A Letter To Me In 2004 – 4 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Young And Stupid

Greetings from the world of tomorrow!

That’s a joke I know you’ll get. No, we never get over this. We still think Futurama is the best show ever put on television. Because it is the best show ever put on television. In this, the distant future year of 2018, we’ll join a Futurama fan group on Facebook and it’ll be the best thing we do on that website.

Wait, you’re from 2004. You aren’t going to know what Facebook is are you?

I’ll probably get to that. A lot has changed in fourteen years.

Let me answer your first questions:

1) A temporal anomoly, they aren’t commonplace in 2018, but I got one and I’m using this once in a lifetime chance to write a letter to you, buddy!

2) A groundhog day type situation so we can both exist at the same time at one singular moment of temporal space. I don’t know. This may surprise you, but at no point in the past fourteen years did I ever become a scientist.

3) No. Not yet. But we’ll get to that.

4) Fatter than ever. Sorry.

5) Yes! They’re awesome!

6) Donald Trump. Seriously. And yes, he is worse than Bush. But not as many illegal wars this time around as far as I know but he is putting kids in prison. The only upside is that the satire scene is thriving.

Listen, I know you’re entering a scary phase of your life. You’re terrified right now. I know because I am you, we’re always terrified. You’re flailing around trying to grasp at an identity, trying on every hat in the metaphorical hat shop. But all those hats you’re trying on are only going to teach you one thing; you don’t have a head for hats. The stetson you buy in Texas will teach you similar lessons.

But right now you’re afraid of going to university, I know. And who can blame you? It’s a huge step.

Short story: you’re going to do great. Overall it’s going to be one of the best parts of your life. You’re going to make some of the best friends you’ll ever know, have loads of amazing adventures, read so many great books, and you’re going to develop an appreciation of the Oxford comma that borders on the fetishistic.

It’s that last comma in the sentence you’ve just read.

Look, we have to make a joke about how much we love the Oxford comma every hundredth time we use it. I didn’t make the rules.

Long story: It’s a long story. Literally. And I can’t tell you that story. Partially because I’m as bad as a writer as you ever were, I’m just more aware of it now. Mostly it’s because this is a story you have to live.

Sorry. Time travel rules. If I told you everything that happens you’ll be as old as me by the time you’re done reading it. Then this letter will have accomplished nothing except maybe making us even fatter and we really don’t need any help there.

So I thought instead I’d give you some general advice in the form of a numbered list.

Oh yeah, numbered lists are gonna be huge in the future. That might be a trend you’ll want to capitalise on before say, 2007 or so.

1) Health

One day in the future you’re going to be at work and a customer is going to talk to you. Their breath will be made of bad memories. It’ll smell like a rotting tunafish just got hateraped by a plague rat. You will take a solemn vow that your mouth will never, ever smell like that. But google won’t be a common thing at the time so you won’t think to check how to avoid having a mouth that smells like a dumpster in hobo mating season.

It’s only after getting some advice – in 2015! – that you’ll learn the secret. Floss.

From 2015 onwards dental floss is going to become a huge part of your life. I just wish I’d have gotten into flossing sooner.

This is where you come in, with your pretty, unbearded, virgin mouth.

Oh, we have a beard in the future. I know you’ve never been a fan of beards, but trust me, it’ll solve a lot of problems. Get yourself bearded as soon as you possibly can.

But back to flossing. It’s an inexpensive way of giving your mouth a spa, especially when you use mouthwash afterwards.

Get yourself a good dental hygeine regimen going. It’ll help so much.

That’s right, I took advantage of a rare temporal anomoly to give you dental advice. Exclusively.

Letter over, you can go home now.


Just kidding. Our sense of humour doesn’t improve that much either, I’m afraid.

Here’s another health tip. Cool it on the working out. I know this might seem counter productive, especially considering my answer to your 3rd question, but trust me. I know you think you need to push yourself as hard as you can every day otherwise you’re going to get fat again and right now you can’t think of anything worse than that.

