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The Times January 04, 2007     Times2


Delay your resolutions till the daffodils appear

A new year, a new you. That’s what they promise, isn’t it, those lifestyle gurus and advertisers and magazine headline writers? But I’ve never been able to figure out how it works. It’s easy to decide what you want to change about yourself, but effecting that change is trickier. I’m not even talking about short or medium-term failure to keep a new year resolution. In my experience the battle is lost on day one before a shot has been fired because the act of welcoming the new year is so debilitating that you are in no state to do anything beyond merely haul yourself into January and hope that things look up. The worst time to try to go out all guns blazing as the new you is when you feel like a very, very old you.

This year my hangover was caused by kids and germs rather than alcohol. Indeed, it’s a while since I fell into a booze-induced coma in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Last year, with a month-old baby, we were tucked up in bed by 11.

This year we were staying with friends in north Norfolk, on a stretch of salt marsh even more beautiful under the bleak, low skies of mid-winter than it is in high summer. The scenery salves the soul. My soul needed salving.

The problem was, I suppose, partly alcohol-related. Arriving two nights before New Year’s Eve, all the adults got a little over-excited and drank like teenagers on a first trip away from home, as if we had forgotten that there were kids upstairs waiting to commence nocturnal games of musical beds just as red wine-induced brain dehydration was setting in. Their remorseless pre-dawn wake-up wails, combined with a heavy cold and my wife constantly kicking me and hissing “Stop snoring” in my ear all night, ensured that I was on my knees by 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. I was shamed into staggering through until two minutes past midnight.

On a dazzling New Year’s Day the new me emerged. At least I hope it was a new me. If not, then I would like to apologise for being such a miserable old grouch these past 37 years. On Holkham beach my three-year-old boy and I went into meltdown together, shouting snottily at each other and stomping off in opposite directions before cutting short the walk and collapsing, exhausted, into the car to wait for the rest of our party. There was some consolation to be found in the sight of other families in the midst of similar tear-stained hysterics.

Resolutions are best not made in such circumstances. Last year I also avoided making long-term, life-changing plans. But I did make three little pledges and, looking back at what I wrote then, I’m astonished that I kept them. I went to the dentist and made long-overdue appointments for a company medical and to see a dermatologist. In each case, however, January was over before I got round to picking up the phone.

This time last year we were weighing up selling our house. But we didn’t manage to put it on the market until February. Then it sold in about five minutes and we took the big decision about where we wanted to spend the next chapter of our lives during spring, when our brains and the world were fertile once more.

A year ago I was fretting about burglaries, twitching the curtain at the first sign of a fight in the street and turning into a prize Nimby over the council’s plans to concrete over the local park. Now I worry even more about burglaries and my Nimbyism is raging out of control, thanks to the Government’s plans to expand Heathrow across the whole of southwest London. But my twitching is now focused on activity on the nutbag rather than nutters making great tits of themselves in the street. And that’s a pretty good life change.

My advice in this dead month would be to abandon your sorry new year resolutions now (if you haven’t already) and have another crack when the daffodils start poking through. The Welsh will probably object, but how about hijacking St David’s Day and making it Resolution Day?