x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Let us resolve not to make too many resolutions this year

I've determined that my resolutions for 2012 will not only be more practical, but will improve the quality of my life in one stroke.

It was the great Samuel Johnson who said: "Nothing is more hopeless than a scheme for merriment." The truth of the maxim is never more apparent than at the end of the year.

It's an endearing aspect of the indomitable human spirit that, however lousy the last 12 months have been, the final few moments of December 31 are always the signal for a worldwide epidemic of optimism. Symptoms of this baffling psychological condition include the need to put on silly hats, endlessly blow party horns and embrace complete strangers.

The absurdity of organised frivolity was never more grotesquely exposed than in the UK at the advent of 2000. What had been advertised as the party of a lifetime, staged at the specially constructed Millennium Dome in London's docklands, turned into a grim ordeal as logistical cock-ups, transport delays and an overlong ceremony transformed New Year's Eve into the night of the living dead.

The abiding image was of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, looking chilled and dispirited, stiffly singing the traditional anthem Auld Lang Syne next to an equally pinched and distinctly unamused Queen Elizabeth. Even the fireworks display on the River Thames failed to ignite.

My own appetite for celebrating with people I neither know, nor wish to know, was cured after a New Year's shindig at a friend's house a few years ago. No sooner had the chimes of Big Ben struck midnight and I'd popped my obligatory party balloon than I was accosted by a complete stranger who knew me from the stage. "So what happened to your career?" she said the moment the last bell had struck. "You were doing so well." As a start to the new year, her damning pronouncement had at least one benefit, in that things could only get better.

New Year's resolutions are equally difficult to explain. Oscar Wilde observed that "good resolutions are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account".

In the US, where obesity remains a massive problem facing society, three of the most common resolutions for 2012 remain the same as a decade ago: become more physically fit, eat more healthily and give up smoking. Indeed, fitness clubs use this time of year to lure new customers with membership deals, safe in the knowledge that up to 60 per cent will go unused after February 1.

In the UK, resolutions reflect not so much the desire to keep fit as the wish to keep ourselves out of bankruptcy court. Only four years, the most popular resolution was "to do something to save the planet", but such lofty ambitions are now just a distant dream.

Instead, with the economy tottering and families struggling with record levels of debt, the insurance company GoCompare found that 75 per cent of respondents had as their top priority for 2012 to take control of their financial affairs.

Looking back at my own dog-eared diaries, I'm forced to admit they make for doleful reading. All the old favourites are present, year upon year, decade after decade, none of them lasting more than a few days into January - be a better husband, go to bed earlier, eat less chocolate. They stare balefully out from the pages of my diaries, each broken pledge a silent testimony to my pitiful lack of will power.

So this time around, I've resolved to become more practical. No more pounding the streets in Lycra or eschewing seconds at the dinner table (and in any case, the last time I told my wife I had resolved to lose two stone of ugly fat, she asked if I was planning to cut my head off.)

Instead, I've determined that my resolutions for 2012 will not only be more practical, but will improve the quality of my life in one stroke. They include banishing wire coat hangers from my wardrobe, learning how to open the bonnet of my car and ensuring that I always have a coin in hand for a supermarket trolley. Little victories perhaps, but ones that I can at least attempt with some footling chance of success.

In the meantime, I'm content to make do with an old eastern motto I keep by my bedside: "The secret of health for both body and mind is not to mourn for the past, or anticipate troubles, but live in the present moment, wisely and earnestly." This simple dictum will surely do more for me in the months ahead than any tinpot resolutions I might make in the giddy whirl of one minute to midnight.

 

Michael Simkins is an actor and writer based in London