But here’s where this road leads: you’ll overdo it one day and you will fuck yourself up. Remember when you got thrown down those stairs? Of course you do, you’re still having the nightmares. But you’re going to run past your limit one day and completely ruin your ankle. Your knee is also going to self-destruct during a work out and you, dickhead that you are, are going to push past it.

There are good moments, sure, but mostly that knee has been in constant pain for over a decade.

What you’re doing might feel good, for now. But it won’t work in the long term. All you’ll do is injure yourself. None of these injuries will make exercise impossible, but they will make it more uncomfortable. Plus every time you get injured you’ll need to take time off to recover and then start all over again from the beginning. The first step of any exercise programme is always the hardest and if you keep hurting yourself you’re going to have to take a first step every couple of months.

You know what will work? Regular, low to mid intensity work outs. Stick to a schedule that’s comfortable and do it often and before long you’ll build up to being an excercise master.

Get a proper exercise plan from a real personal trainer or doctor. You’re going to have the opportunity to get a cheap personal training session when you join the university gym but you’ll turn it down because you’re an arrogant jerk who thinks he knows best. You don’t, though. You’re not even close, and you’re going to hurt yourself and turn into me. The big fat ball of pain typing this letter in between bathroom breaks.

As for mental health — yes, we talk about mental health a lot more in 2018. We have to, you haven’t seen what happens in 2008 yet. Mental health is a priority. And men like us are especially vulnerable because we feel like we have to be strong all the time.

The real strong thing is talking about it. Yes. All of it. Unless you want it all to come out in one Ecstasy and beer fuelled New Year’s Eve party in 2006 where you make a huge tit out of yourself.

Yes, you’ll try drugs. A lot of drugs. When you get to my age you’ll be able to tell people you’ve tried almost every drug there is. Most of them are pretty shit, actually. Weed’s okay, ecstasy is fun but has long come downs, mushrooms are a waste of money, coke is just a headache that you inhale awkwardly through your nose. But alcohol is your main drug of choice.

But take it easy, yeah? You’ve drank before a few times and it’s always been a thrill, like finding the missing piece of yourself that isn’t there the rest of the time. It fills a hole until it makes you feel like a real person. But you’re about to be set loose, legal to drink, and with no supervision.

You’re going to overdo it and fuck things up. In many ways, that’s okay, everyone you’re about to meet is going to do the same thing. It’s how we learn our limits.

Just remember you don’t have to be the guy who drinks more than everyone else. It’s really uncomfortable and eventually people are just going to get sick of you bragging about it and convince you to drink Wray and Neffews overproof rum one time.

Oh yeah, and stay away from Wray and Neffews overproof rum. There’s only a few times in your life when drinking this stuff is going to be a good thing, none of them are going to be the ones you think. Err on the side of caution.

You’re going to be a great cook in 2018, but you’ll learn to cook healthy food far later than you might like. But here are some general tips:

* Eat more fruits and vegetables. As many as you can as often as you can.

* Tinned tomatoes and passata are a cheap, healthier alternative to pasta sauce

* Heed my words: You can make chilli from passata, cumin, chilli powder, paprika, and cinnamon. A little tweaking and you can make a curry from a similar recipe.

* Jaffa Cakes are cakes. Yeah, they figured that mystery out. No more bloodshed need be lost on this one.

2) Love

Relax. You’re going to have sex. Not as much as you might like, but spoiler alert (that’s a thing we say in the future), nobody has as much sex as they like — or as much as they claim.

Yeah, you know those guys bragging about how much sex they’ve had? Almost all of them are liars. And even if they aren’t liars, it’s a fucking weird thing to brag about.

I know it seems like the most important thing in the world to you right now, and I can appreciate that. It can seem like nobody will ever find you attractive — especially since you haven’t kissed a girl yet.

