“Hello, is that Ian? Yes, it’s me, well, you, well, us – look, it’s forty-two year old Ian here, as agreed. Thanks very much for agreeing to do this. I understand that it seems odd. If anything, I’m surprised that I even managed to remember the telephone number. The premise is that I’m writing an article in which I have a conversation with the sixteen year old, well, me – you? us? – and offer you some sage and pithy advice from the future. Yes, you write. Not really, no, you don’t make money from it. Everybody writes in 2014. What’s that? No, this doesn’t mean that the world is a more thoughtful and considerate place in the future. Quite the opposite, if anything, and you’ll probably come to feel a little like a fish out of water, in that respect. It’s cute that you thought that, though.
“But anyway, the premise is that I give you ten pieces of advice that will stand you in good stead in the fut… yes, I’ve seen Back To The Future. I’m just an older version of you, remember? We saw it at the cinema. No, I don’t think it will skew the fabric of the space-time continuum. Look, you haven’t seen it yet, but a lot of these questions will be addressed in Back To The Future Part Two. Well, it’s just advice, that’s all. No, time travel isn’t real. This is an imagined conversation. Do I think people will think I’m what? I doubt it, no. It’s quite a common literary conceit, these days. Look, do you want this advice or not? Yes, yes, yes, I understand that you have questions.
“So, I’m going to give you ten pieces of advice, none of which will destroy or alter the fabric of the space-time continuum… Well, yeah, you probably should take notes. No, sixteen year old Ian, I can’t send a letter detailing it all back in time. Can’t you just be very pleasantly surprised at the fact that we’re having this conversation in the first place? Well, this skates close the subject of one of my pieces of advice, actually, but to cut a long story short, I’m calling you from the wireless mobile phone that I carry everywhere with me and which doubles up as a pocket-sized computer. So stick that in your hoverboard and smoke it – not that you’ll get that reference yet. No, sixteen year old Ian, the future isn’t all as exciting as that. It’s actually quite mundane a lot of the time. Now, shall we get on with it? Good. I know you’re not always brilliant at this, but try to pay attention.
“Right, number one. You know that girl? Yes, her. I thought I’d better address this first because, as I recall, it’s pretty all-consuming, isn’t it? How long has that crush been going on, now? Two years? Three? Well, I’ve got bad news for you there, kid. That – what you’re hoping for, at least – is not going to happen. Ever. I’ve got some good news on that front, though. You won’t ever be explicitly rejected by her. Instead, you’ll be too shy to ever seize the moment, but that’s probably a good thing, in a way. I’m sorry if that’s a disappointment, but I imagine that you already know all of this, even at sixteen. I have to warn you that this feeling is going to linger for, I don’t know, another three or four years but it will pass, over time. Actually yes, you will stay in contact with her, albeit sporadically. But look, there will be others too, all of which brings me onto…
“Number two. There will be other women, over the years. No, I’m not telling you how many. Okay, okay, more than one, less than a hundred. No, I’m not being more specific than that. Look, I’ve got okay news for you, in that respect. It’ll take you a while to become comfortable in your skin and yes, you’ll always feel a bit gawky and out of place, but hang on in there and everything will work itself out. You won’t be perfect, of course you won’t. I mean, you’re human, for God’s sake. But your heart will be in the right place, and when you find someone who can encourage you to overcome your terrible self-esteem issues – no, they never vanish completely, but they become kind of manageable – there will be a happy ending. It will just take longer than you’re probably expecting. Totally worth the wait, though.
“Number three. We need to talk about clothes. You have terrible fashion sense, sixteen year old Ian, and I have to warn you that things will get worse before they get better, unless you mend your ways. The early 1990s are a terrible time for fashion, and you’ll look like a disgrace for several years – so bad, in fact, that even when you’re my age and have lost most of your sense of shame, you’ll still be too embarrassed to make photographs from that time of your life public. So, try keep things simple. It’s not all bad news, though. Glasses become kind of fashionable. Yeah, I know, right? Mind you, you’ll be wearing contact lenses by then. Yeah, typical. Oh, and don’t grow your hair long, for God’s sake. You’ll look a disgrace, though I think you’ll know it.
“Number four. We need to talk about mortgages, sixteen year old Ian. I know it’s boring and, I’m going to be honest here, forty-two year old Ian doesn’t know much more about them than you do, but it’s kind of important. I know you probably don’t have much of an opinion on it, but you know how people have started to really care about house prices over the last two or three years or so? Well, that’s only going to get worse. They’re going to become a national obsession and they will skyrocket. If you’re smart, you’ll do whatever you need to do, buy a house in St Albans, and that on its own will go some way towards setting you up for life. You know those houses that sell for thirty or forty thousand pounds? Well, they’ll be worth, like, half a million pounds by the time you’re forty. Yes, it’s distasteful but trust me, if you don’t buy somewhere by the time you’re in your late twenties, you’ll never be able to afford to.
