At school, we were taught about acronyms by taking each letter of our names and using the string of initials to choose the adjectives that best described us. Our form teacher then read them out to the class, while we collectively envied Tak Tran for having such a short name and giggled at David Derbyshire for beginning his with ‘debonair’. (Have you ever met a debonair 13-year-old?)
I was goofy little Lisa McFarlane back then and, if my memory serves me correctly, the adjectives I chose were: loyal, impatient, silly, ambitious, modest, cool, friendly, amiable, reliable, light-hearted, accident-prone (I really struggled with the As), nice and enthusiastic.
I don’t think there’s anything hugely ground-breaking in that; they’re pretty much the first adjectives that would spring out of any early teen’s mind. (Or, in the case of ‘amiable’, spring out of a pocket thesaurus.) Generally, I don’t recall a lot of what I was taught at school (hell, I’ve got an A-level in German and don’t remember a word of it), but this lesson has stayed with me. And yes, anything English-language-related was often better than breaktime for me, but in this case I suspect my impressive memory is more to do with one of my adjective choices: cool.
I’ve spent as long as I care to remember striving to be cool. And it’s taken me even longer than that to realise that, in fact, I’m anything but cool. Because cool, as I’ve finally figured out, isn’t actually about subscribing to Grazia, having a dedicated iPhone pocket in your Marc Jacobs tote and wearing an Obama ‘yes we can’ pin on your Julian Casablancas-inspired blazer. Nah, cool is an attitude; a state of mind; an ability to stay stoically unruffled, whatever the situation. Cool is Jay-Z opening a controversial Glastonbury headline set with Wonderwall. Cool is knowing how to walk in six-inch heels. Cool is stifling a grin and staying composed when you’re offered a payrise.
I ain’t cool.
‘And you’re travelling alone today?’ asked the airport check-in guy earlier this year.
‘Yup,’ I answered.
‘Well there’s good news – your flight is full, so we’ll be offering you a complimentary upgrade.’
‘That IS good news,’ I enthused, slapping my hands flat onto his desk. ‘Brilliant. Smashing. Nice one, cheers, thanks.’
‘And you’ll be able to use the executive lounge before you board.’
‘Really? Wow. Are you sure?’ I gushed.
‘Of course,’ said a smirking Check-in Guy, demonstrably entertained.
I’ll say it again: I ain’t cool. Cool would have been to say, ‘ah, thank you’ and waltz off into the executive area with an air of I-do-this-all-the-time nonchalance; not to skip cheerily up to the lounge desk with a McDonald’s take-away in one hand while texting ‘HA! UPGRADE!’ to my kid bro with the other.
I couldn’t even manage to be cool at Derby County this weekend, when our folks took me and Jamie along to watch the game from the directors box, as part of the auction prize they successfully bid for at my Super Sweet 30th. My usual spot for the match is several rows behind the directors box, up in the stands with the paying supporters who don’t have the luxury of a leather seat or cheese and wine at half-time. And every time I’m at Pride Park, I sit and watch who’s taking their places beside the directors, mouthing ‘you jammy bastard’ into my Bovril as they walk up the steps, all imperturbable in their local importance. I, however, hopped up those same stairs grinning like a tipsy loon, elbowing my brother as I went. ‘Padded seats! We’ve got padded seats! And a free programme! And isn’t that Frank Lampard’s dad? Mum! Look! That’s Frank Lampard’s dad!’ Even less cool was then having the audacity to shush Mum when she started shouting commands at the midfield.
And then there was yesterday’s meeting with my publishers.
‘I loved your post on telling Smiley Surgeon about your book,’ said one of the team charged with selling The C-Word into bookshops.
‘Ha yeah,’ I snorted. ‘It all came out at once – I just couldn’t say it calmly.’
‘Just like you can’t be cool right now, you bloody great dork,’ said the voice in my head.
The voice is right. It’s not just in front of Smiley Surgeon that I act like a goon. Granted, I save my most exceptional levels of goondom for him, but still – it seems my uncool rears its embarrassing head around pretty much anyone I’m trying to impress. When my publisher talked about moving the publication date forward, I squealed and clapped my hands. When the marketing manager talked about competitions and discounted offers, I stuttered my way through an emphatic agreement. When the publicity team mentioned contacting Women’s Hour, I tittered like a 12-year-old who’d just been passed a pencil-drawn willy at the back of maths class. Because, you see, it’s especially difficult to be cool about something so enormously exciting.
And so I’m sorry, 13-year-old me, but I’m giving up on cool. (At this point, I suppose, it’d be cool to declare that uncool is the new cool, but I don’t think even I’m uncool enough to pull that off.) You might have thought you were pretty awesome in your beaded Doc Marten shoes, baggy T-shirts and that bloody awful silver star dangling from a long bootlace around your neck, but believe me, your relentless pursuit of cool just isn’t worth the chase. And yeah, adolescence might seem like a cruel trick designed to continually catch you at your most goofy – and in many ways, I guess it is. Which is why I hate to break this to you, Lisa Mac: your thirties aren’t much different. But, by heck, there ain’t half a lot to be uncool about.