Don’t be embarassed, it’s nothing to be ashamed of for the following reasons.

a) Ultimately it’s not as important as you think it is.

b) You’re going to kiss so many girls in the future. You’ll never know when it’s coming, and maybe that’s part of the beauty of it, but it’ll happen and most of the time it’ll be pretty special. Although one time you will mess up the timing and accidentally kiss a girl on the nose like some kind of weird snot fetishist. This is not how you kiss.

But sex? It’s fine, better to be having it than not, but it’s not the most important thing in the world.

You know what is more important though? Treating women better.

I’m about to drop a harsh truth on you, man. Sorry. But it’s better you find out now than you finding out in 2014 when it’s already too late to fix your behaviour.

I know you feel like you’re a nice guy, and you are, kind of. Your intentions are completely normal, even commendable.

But dude, this obsession with meeting the right girl is going to drive you out of your mind if you let it.

Important lessons:

1) If she says no, the answer is no. It’ll sound weird coming from me, but if she actually says ‘no’ then that’s a good sign. It means she’s comfortable enough around you to be honest.

2) If she says maybe, that probably means no too. Move on. There really are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t get creepily obsessed with one woman. Unless it’s a firm and enthusiastic yes, always assume it’s a no and respect it.

3) The nice guy thing does not work. Basic decency is great, and you have no idea at this point how few men do it, but it is the very least you can do. It doesn’t entitle you to sex or affection from anyone. In fact, very few things entitle you to sex or affection. Nobody owes you love.

4) Consent can be revoked at any time. You can be in bed with a woman one day and have her never want to see you again the next day and that’s okay, she’s not doing anything wrong. Yeah, it sucks — it’s fucking horrible. But she’s allowed to change her mind, so are you by the way (you are going to make some mistakes). And everybody around you is confused and afraid and trying new things and sometimes they regret those things.

Stick with those four lessons, tattoo them on your heart and apply them to every sexual encounter you have. Otherwise one day you’re going to realise how creepy you’ve been and want to cringe yourself inside out.

I feel like this stuff might be too heavy for you, so here, a random list of cool sex things you’re definitely going to do at some point in the future:

* so much sex

* you will have sex with multiple women with ridiculously sexy accents. It’s awesome.

* you will kiss more women than you can count, so rest your mind about that.

* you know that sex thing you want to try? You know the one. I won’t admit it here, but you’re going to meet women who are super, enthusiastically into the exact same thing. And you’re going to do it, multiple times and it’s going to be great.

* you’re going to meet women who will love you when you feel the fattest and most disgusting. You won’t understand it, but that only makes it more special when it happens. Treasure it.

Treasure every woman who consents to sleeping with you, because they are all special in their own way.

Unfortunately, none of them have stuck around, no matter how much you might wish they did.

Sorry, dude.

But this is okay. Let them come into your life and then let them go again when they want to leave. I know it hurts, and I know how you’re getting really good at converting hurt, pain, and fear into anger. And anger feels good sometimes. But don’t let this pain turn to anger. Because some of the anger I’ve expressed has been disgusting.

No, you’ve never hurt anyone you’ve been with. We haven’t turned into a total scumbag.

But sometimes your pain and anger will make you say things that you regret, things that make these amazing women uncomfortable. The scary thing is you won’t see it at the time. You won’t see how hard you’ve made things for people until long after they’ve already left your life in disgust.

Don’t be nice; be good. Respect a woman’s right to say no, keep an open mind, and treat women with respect. You’ll be so much happier in the long run.

Don’t let your anger and fear get the better of you. Those two emotions have the potential to turn you into someone you don’t like if you let them control you.

Don’t be desperate for sex or love either. Desperation is like a dog whistle for horrible people who will try to take advantage of it. I don’t want to name names, but you have a heartbreak coming in the summer of ’06 and it will rip the guts right out of you.

