Resolute

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Well, the New Year arrives and with it the same old resolutions that I make and break year after year.  I can’t help but feel that it would be great this year if we all got together to make one single New Year Wish instead of wasting our time making promises that we never even expect to keep.  7.5billion souls, all wishing that Covid would go away forever and leave us alone would have to achieve something wouldn’t it?  There is much to be said for the power of positive thinking.  Like when you stare pointedly at the last doughnut in the canteen chiller, just knowing that the seven people in the queue ahead of you are not going to take it before you get there… O.K., bad example…

In truth, this year, as every year my resolutions will do well to make it past my birthday – which is January second – so my ambition does not stretch too far.  My seldom-varied resolutions are:

  • Be Kinder – A laudable and achievable ambition if only the world was not so full of IDIOTS!  Let us all stand aside for the self-important.  In this country, you only have to drive a car in order to realise that everyone is much more important than you!  That everyone in a bigger car than yours is infinitely more important than you and that you, yourself, are actually the idiot if you think otherwise.  I have very little knowledge of the German language, but just enough to understand that Vorsprung durch technik means ‘Get out of my way, pleb in a small car.’  Being kind to a person who stares down at you at you from the lofty heights of the family SUV, sneeringly observing you as though they would have more respect for something that had just dropped out of the back of their dog, is not easy.  They turn driving into some kind of mediaeval feudal battle in which those with the poorest armour are fated to perish, whilst those with airbags, roll bars and a little hook in the back for the riding boots are set to prosper.  What right do we small car people have to even share their road?  Call that a car?  It’s more like a motorised skate.  Where do you even fit all the pony’s tack?  Where do you put the glamping stove?  How do you transport the gardener’s barrow?  They manage somehow, these people, to carry their cars with them wherever they go: even in the supermarket, the best cumquats are theirs by right; the Parma ham has been sliced solely for their benefit, and they shudder to think what you might do with a decent Chablis.  The content of their trolley is infinitely more worthy than your own four cans of Belgian lager and a ready-made chicken Madras.  It is difficult to be kinder to these people – even in anger…  I used to try, I promise I did, but now I just think about it, before dismissing it out of hand.  I cannot be kinder to them, and they wouldn’t notice if I was.  Will they be kinder to me?  Possibly.  If they feel that God is watching and is as easily bribed as everyone else they know.*
  • Keep my opinions to myself – Age has brought me the knowledge that nobody wants to hear them anyway.  We live in a society within which listening to the opinions of others is considered a sign of weakness.  Where the slightest temptation to consider, even for one second, the possibility that you might just, conceivably, be wrong, is an admission of abject failure.  Where not having an opinion you feel impelled to share – especially upon subjects of which you have no knowledge – is considered disrespectful; demonstrating a kind of benign disinterest, a complete disdain for societal norms.  The unwillingness to enter into an argument over a subject of which you know nothing is viewed as a declaration of war.  The determination to find a fight becomes a battle in itself.  If you don’t fight, you can’t win.  Keeping your opinions to yourself comes at a price – namely alienating everybody you know who feels you should be arguing with them.  If you want to keep your friends, just tell them they are wrong.  You don’t need a reason.  They wouldn’t listen to it anyway**.
  • I will be a better person – I will try, for ages, sometimes hours, but it’s just so complicated, so time-consuming.  And where do you draw the line?  I do make random phone calls to lonely people all the time – but it’s usually just to order a take-away.  Does that count?  I give money to charity virtually every single time I am shamed into doing so.  This year I will drop something into the supermarket food bank box that is not the second half of a buy one – get one free offer.
  • I will be optimistic – I will never have a half empty glass (unless of course the bottle is completely so).  I shall endeavour to always look on the bright side – even if that means putting my back out.  Sometimes the bright side can be very difficult to see.  The human body is not built for obtuse angles.  Also for rollercoasters.  Sometimes the bright side is only marginally more cheery than the dark side – like a BBC3 sit-com.
  • I will stop worrying – because worry is leading me to an early grave.  Today, at my house, ‘A’ happened.  I don’t want to go into detail – it is profoundly depressing – but perhaps I should explain a little.  ‘A’ is the start of a chain of events.  ‘A’ varies, the chain of events, less so.  If ‘A’ – which is generally of little consequence in itself – has occurred, then it stands to reason that ‘B’ is only just around the corner.  ‘B’ will always lead to ‘C’ which, itself, always causes ‘D’, and the inevitable consequence of ‘D’ is ‘E’ which, leads inevitably onto ‘Z’ just a few minutes later, resulting in the collapse of the house, and the disintegration of my entire life; leaving us all homeless and hopeless.  In my head, the train has left the station, destination Rack and Ruin, with no stops between here and there.  Will I be able to talk my way out of the journey?  Almost certainly not: I was given the ticket at birth.  Anyway, my bicycle is in the Guard’s van which detached, along with the Buffet Car, at Crewe. Logic dictates that mishap leads inexorably to disaster; the only variant being the number of stops between here and there.
  • I will be more ‘on the ball’ – if there is a ‘party’ to metaphorically go to, I will generally arrive as the swingers emerge, sated, from beneath the dining table, vaguely aware that the person with whom they have just forced the Earth to move (or, more likely the guacamole to wobble) is almost certainly their four-year old’s teacher, and the jilted lovers appear bleary-eyed from the bathroom whilst the host is running warm water into a bucketful of Dettol.  I never seem to be there for the fun, just for the clean up.  (It should be clear that I am not talking about an actual party here.  Parties are never fun once you have passed the age of jelly and custard.)  I become aware of trends simply because they cease to be trendy.  If there is a bus to miss, I will miss it.  If the world is looking one way, I will be looking the other, wondering why everybody else is wearing something that ceased to be fashionable twenty years ago, blithely unaware that twenty years ago became the New Now yesterday.  I will endeavour to change all of this.  I have no idea how.
  • I will try to sleep more – this is the path to contentment, although I have no idea of how I might achieve it.  If I go to bed early, I do not sleep.  If I go to bed later, I do not sleep.  If I go to bed loaded with alcohol, I cannot sleep as my bladder constantly tells me that I need to go to the loo, whilst my prostate just laughs at me when I get there.  I can happily fall asleep over a book or an ITV Game Show, but the moment my head hits the regulation pillow I am wide-awake, counting the darkened seconds until my alarm goes off.  Only after the morning clarion call of the radio-alarm do I truly feel like sleep.  I have tried counting sheep, but those spooky little yellow eyes keep me awake.  Sheep are not restful.  Sheep are evil.  I believe that people count them only so they know where they are.
  • I will try new things – I won’t.  I think, in a piece entitled ‘Some of the Things That I Will Never Do’ I explained why, a year ago.  The list of things that I wish to try before I die is dwarfed by the list of things that I fear would kill me if I attempted them.  I have a personality that means that some doors must always remain closed on me – I tried to explain that one in ‘The Great Abstainer’ also last year – I have lost the will to kick those doors open.  These days, I am happy to sit outside with my ear to the letter box, trying to catch snatches of what is going on, whilst ensuring that the letter flap doesn’t snap down on the bridge of my nose.  If curiosity killed the cat, then indifference must be the gateway to a long and unproductive life.  Whatever…
  • I will eat less crap – I won’t.
  • I will drink less alcohol – I won’t.
  • I will wish you all a very happy and contented New Year – I do.

