Strung out: a group of German girls out walking, with musical accompaniment from mandolin and guitars, 1930s. Photo: Getty
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For folk’s sake, I was supposed to be a mandolin virtuoso by now

When you approach 25, it suddenly hits you that you’re never going to be an astronaut. Or an architect. Or a folk sensation. 

The mandolin is in Wolverhampton now. I sent it there when I realised, once and for all, that I’m about as musical as a Nickelback tribute band.

Before I eBayed it, the mandolin would sit in the corner of my room, gathering dust while I gathered guilt. It dates back to my 19-year-old douchebag Mumford and Sons phase. I decided I was going to be a folk sensation, learned three chords, noticed (after about a week) that my skill had peaked at a naive rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”, and gave up.

I’m 25 this year. When you approach a quarter-century, with no skills other than the ability to put words in order, it suddenly hits you that you’re never going to be an astronaut. Or an architect. Or a condiment magnate. The phrase “too late” assumes a certain new gravitas.

My first ever aspiration was to be a policeman-doctor-pirate – with a gun. My parents were fully supportive of my three-year-old self’s chosen career path and I was indulged: presented with a policeman’s helmet, a pirate’s eyepatch, a toy stethoscope and a cap gun, and sent forth into the world. The “you can do anything” ethos imparted to children by middle-class parents is intoxicating. When I wanted to be Batman, I got a Batman costume for my birthday. When I wanted to become a cartoonist, I was told that my doodles were masterpieces. When I wanted to become an archaeologist, I was taken on trips to the British Museum and was even given a metal detector for Christmas. When I failed to detect anything more interesting than a rusty nail, I gave up on that, too.

At 25, you realise the world is no longer your oyster. It’s more like one of those mussels that won’t open – the ones you’re told to ignore unless you fancy a bout of explosive diarrhoea. When there are about seven proper jobs to share between hundreds of thousands of graduates, whimsy and capriciousness are your worst enemy. And when you’re on to even a slightly good thing, career-wise, giving it up to become a flautist or a cult leader is a decidedly dense move.

I was supposed to be a mandolin virtuoso by now. I’m not. But while I was bubble-wrapping my mandolin, I realised that most of life’s dreams are incredibly stupid. That’s why they’re dreams.

In the X Factor age, there’s so much unnecessary stigma attached to giving up on dreams. We are constantly told that if we try hard enough, we can go from obese agoraphobes to Olympic triathletes. It’s bullshit – give up on that dream today. Remember, though, it’s never too late for politics, or porn.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

Photo: Getty
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Why Ukip might not be dead just yet

Nigel Farage's party might have a second act in it. 

Remember Ukip? Their former leader Nigel Farage is carving out a living as a radio shock jock and part-time film critic. The party is currently midway through a leadership election to replace Paul Nuttall, who quit his post following their disastrous showing at the general election.

They are already facing increasing financial pressure thanks to the loss of short money and, now they no longer have any MPs, their parliamentary office in Westminster, too. There may be bigger blows to come. In March 2019, their 24 MEPs will all lose their posts when Britain leaves the European Union, denying another source of funding. In May 2021, if Ukip’s disastrous showing in the general election is echoed in the Welsh Assembly, the last significant group of full-time Ukip politicians will lose their seats.

To make matters worse, the party could be badly split if Anne-Marie Waters, the founder of Sharia Watch, is elected leader, as many of the party’s MEPs have vowed to quit if she wins or is appointed deputy leader by the expected winner, Peter Whittle.

Yet when you talk to Ukip officials or politicians, they aren’t despairing, yet. 

Because paradoxically, they agree with Remainers: Theresa May’s Brexit deal will disappoint. Any deal including a "divorce bill" – which any deal will include – will fall short of May's rhetoric at the start of negotiations. "People are willing to have a little turbulence," says one senior figure about any economic fallout, "but not if you tell them you haven't. We saw that with Brown and the end of boom and bust. That'll be where the government is in March 2019."

They believe if Ukip can survive as a going concern until March 2019, then they will be well-placed for a revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.