Also, I’m thirty two right now. To me sex just isn’t a big deal anymore. You’re going to be genuinely happy being single. And it’s all because you’ll learn that you don’t need sex to feel like a man anymore.

It’s like alcohol. It might feel like that missing piece that makes you feel human, but it isn’t. No outside force can make you feel human, you have to fill those empty spaces yourself. It’s the only way anyone gets anywhere.

You’ve got to work at this stuff, man. Nobody just hands you the answer to wealth and power.

3) Money

The following horses win the Grand National:

2004 Amberleigh House
2005 Hedgehunter
2006 Numbersixvalverde
2007 Bad Horse
2008 Comply or Die
2009 This Horse Will Run Fast
2010 Bojack Horseman
2011 Ballabriggs
2012 Neptune Collonges
2013 Findus Crispy Pancake
2014 Pineau De Re
2015 Many Clouds
2016 Make Light Rain
2017 One For Arthur
2018 Tiger Roll

Stick a small bet on them, just enough to make some beer money. But I’ve included one or two fake horses in there because you’re about to be poor, and you need to be poor for a while.

Sorry, it sucks, but this is important.

You’re going to be forced, by poverty, into getting a bar job to cover your university expenses. And this experience will be one of the best things that is ever going to happen to you.

Not the work. No, the work is hideous. It’s hard, the hours are long, and the pub is full of people almost all the time. Not all of those people are friendly, in fact a lot of them will just use you as a punching bag to vent their own anger.

But you’re going to make some amazing friends here, and you’re going to learn a lot about people. Both of these things are going to help you become a better writer.

Seriously, the years you spend working in a pub are going to have a special place in your heart when you’re old like I am. Enjoy it all (in moderation, and drink plenty of water too), you’ll need these people and experiences later.

And I’m sorry, dude, but you’re going to have a lot of shitty jobs. Part of the reason why I look back on university so fondly is because each of the jobs I’ve done has crushed something essential in me. In the future you’re going to deal with corpratism, commutes, rejection, exploitation, low pay, shitty hours, angry members of the public who will use you as their punching bag, shitty bosses, annoying co-workers, and one time actual wage theft.

But as bad as these experiences are, each one is going to teach you something. Even if all they teach you is what jobs to avoid in future.

It’ll be worth getting stock in Myspace (sell before 2007) Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Netflix. A lot of those words will mean nothing to you, and at age 32 I’m still not 100% sure how you buy stock. But if I was you I’d want to know what the best investments are.

Oh, and in around 2016 or so, you’re going to hear stories about a thing called Bitcoin. It’s an online currency that makes no sense to anybody, but buy a few of them when they’re cheap. There will come a time when they’re worth ten grand each, but their value will plummet fast unless you sell them while they’re hot.

Because we’ll need all the money we can get, especially since the writing dream hasn’t happened yet.

4) Writing

Yet! Yet!

Here’s the thing, we haven’t made a great deal of money at writing. But we’re going to write so many great stories and books.

That may not seem like a great trade-off and it isn’t. But it’s still worthwhile.

Gallaetha isn’t going to get picked up by any publishers, but it doesn’t need to. You’re going to self-publish and it’s going to sell close to six hundred copies. You won’t see much money from it, but every now and again — usually when you feel most insecure about your chosen career choice — you’re going to get an e-mail or message from someone who has read it and it’s going to lift your spirits for months afterwards.

I don’t want to spoil it, but if you count the three ‘books’ that make up Gallaetha then I’ve written eight full length novels so far and more short stories than I can count. Every one was challenging in its own way, and like the shit jobs, each one teaches you something else and makes you a better writer.

You’re about to go to university to study Creative Writing, and you’re going to learn a great deal there. But here’s some general tips I wish I’d learned earlier than I did:

* Write every day, but don’t push yourself past your limits. You’re going to hit a patch where you want to write 1000 words a day every day and you will hate yourself if you don’t manage it. It’s a great way of talking yourself out of writing anything at all. The quantity doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you show up and do the work. Even five minutes a day is good. All progress is good progress. If you take the pressure off you’ll enjoy the craft a lot more. You’ll sometimes even write more words this way. A little can turn to a lot so fast.

