For over forty years, Bel Mooney has been one of this country’s best-loved journalists and authors, and her hugely popular Daily Mail advice column reaches six million people every week. Far from being a detached and abstract figure, Bel doesn’t shy away from sharing her own life experiences of grief, forgiveness and joy with her devoted readers, making her column at once both distinctly personal and thoroughly universal in relevance. A lifeline for many, some of her wise, compassionate and unflinchingly honest words of good counsel are gathered together here for the first time.
Lifelines – Words to Help you Through by Bel Mooney Review
Priceless Advice from Bel Mooney
We all need a bit of help and advice now and again and sometimes there are things that we can’t tell anybody around us, so we continue to suffer in silence. A lifeline can be something that provides a means of escape from a difficult situation and this book provides just such a tool.
Bel Mooney’s Lifelines – Words to Help You Through, an anthology of pieces taken from her advice column, is the sort of book to keep nearby and dip in and out of when you can’t see a way out of a difficult situation or you wish your best friend were with you to offer a shoulder to cry on.
Bel, one of Britain’s best-loved journalists, broadcasters and authors with six novels and 30 children’s books to her name, has written an advice column in the Daily Mail for the past ten years that reaches six million people every week and, I have to admit, that I have often reached out for her words of wisdom myself. You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover in one sitting as the chapters are divided up to deal with different emotional issues, so finding a particular topic is made easy.
What makes Bel a good Agony Aunt then? Is it because she went through a very public and painful divorce from broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby? Is it because she has changed her life following the break-up of her 35 year marriage and found love with a man 16 years her junior? Is it because her daughter Kitty was very sick as a baby and Bel slept on the hospital floor whilst Kitty was in intensive care? Is it because she has experienced stillbirth, abortion and miscarriage? Yes, of course it is. All these things and more make Bel the perfect person to give words of advice to others.
Bel has experienced anguish and heartache, joy and pain and it is because we feel we know her that we can relate to what she says in her column, which as she quotes in her book, “I discovered how powerfully my readers responded to stories from my own life and realised that to do the job well I had to give as much of my ‘all’ as it is possible to give.” (Page XVIII) Not an easy task for anybody to reveal their inner self, but Bel does and it is that which makes us relate to her even more. Bel’s tone is calming, warm and caring; sometimes wrapping you up in a blanket of hugs, sometimes laying out options on the line in a no-nonsense manner.
Lifelines is peppered with inspirational and uplifting quotations as well as a selection of letters, replies and some of the ‘And finally’ side-columns, detailing other readers’ responses whether they empathised or were irritated by the initial letter.
Take the woman who had remarried after her first husband had left her for another woman but is now frustrated by her ‘poorly educated’ second husband. What advice might other Agony Aunts give – find someone with whom you are on an intellectual par? Not Bel, who expresses a ‘frisson of irritation’ with the woman to whom she writes ‘you do not realise how lucky you are’ before telling it like it is by saying that she runs the very real risk of making the biggest mistake of her life. Go Bel… that’s what we readers want – straight talking advice!
As a teenager I remember turning to the Agony Aunt page in Jackie magazine before reading anything else. I graduated onto Irma Kurtz in Cosmopolitan, the journal of choice for sexually liberated women in the 70’s, before flicking through the dailies on my way to work to see what advice Clare Rayner and Marjorie Proops had to proffer.
Bel is different to those doyens of yesteryear. Reading Lifelines is like having a new next door neighbour. Bel is the person that I would want to pop round to in times of trouble who would invite me in for a cup of tea and counselling.
We may not have experienced the same problems as those people whose letters Bel has included in Lifelines, but we can certainly interpret the guidance and recommendations she gives on how to come out the other side into something that resonates with certain parts of our own lives. Common sense maybe, but sometimes it takes someone to show us the way when we have lost ours.
A letter from a man saying that he was thinking of leaving his second wife and children for someone he had fallen in love with at work was greeted with a ‘Don’t do it!’ by Bel. The pertinent quote she used to illustrate this was:
“Folly to drink from puddles by the way
When here at home the crystal fountains play!”
Angelus Silesius (German priest and Poet, 1624-77)
How often have we read letters sent to an Agony Aunt and wondered ‘what happened next’, so it is really heart-warming to see some of the letters that Bel has received from those who have taken her advice on board that lets us find out in which direction their life went.
The chapter entitled Guilt on page 5 tells of a woman who is wracked with guilt and grief about a long-ago abortion. Bel’s suggestion was that she should get a pretty painted box, put the name she was going to give the baby into the box, light two candles, tell the baby what she felt and say a heartfelt goodbye before, maybe, burying the box. Bel writes that she subsequently received letters from people saying they’d carried out a similar ritual and it was a weight off their shoulders.
The 21st century seems to be making us all miserable. It is a sad truth that in our fast changing world we are apparently turning to advice columns more frequently than ever for relationship problems, life skills, advice and more. Sometimes just a few apposite or inspirational words are all that is needed to help us survive a tough ride. Bel’s book provides words that can help, written by someone who is perceptive and understanding.
If there was one thing that resounded with me it was Chapter 1 – Happy Mind? – which featured a letter from a woman feeling very low who asked whether it was just luck that makes some of us optimistic or happy. She asked Bel if she had always had a positive attitude. Bel addressed the stigma of mental illness and depression and suggested ways to start making small changes and told how she herself had taken the first steps out of depression. The bit that particularly resonated with me was her suggestion for achieving a ‘happy attitude’: “Each day I flip the negatives (I’ve put weight on around middle’) to make a positive (‘But a thin face is the worst thing when you’re over sixty’)… “ Flipping the negatives and trying to see my glass as being half full rather than half empty is something that I will now put into practice on a regular basis. Thanks Bel!
Her final words in Lifelines are: “Yes – despite the sadness… ‘only good’.
If there is one thing that we can all take from having Lifelines on the kitchen worktop, next to the bed or on the coffee table it is that good things can come from change and, as Bel says, “Just as I have changed, so I know people must change to transform their own lives…”