On the grounds that I was the only regular scene columnist eligible for carbon-dating and might therefore be filled with the wisdom of ages, my editor asked if I could provide welcome and advice for the entering class.

This excellent –if misguided — request was temporarily blind-sided by extraordinary resentment and bitterness. I turned 27 over the summer and I can clearly remember the years in which the frosh were born, years that are only history to the new kids.

I remember when the 1970s weren’t cool, when suspiciously butch and hairy East German women won lots of Olympic medals, and when starting a computer program involved typing “C://” and then going off to do something else for half an hour.

But, as you might expect a little maturity and restraint from an English grad student, here goes:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of 2009:

Wear sunscreen.

As it happens, I am also in the Class of 2009. Assuming that this damn Ph.D. goes according to plan, I’ll see you at graduation. (I’ll be with the old and tired people in the funky blue gowns.) So in theory, I’m offering myself advice, although I know from experience that I’m very bad at following my own suggestions. Having thus vanished up my own solipsism, I thought I’d write about “What I Did During My Holidays.”

Unfortunately, my vacation was really dull, so dull that at one point I listed my closest friends to see if they were evenly distributed throughout the zodiac.

In my defense, I spent my summer reading. A lot. From touchdown to takeoff I read 45 books and 18 plays, which is kinda impressive in a dull sort of way. You too can do a Ph.D. — if you want the sex life of a panda and the eyesight of a mole.

To be strictly fair, there were a few less-than-dull moments. I was honored to act as best man to my brother and deliver the traditional speech, which survivors reckoned at nearly 40 minutes; I thought it went rather well, although I did notice toward the end that the food tables were being pressed into use as makeshift stretchers.

The silver lining is that, according to a Real Age test, I’m only really 25.4.

‘But you could be younger!’ the Web site chirped, bossily, recommending that I take more exercise, eat more fish and — paradoxically but quite pleasingly — drink more. ‘Enjoy your pet!’ it added, as ‘it is widely agreed that your pet helps you have a better overall sense of well-being.’

I looked at the cushion-shaped heap of plush black-and-white fur sprawled across my newspaper and warmly thanked him for his contribution to my overall sense of well-being. Sweep looked up, blinked, yawned and stretched over the soccer reports.

How, I wondered, could evolution have brushed aside the dinosaurs and seen off the woolly mammoth, yet happily settled on the domestic cat? Although it does seem unlikely that a stegosaurus in the back garden would do much for my overall sense of well-being.

In order to keep your real age below your chronological age, just like Michael Jackson, men should aim for 116 orgasms each year rather than the average 56 (but at least wait and finish the article). Michael Jackson, of course, adopts another technique entirely.

Yes he does.

But my extra nine years on the planet must have provided me with some value added, so here’s my contribution:

If ever required to comment upon a piece of work, simply say, “I agreed with the broad outline, but the second half raises some methodological questions.” If anybody asks you what those questions are, look surprised and say “Well, the obvious ones.” Nobody is going to risk looking like an idiot by probing any further.


– Never say “I love you” without meaning it.

– Ask what you’d regret doing (or not doing) in 30 years.

– Enjoy your pet.

And wear sunscreen. Really, trust me and Vonnegut on this one.

Nick Baldock is disproportionately compatible with Gemini, Cancer and Sagittarius. Seriously.