* Quality doesn’t matter in the first draft. Get all the words down and worry about making them pretty later. Coming back to edit a piece of writing later will give you a clear perspective, something that you lack during most first drafts. Don’t be afraid to suck for a while. That’s all writing, and any skill, is; a process of continually falling over until you can recognise where the potholes are.

* Not every piece of writing is appreciated by every audience. One of the weirdest bits of criticism Gallaetha  gets is that there isn’t enough romance. You can’t please everyone, and a lot of the times you can’t even please anyone. Keep at it anyway.

* You’ll enjoy this part — read as much as you can. You’re already off to a good start, Terry Pratchett is one of the finest writers to learn from. R.A Salvatore, not so much. But don’t just read fantasy, branch out into sci-fi, crime, literary fiction, so-called “women’s” fiction, romance, historical fiction, memoirs, thrillers, horror — all of it. Every single book that has ever been written has something to teach you about the craft of writing. There are books you won’t enjoy, but there are no bad books, despite what you might think right now.

You’ve been punished a bit with the books you’ve been made to read at GCSE and A level, and you’re about to get hammered with a few more painful books that will come close to making you regret taking this course. Don’t let them. For every Moll Flanders, there’s a Graham Greene, a Phillip Pullman, a Chinua Achebe, a Nani Power, a Bronte sister, a Mary Shelley, a Milan Kundera. There are so many good books in your future, and that’s just as part of this course, I haven’t even mentioned the many books you’ll read for fun. I envy you a little.

Oh yeah, and in 2004, soon, you’re going to read a book that will light your soul on fire. You’ll read it all in one night then start it up again right away because you won’t believe how any earthly writer can be that good. I’m not going to tell you who this author is, but he’ll change your life. One of many authors that will. But he’ll be first, and you always remember your first.

I’ve read this book at least twenty times since then. It never loses its power. You’re going to love it.

Books are amazing. That’s why we want to write them, right?

* Take advice. It’s like with the gym, there is so much support out there and as soon as you start asking for it you’ll improve almost immediately. Read books about the craft of writing, even the dull grammar focused ones. Ask your lecturers for critiques and support. You’re about to be a part of a peer group full of writers, use them as a sounding board, ask them to critique your work, critique theirs. This is the only time in your life when you have access to these assets — take advantage of them while you can.

* You’re a horrible poet, Matt. Get your head down and power through those poetry modules. Be vague and generic, don’t try to write your genuijne feelings or you’ll produce so much cringeworthy shite. By all means experiment and give it a try, but I don’t think poetry is a skill we’ll ever enjoy.

* Follow through on your ideas, even the bad ones. Often times you won’t know the worth of an idea until you’ve already gotten some of it out on paper. But don’t show anyone anything you’ve written until you’re confident about it.

* You’re going to be tempted to take a songwriting module in third year. It’ll be a lot of fun, but it’ll be the same as with the poetry. I don’t think songwriting is a thing we can do. This module drags our overall grade down and keeps us from walking out of university with a first class degree.

If you feel compelled to re-make this mistake, at the very least talk to the people in there. Those drama students might be intimidatingly extroverted, but they could be nice people. I don’t know. I kind of wish I did.


That’s it. You’ve got nothing to worry about. A good three years are about to happen to you and I’m so jealous of all you’re about to experience.

And don’t vote Lib Dem in 2010. You’ll be tempted, that Clegg fella will seem like he knows what he’s talking about and you’ve always wanted to vote for a left wing party. But it’s a trap.

I’d wish you good luck, but you don’t need it. You’ve got this.

Mind how you go.

Sir Matt Holland – Veteran Of The 2010 Jaffa Cake Wars (Never Forget)

— Matt Holland 30/07/18

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