The booklet was written in 1962 so just before the Sixties started swinging and six whole years before the Miss America pageant when, legend has it, women started burning their bras in protest against the beauty contest
shenanigans. I never actually burned a bra and nor, it seems, did many other women: it was a figure of speech used both for and against the women’s liberation movement, depending on which side of the debate you sat on.
Which is beside the point. The book I am reading is a Woman’s Hour publication entitled “For someone else’s daughter” and includes fourteen contributions from a variety of famous
and not-so-famous people of the time. To give you an idea - Fanny Cradock, she of the saucepans and wife of the hapless Johnny, approaches the girl who is ambitious, while Denise Robins, writer of 130 romantic novels, offers advice to a young writer. Actor
Kenneth More considers the assets of temperance while somebody called Elizabeth Cayley, (who according to the authors’ notes, is “dedicated to home decorating and, whenever possible, keeps pigs”) commends kindness. I hadn’t heard of
Ms Cayley before but I find that I like her immensely, both for her Pig Affinity and for her wise word about kindness.
I reckon the book must have belonged to
my dear mum who must have wondered if my Little Sister and I might be more prepared to listen to other people than to her own brand of home-spun wisdom. This is no reflection on my mother, you understand, but ‘twas ever thus. I wonder if there was a
particular contribution that she thought one of her two daughters might find helpful?
Maybe it was the advice for the would-be writer? Though I rather think my
young self might have been somewhat discouraged to read: “The three essentials for success are enthusiasm, courage and self-confidence. Without these qualities you will fail.” Denise goes on to warn the wanna-be writer that, if she must have a
boyfriend then she must not get hopelessly involved or immersed in an “emotional crisis” at the start of her career. It is fatal, she preaches, to allow sex to get out of proportion.
Kenneth More is equally keen to stress the dangers of drinking to excess, admitting that he has had many moments of remorse in the realisation that he had made an “absolute fool” of himself the night before. He
does, however, reckon that young people will probably not listen to advice from their parents (or presumably from him) but will almost certainly learn the lesson “through one or two bad hangovers....”
I am wondering whether granddaughter Hazel Bagel, dreaming of treading the boards one day, would appreciate the advice offered by Athene Seyler for the girl who wants to go on the stage. “If you are bent on trying,”
she says, “I should go to one of the good schools, if you can afford it ...you will find at once a little microcosm of the world of the stage in any dramatic academy and there are great pitfalls from the very word go.” She adds: “Briefly
you must put your whole heart into your work.” I feel sure my granddaughter would wholeheartedly agree with that - though she might skim the paragraphs about avoiding “stupid” students’ parties and not trying to attract attention by
wearing unusual clothes.
One of my own favourite contributions is by writer Antonia Ridge talking “to the girl who wants to travel.” She explains that
anyone with a pocketful of money can whisk around the world and “do” the sights - the true traveller, however, develops a “hearing ear and a seeing eye.” She tells the story of her own son who caught his breath watching the moon rise
over the Acropolis - then the very next day visited an old priest and his wife who lived with their son in a one-roomed cottage in a poor mountain village. What would always shine in his memory, Antonia writes, is the way the old priest spoke as his wife set
a steaming dish on the table, “Today,” he said, “the food is beans.” A statement delivered with such simple dignity that it was every bit as inspiring as the moon over the Parthenon.
So, here’s my question. What advice should I give to someone else’s daughter today - in times that are both very different but in some ways just the same? Could I summon up exactly the right words of wisdom?
And, most importantly, would someone else’s daughter listen....?