Eleanor Margolis: sapphic cynic at large

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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. 

A group of German girls out walking, with musical accompaniment from mandolin and guitars, 1930s. Photo: Getty
Strung out: a group of German girls out walking, with musical accompaniment from mandolin and guitars, 1930s. Photo: Getty

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.