Things I Never Learnt To Do Entirely Well

This really has nothing to do with “Things I Wish I Had Learned”. I am not talking about wishing to become a helicopter pilot, or to speak fluent Portuguese, or play the guitar. That would be far too relatable. What follows is a list of things I was quite sure I could do like any normal, functioning human being, but which through even the slightest amount of self-awareness I soon realize I have no sodding idea what I am doing. I have been performing shallow parodies of the following entries my entire life, on a wing and a prayer; and I have learned to do them now by autopilot, effortlessly, and entirely wrong. I imagine the same applies to a lot of people: but let’s just see how much of a collective failure we all are here.


This one is a biggie. To this day I cannot, simply cannot shave without causing some level of disappointment: pain, which ranges from “mild discomfort” to “full-blown laceration”; and accuracy, ranging from “passable” through to “Why Did You Even Bother Shaving This Morning.”

Part of the problem, I am convinced, comes from the fact that I had no strong father figure in the house when I was a young lad. Nobody to tell me about the treacherous regions of the face, the sharp angles, the deceptive curves around the lips. I tried a few internet tips, by way of self-education, about hot water and using the right type of shaving foam, and endless marketing about the many-bladed razors which are just destined to cut away through all of life’s facial problems. Bollocks. It is a skill which I now imperfectly accomplish in front of a mirror, on a daily basis, with a great deal of rue. Stupid man-face.


Obviously, I walk. I am not going to pretend otherwise. In fact I walk quite briskly, rarely falling over or scuffing my shoes, without flat-footedness or imbalance. An excellent walker, you might think. First grade ambling, sir.

But I look ridiculous. Or at least, I think I do. I occasionally see myself in shop windows, and my legs are bloody all over the place. Not drunkenly side-to-side waltzing with tipsiness, per se, but they instead do this thing where they fling forward for each step and make me look like a pair of compasses on the march. I hate it. And if I try to correct myself, of course, I look even more desperate: face contorted in concentration, fixating upon my Bambi-legs as I stumble on. It is very easy to walk, and I do that all the time; but to walk like a real boy, I have yet to learn.


I am sure my hair is, in its natural state, quite smooth and thick and lovely and harmless and peaceable. Probably good hair. But I can do nothing with it. I somehow missed that lesson in secondary school where the architecture of hair was most thoroughly explained. I see passers-by with their glorious manes of gorgeous bouncing boyish hair, and I just want to set a blowtorch to them. Mine cannot be tamed, so. Product flattens it; minimalist approaches drive it to a state of nature which frankly makes me look like an escapee. One day my fringe and I will live in peace and harmony: until then it is very much a daily war of attrition.


Again, I am not saying that I have never actually pissed because, I don’t know, my parents somehow overlooked that as part of my education. Far from it. I piss on a daily basis, I am, er, glad to say. But I cannot piss without feeling that there is a little more to go. Always. Do you get this? Shaking does nothing; waggling, using a sheet of paper, even. I can’t entirely, properly, perfectly, completely piss.

Worse still, I cannot do urinals. I can’t. At best I stand there and pretend it’s a cubicle and hope to god nobody stands next to me and shatters my illusions. Most evenings out I just close my eyes and think of England and hope I start pissing before someone quite without realizing it, in their own misguided way, pisses on my own parade.

Tying laces

I do a double-knot with two loops. This apparently makes me a girl. They hold pretty damn tight, but by all accounts this is to my discredit. Somehow. Seemingly, I can’t do anything quite right.

Cutting an onion

I have seen them do it on television. Real people. Even my fiancé can cut onions without his face being wrought asunder by tears and anguish. Whereas, you see, it is an atrocity exhibition every time I so much as look at an onion.

Further to this, I am convinced that I cut them into the wrong segments, because I cut them the wrong way. Imagine this: I cut them in half, take one end, slice down from the top or tail, remove the first layer and dice from there before removing the off-cut tip at the end. It works for me – or so I thought. Now I am reliably told that this is perhaps the worst way of cutting an onion there is. The worst, they say. Worse than cutting it with the knife held amongst your toes, dancing around the kitchen while singing the Horst Wessel Lied.


I talk like a BBC announcer from the fifties, but without the… élan? I sound like an imposter-posho. Not actually refined, and not actually well-spoken, my voice really lends itself to parody. I am like Stephen Fry’s illegitimate lovechild from a difficult first marriage. Almost refined, but missing a crucial certain something. Legitimacy, if you like.

My nemesis: Writing “the” on a keyboard

This one, people: this is the worst. I learned to type “teh” from a very early age, a frightfully unhelpful skill, and since then I have never quite looked back. Every time I even think of the definite article, I mangle it in my mind and thumb my way through the letters of this incredibly fucking simple word like an illiterate. If it wasn’t for auto-correct on Word I would probably have been institutionalized by now.

For the avoidance of doubt: most of the above is exaggeration. I am almost a well-rounded human being. But good lord, there are times when it doesn’t bloody well feel like it. 


2 thoughts on “Things I Never Learnt To Do Entirely Well

  1. Dear James

    Oh this is so funny. I laughed loudly throughout. I can see you in action as I read. I have similar inadequacies myself. My hair. If there hadn’t been the occasional role model like Shirley Williams and latterly Boris Johnson I would have grown it to mywaist and worn sunglasses. And the key board! Whycannot I hit the space,ey? WharisitI am hitting? It isn’t thespace,ey. Keydamn it. And whyat 78 cannot I tell my left frommy right? When I come out of a shop I can’t remember which way I came in. Driving Gerald at a junction he says turn right. So I turn left. Iget so up tight that when he next snaps turn left I turn into someones drive and don’t wait for the actual road. Worst is being told at a multichoice roundabout is ‘straightahead’. How many lefts before straightahead? And why can’t I have a regular place for keeping my doorkey? Or my mobile? Or my glasses? And so on…

    I wish you had an occasional column in The Saturday Guardian. You should have! Love from Gran

    Sent from my iPad

    • Oh I love that so much! I can hear the tone of your voice in my head precisely. Isn’t it odd, the more I talk about this with people, the more they open up to all of the things they never quite figured out. No matter how cool or level-headed someone may seem, there’s always an Achilles heel, some quirky and loveable trait. I’d like to think these sorts of flaws make us more human.

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