Kitty Flanagan's 488 Rules For Life

From Sunday Morning, 11:30 am on 20 October 2019

Australian comedian Kitty Flanagan has put together a comprehensive guide to modern behaviour: 488 Rules For Life: The Thankless Art of Being Correct.

She covers the important things: surround sound, hipster-talking parents, old men and their hair (and feet), tattoos, complicated lunches and airport etiquette.

It began as a bit of a joke, Flanagan tells Jim Mora.

“The book started off as a bit of a joke. Jordan Peterson obviously brought out the best-seller 12 Rules for Life. And I looked at that and thought 12 rules? You've got to be kidding – 12 – I’ve got 12 rules just for the bathroom,” she says.

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Photo: Rebecca Bana

“I went on a programme over here, called The Weekly where I used to do a little five-minute segment, and I pretended that I had written a book called 488 Rules for Life.

“And I went through some of those rules we did a little segment about it - and it was just made up. And then people started going into the bookshop and asking, Can I get a copy of that book 488 Rules for Life? And so eventually the bookshops rang the publisher and said, we're getting a lot of requests. Do you think she could actually write it?”

There are some general house rules that should always be observed, she says.

Surround sound is a waste of money

“When I watch the TV, I like the sound to be coming from the place that I'm watching. It feels weird to me if I'm watching someone walk, to have their footsteps appearing behind me that's just creepy.

“I also don't agree with people that have speakers throughout their house as well so they can pipe their tunes throughout their entire house. It's like, it's your house - It's not a department store.”

Two basins? Waste of space

“For a start, if I'm in the bathroom, I want to be in there by myself, I don't want someone else in there. Also, if I am close enough with that person that I'm going to let them be in the bathroom at the same time as me, then surely we're close enough to be able to spit into the same sink if we're brushing our teeth together at the same time?

“So this two basin and thing, waste of time, waste of space. “

Do not leave one square of toilet paper on the roll

“I think this is worse than people who just don't change the roll, because people who leave one square on there, they've made a concerted effort, they've gone ‘I can't be accused of not changing the roll if I leave one square on there because technically, the roll didn't need changing because there's still some toilet paper left, I'm leaving’. One square is a serious offense in my book.”

Life is not a sport, so you don't need a coach

“I thought they were a little flash in the pan in the 90s that were going to go away, but no they have proliferated. They just breed - life coaches, I think they all marry one another and then breed more life coaches.

Everyone who fails at their job becomes a life coach and I just don’t see how that qualifies you to tell me what to do with my life, invariably they have all failed at whatever they started out doing, and just gone ‘I'm going to be a life coach now’ and inspire other people.”

Dress according to the standard of cyclist you are

“Now this is a specific rule that was written with Australians in mind. I don't know if it's the case in New Zealand. My issue with this is, I enjoy a bit of tennis, but do I go down to the tennis club in a Serena Williams catsuit? No, I don't I just wear regular exercise gear.

“Why is it cyclists decide to dress like they're riding in the Tour de France? They've all got all their sponsorship clothes on - you're not sponsored. You know what you are you? You're just you're just a middle-aged man trying to get out of doing some parenting on a Sunday.”

The park is not a gym

“I don't know if this is an issue in New Zealand, it’s very much an issue where I live, I'm constantly going down to the park and there's some trainer there setting up equipment, giant ropes and tires and kettle bells - whatever they are, what is a kettle bell and why so people swing them? Did they actually have a purpose, or were they just invented for these exercises?

“But they set up, they get mats out, they take up a huge section of the park. The park is for pleasantly strolling around it's not for me standing there watching someone, ‘C’mon Dianne give me 20 more! C’mon Dianne lift it!”

Aging gracefully

“Old men should not have long hair - well, that speaks for itself. I didn't really even need to qualify that.

“And I think the problem with long hair on men is, it probably didn't even look good when you're in your 20s. But now, not only does it still not look good, you're also just making the rest of us uncomfortable.”

Speaking of which put your feet away

“This is something that affects men. I find when men get older for some reason, they just decide that they can live out the rest of their life in sandals. So, when their feet are the most disgusting and cracked, and yellow with those gnarly toenails, they just decide. Let's put those petri dishes on display for everyone to enjoy. So I just think pop a sock on old man. Pop a sock on.”

Stay up to date with modern music, but drop the hip speak

“I think it's good to listen to young people's radio stations. If you want to stay across the music that everyone's listening to and keep yourself up to date, but don't start trying to talk like the young people on the radio stations.

“I don't want to hear anyone saying something like ‘this track is bangin’ that should not come out of anyone who's over 25 ‘this track is bangin’. And I don't want to hear you tell me that something is dropping either. I don't want anyone to tell me that something is dropping - unless they’re young that's fine.

“If you lived in the era where we listened to things that came on big, black shiny circles called records, you can't tell me that something is dropping.”

In the office, it ain’t hot desking

“Well, it's not actually called hot desking it's called shit desking. And anyone will tell you that who actually has to hot desk, it's horrible. It's tantamount to employee abuse.”

Stuck in the middle

The person in the middle of a row three on a plane gets both am rests, Flanagan insists.

“It makes perfect sense because person at the window has the window and one armrest, the person on the aisle has the advantage of being on the aisle and one armrest, so what does the person in the middle get besides being punished by having to sit in the middle?

They should get the reward of both arm rests … nothing is more punishing than the middle seat. “

Stand back from the carousel people!

“I'd like a clearance zone of about a metre, so that people can stand back, see their bag, step forward, just take the bag off and remove it when people crowd around you can't even see your bag.

“When I mention this rule that you should stand back it gets a standing ovation. So, what I want to know is who are the idiots that are still standing around baggage carousel because everyone seems to agree with me. And yet people are still bunching up around the baggage carousel, so I'm not sure what's happening there.”

Don't make me curate my own lunch

“I find that too hard, lunchtime. You know, you're often in a hurry, especially if you're working in office. So you walk into the sandwich bar, or the salad bar, whatever it is and you just want to go, I want to number five, please, or I want to number 12.

“When you look up at that board, and it says, step one- pick a base, step two - pick a protein, step three - pick a crunch, step four - pick two options. Forget it. I'm going next door to get hot chips.”

No tattoos above your collarbone - choose your tattoo then wait a year

“Well, the rule is actually decide on your tattoo, then wait a year. Then think about it again and wait another year.

“I think you should really wait two years before you permanently mark yourself. I look back and I think I may well have put a dolphin on my shoulder. I was, you know, a little bit hippie back in the day.

“And imagine what that would look like now? Like at the time you know, I had quite a lean, muscly, arm it would have been a dolphin just looking majestic as it leapt across my deltoid, whereas now, I'll be honest with you, it would look more like a dugong. It'd be sad, It'd be lumpy, it'd be a manatee. That's what I'd have on my shoulder right now.

“And that's why I don't think you should get a butterfly either. Sure it looks pretty now, but in a few years’ time, that's just gonna look like a dirty old moth.”

Models we don’t care if you were ugly at school

“Even if it was true, none of us care. You know? You're looking great now, just enjoy the fact that you won the gene lottery and don't try and make us all feel sorry for you. ‘Oh, yeah, that's really sad you weren't pretty your whole life. Bad luck. No one looked good at school.”