Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year.

Festive cheers to you all. Besides the mandatory merrymaking that occurs round this time of year, I have cause for a minor, momentary celebration of my own. For it was this time, last year — and may I say oh, what a joy it is to use that phrase now and how much I fear I’ll be using it plentifully before too long — that I started my Blog. So, cheers to me — hup, huzzah, etc.

“Paul is intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.” This is how my form teacher at Primary School described me, aged ten, in my end-of-term report. I like this description very much. That I was insufferably precocious is obvious, but I think there’s a great deal of good to be said for being such a determined, confident steamroller of joy at such a young age. The Little Engine That REALLY Could, if you like.

Unfortunately, I fear my natural intoxication has been replaced with something a little more…‘medicinal’ in the past few years. I suspect it’s entirely symptomatic of my need to look harder for the kind of exuberance I clearly used to access without effort or conscience until not so very long ago. My writings over the past twelve months have helped, diaristically, to set some of my emotional responses to situations in order and I have to come to a sad conclusion: I have not been a very happy man lately. Events have conspired, as I all too often find myself saying, to wear down the sense of humour and natural bonhomie for which, I like to think, I am so rightly famous. Oh, I’ve not necessarily been advertising the fact — rather, I hope I haven’t; I possess too much nervous energy to sit about moping and as an intensely sociable person I try to find the fun in everything, everywhere, as often as I can. Nonetheless, there is an ever-present background radiation level of uncertainty and discontent. Well, this simply won’t do any longer — and so, as the occasion affords, we come to the matter of New Year’s Resolutions.

Last January I eschewed the obvious kind of challenges, those I described as walking a brisk mile every day, cutting down on booze or even leaving the sugar out of my coffee” and prescribed a self-help manual-type programme of Resolutions that I readily admitted sounded “rather worthy, slightly pompous, possibly passive, definitely vague, and ultimately — worst of all — dull.” You know the sort of thing: I promise to be less tolerant of stupidity whenever I should encounter it, I shall not quail from confrontation and I shall not waste my time on people who waste my time — in other words, physical exertion is one thing, but it needs mental strength to sustain it. Well, it’s a beautiful thought. OK, a thought at least.

A year on, and I can’t agree with this — it’s too abstract, utterly non-reliant on visible result, and surely visible results is what the resolutions game is all about. It’s also merely reactive, which is surely only half the story in self-improvement, if not even less. All the time I have been waiting for something or someone to come along and test my resolve is time I could have spent doing something active, and I feel a little foolish for that.

Similarly, Roger Waters, discussing Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon (and you and I had best get used to it — I’ll be mentioning these chaps a lot more over the coming year; it seems their capacity to fascinate me is endless) drew much of his lyrical inspiration from the realisation in his late twenties that his life to date was not a rehearsal:

“Everything was always in order to prepare for real life, which was at some point going to start down the road. It came as a great shock to discover that I wasn’t preparing for anything — I was right in the middle of it, and always had been.”

Now try feeling that when you’re over forty. I think this may be the absolute definition of Midlife Crisis.

In a way, I had noticed this phenomenon obliquely already: several years ago I was told that I had been taking the medication for my ongoing asthma incorrectly — for thirty years. Once I stopped feeling a bit of a ‘nana, I simply administered the correct daily dosage henceforward. This is my way of telling myself: don’t worry about what went before, let’s get on with things now. I’m sure this is obvious advice to you, but it comes as an absolute bloody revelation to me. Well, I’m a silly bastard. There’s always plenty to do, even in these benighted economic times. Here are a few things I plan to do in the coming weeks and I recommend them to you. Think not of them as resolutions if you don’t wish to — some are self-evident — but more as a sort of game plan:

Cooking: last January I cooked my first roast duck, a seismic event on the culinary scale for me, and a successful one. Who knows what exciting innovations 2012 will bring to the Murphy cuisine? Seriously, let me wax dogmatic on this matter here and advise you all: if you can’t cook and don’t cook — learn to. The first thing you’ll notice is how much cheaper your shopping bill is when you’re buying the raw ingredients for meals. Furthermore, it’s — sorry in advance for the naff phrase — a ‘life skill,’ that demonstrates your willingness to engage with the world around you. If you can’t make decent mashed potatoes or a bacon sarny, for example, then to my mind you’re betraying a certain degree of mental laziness that casts my doubt on your ability to do anything more complex. Really, grow up. Everyone should have one thing in their culinary repertoire beyond knowing how thickly they like their Marmite on toast. Finally — and this is the feeblest reason of all — it impresses people if you can cook. This is sadly more to do with gratitude of the inept masses out there who can’t cook, but as someone who isn’t too bad in the kitchen I can categorically state that good food is much nicer when someone else makes it for you. Especially breakfast. Now stop listening to me grouching and have fun finding out. That’s an order!

