dust adds character. And, to borrow from Quentin Crisp, after four years it doesn’t get any worse.

On ageing:

Even numbers sound older than odd numbers, to the extent that bigger odd numbers sound younger than smaller even numbers. So, 27 somehow sounds younger than 26, and 73 is preferable to 72.  

Also, you know you are getting old when the Blue Peter presenters start to look young.

On holidays:

The perfect way to spend the first night of any holiday is eating fish and chips, sitting on a harbour wall, dangling one’s legs towards the sea. The fish and chips can be swapped for pasties or ice cream if necessary; it is the dangling that matters the most.

On mealtimes:

Any time that could commonly have ’12’ in its name is a feasible lunchtime. Meaning 11:35am, AKA “25 to 12”, is a perfectly respectable time to eat a sandwich.

On music:

Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone is the best song ever written. This has been presented simply as fact since I was about eight, and I’ve never found cause to question it.

On marital bliss:

The smaller and cheaper the wedding, the longer the marriage will be. Probably. Britney’s Las Vegas one notwithstanding.

On life:

Things really do happen for a reason. Even if you can’t see it now, or in a month, or in a year, you will eventually look back and realise it was all for the best. In the meantime, have a cup of tea. Or some wine.

And one from my Granny...

On the first day at a new school or new job:

Just find out where the toilets are, and how to get out. The rest can wait.