Auld Lang Syne


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…