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The things I wish my mother had told me

Deirdre Reynolds on a girl's best source of good advice

They may have taught us about the birds and the bees, but when it comes to life-coaching, it seems mothers don't always know best. Now, red-faced Ulster mammies have been urged to prepare their daughters for modern womanhood by passing on some risqué pearls of wisdom. And never mind dull advice about sorting your washing or how to hem, they should be doling out advice on how to pick provocative undies, get divorced and detox, according to author Lucia van der Post. Style guru Lucia has penned Things I Wish My Mother had Told Me - Lessons in Grace and Elegance, a collection of the golden rules to becoming a glamour queen.

But despite the lofty title, the girl's guide to life steers away from the old-fashioned school of etiquette that would have women balancing a book on their head or squishing their curves into a death-defying corset.

More Sex and the City than My Fair Lady, the girly handbook is instead stuffed with cosmopolitan secrets about fashion, beauty, relationships, motherhood and work and how to balance them. Grandmother Lucia, who spent three decades as a trend-watching journalist, said: "If you've been lucky enough to live my sort of life, which has had an inside ring seat on a fascinating period of womanhood - the arrival of the very first tights, the rise of women up the corporate ladder - then you've picked up a few hints along the way."

How to work and have a life:

Hang up your Superwoman cape - it seems modern mums can't do it all, after all.

It may ruffle feminist feathers, but straight-talking Lucia reckons women still have to decide whether boozy bashes, babies or board meetings top the agenda.

"You can't have it all," she warned. "I don't think it is possible to have a glittering career, well-adjusted, happy children and a loving marriage; I think it's possible to have a medium career as well as happy, well-adjusted children and a good marriage.

"It seems to me that it's usually best for the family as a whole if the woman can bring herself to put her own career, even for a short time, on the back burner." But for those who don't agree, she says compromise is the key to juggling work and family life - learn to love un-ironed piles of clothes and dusty corners. Maximise your downtime by ordering groceries online or hiring a cleaner.

How to buy delicious underwear:

It's not the Little Black Dress or perfect pair of jeans that's the most important item in every girl's wardrobe, but the bra. "Underwear, as we all learn the hard way, is more essential than we think," Lucia said. " The right ones can turn a shapeless number into something surprisingly sexy, while the wrong ones can lead to drooping boobs and floppy tummy.

Whether Marks & Spencer or Agent Provocateur, the ideal underwear drawer contains one white, black, nude and multi-strap bra and two pairs of matching knickers for each.

And it might hark back to the first embarrassing department store encounter your mother hauled you on, but getting measured is a must, says the author.

"Then you need a divinely pretty one for those days when you never know what may happen!" she added.

"Delicious underwear is good for one's morale and anything that doesn't come in a pack of three has got to be good news."

How to choose presents for people with everything:

Every girl's got one - a fussy friend or nit-picking relative that would leave Santa himself stumped for gift ideas come Christmas. "Have your pernickety loved ones reaching for the Kleenex by having an old school photograph restored, sourcing a first edition of their favourite book, or organising a special day out. Lucia suggests paying pros to help you impress. Music website will prepare a personalised iPod playlist or desert island CD for the technophobe in your life, while a day with the best personal shopper in Paris, Susan Tabak, can be organised at

How to be the hostess with the most:

Resist the temptation to nip down to the nearest M&S and attempt to pass off their ready-made lasagne as your own, if you want to become a legend in your own living room.

When entertaining guests at home, Lucia says there's no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in in the kitchen. "By indulging in that age-old ritual of breaking bread together and drinking wine, we bond as families, as friends. So I've no truck with people who go to no trouble at all.

"I understand that we're busy and some of us are busier than others but it's never been easier to serve decent food with less trouble."

Easy-to-cook organic meat, fresh fish and seasonal veg slapped up in your best china is how to get to a guest's heart through their stomach, according to the author. "I've had some of the best meals of my life in the houses of friends who don't really cook but take trouble over sourcing the best," she added.

How to age gracefully:

Step away from the Crème de La Mer counter, the secret to youthful looks is inner confidence according to Lucia.

"Most of us aren't trying to con the world into believing we're younger than we are; we just want to look the best we can," she said. " Women who take a modicum of trouble can look good at any age without trying to pass themselves off as anything that they are not."

Some simple steps to shaving off a few years include investing in a new hairdo and applying a decent anti-ageing lotion like Boots No 7 Protect and Perfect as religiously as brushing your teeth at night.

Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me – Lessons in Grace and Elegance by Lucia van der Post, John Murray, around £16.99

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