*Wow!  I’ve just caught sight of that chip on my shoulder.  It’s a very big one, isn’t it?  I must make a resolution to do something about it.
**Ok, I’ve just realised what a balanced person I am.  A chip on each shoulder.  I must make a resolution to do something about that too.

Auld Lang Syne

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New Year is not a favourite time of year for me. It just seems odd to be celebrating the passing of yet another precious segment of one’s meagre allotted time. It doesn’t help that New Year falls just one day before my birthday. It’s as if, having reminded me of my own mortality on Monday, life decides to go for it again on Tuesday. It is like turning on the TV at the end of The X Factor only to find that Britain’s Got Talent has just started instead. Like Simon Cowell, there is always too much human frailty to go around. In my head, New Year always prompts a personal review of the year that’s been. It is like a school report. It is always stamped ‘Could do better’. Whilst Christmas is the season to be jolly, perhaps this is the season to be introspective. The season for a psychological disc clean and reboot. It is the time of year to give thanks for all of those who love you – even when you’re being a dick – and all of those who stand by you, even when you yourself are sitting down on the job.  It is most certainly not that I have nothing to look forward to – I am singularly fortunate in that respect. The future is bright, but it’s my part in it that’s the problem. Somehow I always feel like I’ve turned up for Hamlet dressed as the pantomime dame. I am the Jimmy Krankie on the Question Time panel. I am the man who just wanted his car mending at an AA meeting.