Join a group: not necessarily a music group, although that can be fun. I have had my fill of bands for the time being, tho’. Last February, however, I chaired my first ever talk at a meeting of the Sohemian Society, a collective dedicated to celebrating the literary, artistic and historical legacy of London’s Soho district. For the meagre sum of £3, one is ushered upstairs of the legendary Wheatsheaf pub on Rathbone Place for an occasional weekly talk on an always-fascinating aspect of Sohemian history. Like any gathering, it’s a good place to meet people and have a chat over a drink (and often dinner afterwards), particularly on topics you may not discuss anywhere else with anyone else. In this respect, it’s usually the evenings on subjects I know little or none about that yield the most rewards. Their website is here if you’re interested.

I hear book groups are also fab affairs, although I read so very little these days. That said, the prospect of joining such a gang might boot me up the posterior in this regard. Which brings me onto:

Read more: my walks home after work take me past the Forbidden Planet store on Shaftesbury Avenue: two floors of max-out geek heaven. The top floor contains all the toys and collectibles, those overpriced effigies of over-endowed superheroes, plus the T-shirts and mugs blazoned with the logo of your favourite film. I have an unvarnished hypocritical disdain for all this kind of tat — mainly because they never have that Welcome To Amity Island! Jaws T-shirt in my size. However in the last few weeks I have discovered the joys of the lower level, the one housing the books and graphic novels. Here I have reacquainted myself with reprinted editions of the comics I loved as a child. Mark their names with pride: 2000AD! Star Lord! Battle! Action! I think that last one may have had an exclamation mark in the title, by the way. And the strips, ah, such unsubtly rousing stories: Flesh, Harlem Heroes, Ro-Busters and of course, the mighty Judge Dredd…OK, it’s not Dostoyevsky, but on the plus side…it’s not Dostoyevsky. I’m a complicated chap and sometimes my tastes run to the joyously simplistic; gratuitous Seventies cartoon violence and relentless Thrill-Power. Who knows, before too long I may graduate to Big Books, ones with words and no pictures. In the meantime, it’s fun and it’s a start.

Listen to music: Naxos, the purveyors of budget Classical music CDs have a page on their website advising people how best to listen to music while attending concerts. This will come as patronisingly obvious to many of you, but I’m sure there are still a few of you who may have music as something that’s simply on in the background in your home. This is fine sometimes, of course but the enjoyment of music is increased ten, one hundred, one thousandfold if one listens, really listens. Do nothing else while you do, except maybe to raise and lower a beverage of your choice to your lips. Close your eyes if need be. Appreciate how the sounds are achieved, follow the passage of one particular instrument or musician on the recording. Let it — forgive the triteness of expression — take you on a journey. One can go for hours at home doing nothing else if not rapt in sound. It’s as free as anything gets nowadays — something we can all be glad of. There, my instant solution to overspending. If I were Prime Minister, I tell you. Then again, you could ignore me and always…

Get out of the house and visit somewhere, preferably cheap: my passport is in dire need of renewal at time of writing and I cannot afford to go abroad. Undaunted, there is much to do on my own doorstep. Most of the major galleries and Museums in London are free. Apologies if you’re not reading this in the London area, but hey, you’re online, so you’re not in a cave wherever you are. Early last month I visited the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich, as part of a friend’s birthday celebration. You may be shocked, nay amazed, to learn that I have never been inside of a brewery in my life. The closest I ever came to one was when I was shown round the Codorníu cava vineyards in Barcelona, aged thirteen — which doesn’t count, even if the snifter I received at the end did go completely to my innocent, little curly haired head. Our guide at the Meantime Brewery was entertainingly knowledgeable and I learned more about making beer in one evening than I ever did — plus we were plied with copious amounts of the stuff as we went around. The finest, freshest beer one could imagine, drank straight from the copper-bottomed cow, in a manner of speaking. We all completely recouped the £15 outlay for the trip in sampled booze at least twice over. Magnificent!