“Number five. Smoking. You’ve only just started this, haven’t you, sixteen year old Ian? Well, quit it. I know those anti-smoking campaigners are annoying, but – and I accept that this is also annoying – they’re right. Furthermore, it gets really, really expensive, and it gets banned more or less everywhere. It’ll take over your life, make you smell and it won’t be good for you. So, quit while you’re ahead. It’s not all bad news in this respect though. I mean, I’m talking to you now, aren’t I, so you make it to forty-two, at least. That sound? That’s me knocking on wood.
“Number six. Look, sixteen year old Ian, this is important and I need you to pay attention to this. You know that fug that hangs over you at times, as if you’re followed around by a cloud? That’s going to get worse and it’ll end up manifesting itself as depression. There’ll be times when you feel terrible, and it will be compounded by the fact that you don’t even understand why this should be. I know that sounds scary, but look, it’s manageable. You’ll find that there are good days and bad days, and you’ll find that the people who love you understand and are sympathetic to it. It’ll never completely go away – it’s pretty much a chronic condition – but you’ll learn to live with it. See, the problem with you is that you think too much. Your brain is always switched on, and that’s not a good thing. Over time, you’ll learn to drown out background noise and focus on what’s important, but I’m warning you, sixteen year old Ian, it’s going to take a long time. Even when you’re at your most scared, though, remember, if you can, that things will get better.
“Number seven. I’m looking at a photograph of you right now, sixteen year old Ian, and you look young, even for your age. Well, I’ve got good news and bad news for you in that respect. The bad news is that things are going to stay that way. You won’t stop growing until you’re twenty-one and girls between the age of sixteen and twenty-one tend not to go for guys who look younger than they are, which is kind of unfortunate for you. BUT. You’re not going to suddenly age, and by the time your forty or so you’ll be quite grateful for the fact that you can pass for younger than the age that you actually are. You’re going to need to shave regularly, though, because your beard is going to make you look like Father bleeding Christmas from the mouth down by the time you’re into your fifth decade.
“Number eight. Look, you don’t pay too much attention to what you want to do for a living and, trust me, that is not going to change over the next quarter of a century or so. But you’ll enjoy work, kind of, and you’ll come to understand that the people that you work with are amongst those that keep you the sanest and happiest. Mark my words, though, sixteen year old Ian, you’re never going to make any money from playing the drums – it’ll fade as an interest, but it’ll always be in your blood – so forget about that and pay more attention in class. Things will fall roughly into place. It’ll just take a long time for it to happen.
“Number nine. Yes, sixteen year old Ian, we’re almost done. Now, I can’t tell you too many specifics about the future, but you grew up with computers so you’ve probably already guessed that an information revolution is coming along that will change the world. You’ll be slightly ahead of the curve on this, but use this new world of information wisely. Learn a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t have been able to learn otherwise. It will change your life in ways that you couldn’t begin to understand in November 1988. Yes, sixteen year old Ian, there will be naked women.
“Number ten. Last, but most definitely not least, think about the people that surround you in your everyday life. Be nicer to mum and dad, and build a relationship with your sister. These things will happen in time, but it would be nice if you didn’t lose a whole bunch of years in this respect. It’s likewise with friends and in relationships. Take the time to tell these people how grateful you are that they’re in your life. You’ll feel more fulfilled for it, and that closeness will come to mean everything to you. There’ll be a period – a long one – when you’re spiky, detached and cynical, but that will pass. And the circumstances under which it does pass are amazing. You’ll see. Oh, and bear in mind that, ultimately, no-one has any answers or fundamental truths. See all those grown ups pretending to be in control? They’re just muddling through. I should know. I’m one of them. There’s probably no grand master plan, so don’t become over dependent on any “system.” It doesn’t exist, really.
“And that’s it. I can’t tell you anything really too specific – and the fact that i’m still talking to you now indicates that you haven’t paid a blind bit of notice to anything I’ve said over the course of this conversation, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, but let’s not get too caught up on the paradoxes of time travel – but I guess I can answer anything trivial that you may want a heads up on. What’s that? Well, yes and no. On the whole, society will become more tolerant of minority groups. Racism and homophobia will become no-go areas for the vast majority of people, and the same will go, to an extent, for sexist and misogyny. There will always be work to do on these matters, though. Hopefully, you’ll become brave enough to call people out on it when you see it or hear it. It will never not be intimidating to do so, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
“Okay, sixteen year old Ian. I need to go now, but I can allow one more question, so long as it’s trivial. What was that? Will Tottenham Hotspur win the league by 2014? Come on now, sixteen year old Ian. I may be able to speak to you by telephone from the future, but there are some things in life that require actual miracles to put right.”
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