Looking back is seldom comforting. How often can you truly review what you’ve done, how you’ve reacted, and think ‘you know, I handled that really well’? More often than not, looking back invokes guilt and shame, plus the feeling of inadequacy only otherwise felt in the swimming pool changing rooms. Perhaps what I need to do is to view the New Year as a celebration of future possibilities. Looking forward is so much easier. In the future, I am going to be great. In the future I will look back on my present self with a wistful ‘tsk’ of sadness at how poor I used to be. In the future I will see the New Year as a time to affirm my own goodliness, but for the present, I will see it as a time when I would rather be in bed before the fireworks start if that’s ok with you.

At the dawning of each New Year I make the same three resolutions:
1. Be better
2. Be kinder
3. Be thinner.
It is self-evident that each year I fail miserably to deliver on all three counts.

My desire to be ‘better’ is not a competitive thing. I’m not seeking to improve a PB. I don’t want to run a 5K quicker than before (actually ‘at all’ would be more accurate) I don’t want to get better at darts, at snooker, at golf (or any of those things that, now you come to mention it, I would really quite like to get a bit better at) and I don’t especially want to be better than anybody else in particular. What I actually want to be is better than me. I’m always struck by people who are more aware than me, are more interested than me, are more interesting than me; are better listeners, better talkers… Just better really. I aspire to be like them, not better than them (I am not competitive enough) but better than me. And, although it sounds like a really easy job, I don’t think that I will ever achieve it, but at least I aspire to it and that’s something, isn’t it?

And being kinder is, in my mind, something of a by-product of being better, but I think of it separately because, quite frankly, empathy is a tough nut to crack isn’t it? Generally, I find myself only a very short way along the empathetic path before I become aware that my mind has begun to wander onto how ‘things’ – whatever those things might be – could affect me. Kind of ‘Oh, how sad, the milkman’s wife has died. Does this mean I won’t have any milk for my cereal in the morning?’ I try to keep a lid on it, I really do, but it requires a conscious effort – and I’m not sure that it should.

And boy! do I struggle with the sympathy/pity dichotomy. I wish that somebody could draw a line that I should never ever cross. Generally speaking, feeling sympathy is ok: if not welcomed, then at least accepted, but pity, oh dear, that’s another beast altogether. Nobody welcomes pity. Nobody wants to be pitied. But, Lord! how easily sympathy smudges into pity and how incapable am I of spotting the moment it happens. I think if I was better, if I was kinder, I would know this without knowing it. Without knowingly knowing it. ‘People skills’ I think it is called. I have no people skills. Whatever the occasion, there is always a tiny bit of my brain that is thinking about me and, when I become aware of it, I dedicate another little bit of my brain to pushing that thought back to where it belongs. Then I find another little bit of my brain becomes quite interested in what is going on over there and before I know it… well, I’ve got a very limited amount of brain to go around and, bit by bit, it becomes so self absorbed that I could be talking to Genghis Khan about child care and I would be none the wiser.

And the thin thing? Well, that’s quite a different kettle of fish. It has nothing to do with vanity. It has nothing to do with health. It is all to do with control. I like to think that, should I wish to, I could control what I eat and what I drink with no difficulty at all. I fail to understand how anybody could not do so. And so, each New Year, I resolve to lose weight in an attempt to prove to myself that I do have that control. And each New Year I prove that I do not have that control. I stubbornly remain the weight I have been for the last who-knows-how-many years and for every chocolate bar I cut out, I eat another portion of chips. Every time I drink water instead of wine, I put a whisky in it. Every time I eat an apple instead of a cake, I actually just eat an apple and then a cake. I realise I have an addictive personality, so I try to keep my addictions relatively benign. I don’t gamble and I don’t do drugs because I know I would be hopeless, both at doing them and at giving them up. A Mars Bar here and there seems both healthier and cheaper… Actually, perhaps I’ve just seen the answer. This year I will change my New Year’s resolutions. This year I will resolve to be thinner – it won’t happen, but it doesn’t matter – because I will also resolve to give up drugs and to give up gambling: I will achieve both without any effort at all – and I will feel all the better for it…

Happy New Year one and all. I hope that the next twelve months will bring you health, peace and happiness – and a little chocolate and wine from time to time…