Don’t be afraid, be useful: apologies for such a vague and high-handed bit of advice, but there’s no simpler way of expressing it. I’m thinking of times when I could have been of assistance to someone, but maybe lacked the ability. Last summer, I was summoned for Coroner’s Court Jury Service and spent the best part of a fortnight in a room with ten complete strangers engaged — contrary to my expectations — in some of the most stimulating discussion I had all year. I learned many weaknesses and shortcomings about myself and the frailties of other people; in the former, I realised how often my received wisdom was based on pure supposition and needed to be validated, how often I would casually throw my words about as assumed fact instead of the complete arse that it could be. From the cases I sat in upon, I learned that life could be cruelly ended in sudden, apparently random ways. Scary stuff, certainly, but with qualification: most of these fatal incidents could largely be averted with sufficient vigilance to read the danger signs in advance and possess the initiative to act. So, for example, pay attention to the batteries in your smoke alarm. Learn how to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Recognise the early stages of carbon monoxide poisoning or meningitis and ensure you do not mistake flu symptoms for either. Oh, and bloody check the facts before you forward on those scaremongering emails about HIV-positive syringes taped onto park benches for the unwary to sit upon — people who do that really piss me off. Fear, as someone enlightened once put it, really is the mind killer.

Finally, obviously and for some, most painfully:

Get rid of something: in this financial climate the temptation may be to hold onto everything that you can, but who has not found that certain things, once shucked away, are surprisingly easy to leave behind you. Whether you’re chucking out all the crap that accumulated in your home over Christmas, discovering the joys of eBay or — yes — quitting cigarettes, it’s a good a time as any to make an assault on those things that bug you about your daily routine. Thankfully, since I last wrote on the matter, I continue not to smoke, although I have enough vivid dreams in which I am puffing away on the tabs to know that I cannot yet classify myself a comfortable ‘non-smoker,’ if you understand me. If you’re on the ciggie wagon for 2012, then you may be interested to read my tale of quitting (click here).

A recurring theme in my blogs is how often I like to mention how music isn’t easily pigeonholed into such all-encompassing genres of ‘Sixties’ ‘rock’ ‘funk’ ‘Seventies’ and the like, but instead evolves, organically or forcibly, into ever-newer, ever-changing things. I should take my own advice more often. A dictionary-style definition of ‘time’ is as accurate as it is cold: a ‘non-spatial continuum,’ in which events are perceived and played in apparently irreversible order, from the past, through the present and on into the future. It’s so very, very obvious, but I think all too often in our rigidly ordered lives of appointments and deadlines, we tend to forget that time flows, and instead break things down into chunks labelled ‘today,’ ‘Friday,’ ‘January,’ ‘2012’ and so forth — but time, and the eroding effect it has on your life, can’t always be so easily packaged into such tidy bundles. I have previously spent my life seeing the world in this way far too often, but when you come to think about it, ‘January,’ for all its financial austerity and long cold nights, is not so much something to ‘get through’ as a general time in which you simply have to find the fun wherever you will. Which I guess is what we all try to do most months, isn’t it?

Have a splendid New Year and I wish you the most positive outlook for 2012 — unless you’re Mayan, in which case, enjoy Doomsday, safe in the knowledge that you were right all along.


Currently watching:
Young Sherlock Holmes (Barry Levinson, 1985)
Sherlock (BBC, 2012)
Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009)
The Star Wars Saga (George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, 1977 - 2005)

Currently listening:
All albums by the amazing North Sea Radio Orchestra: North Sea Radio Orchestra (2005), Birds (2007) and I A Moon (2011).

Currently reading:
Comics mania! Flesh: The Dino Files (Mills, Boix, Sola Gosnell, Belardinelli, McKay, 1977-79, 2007) and Harlem Heroes (Mills, Tully, Gibbons, Belardinelli, 1977-78).

1 comment:

  1. …actually, I've since found out that Action had no screamer on the end of its name. Poo.