Wednesday 25 January 2012

Resolutely not making Resolutions

September is my new year. I celebrate New Year’s Eve with the rest of them, or with those who like to party. However, for me, apart from forgetting to write the new year on cheques for at least the month of January, little changes when that date flips over. It’s still winter and the children’s school year continues much the same aside from a slight dip in enthusiasm from the heady heights of September. Far from being enthused by new year’s resolutions to make the changes I know I must make, the best I can muster is a determination to get all the jobs abandoned in the pre-Christmas frenzy, done before Easter. 

Eat less in January? What, pray, will we do with the Christmas Cake? Drink water not wine? But warm red wine is really so much more appealing in front of the glowing coals of the fire, isn’t it? Chilled water with a slice of lemon has its place, of course, as a pre-requisite for health or to be sipped in sunshine.

Then there’s the January Gym New Membership. I love my sport. It’s harder to motivate myself not to do it, than to fit it into my schedule but I say, don’t resolve to join a gym in January unless you want to make it particularly difficult for yourself! I’m a member of a sports centre, nothing fancy, but even that’s expanded over Christmas. Yesterday, I took one look in the door, turned on my heel and drove home for a warm wine in front of the fire. Buy an exercise DVD, spend three months’ membership on a wii or take up Zumba in the local hall; resolve to get fit, certainly, but save your gym resolution until March. The joining fee will be erased if you ask nicely and you’ll have room to swing your firming butt. The only pressure to step off the running machine will be your aching limbs and there’ll be no sour looks from the regular class member whose place you’ve taken in aerobics.

My new year is September. It’s a new school year, new uniform, new timetable, bed times returned to somewhere near acceptable. And there’s this energy. Where does it come from? I write, I blog, I submit, I even earn some money. I have my birthday and far from depression at the concrete verification that the lines on my face really are increasing so fast that they will soon all meet in the middle in a spaghetti-like confusion, I am buoyed with enthusiasm for this fantastically promising year and what it will have in store for me.

You may know that I am not the world’s most enthusiastic cleaner. I do the necessary to prevent disease and shame, I hasten to add, but with little satisfaction. It’s a thankless task to be got behind me so that I can sit down and write a little more guilt –free. Come September, however, and I don’t just want to clean the house, no, give me a spade and a skip and I’d happily re-build the whole thing. Windows? What’s the point in having them if we can’t see through them? They’ll only take a day and the girls are back at school. How did those skirting boards get so mucky without me even noticing, tusk, tusk, hand me the damp cloth. And so it goes on until the Christmas list kicks in and normal, essential-service-only is resumed.

I did make a resolution last year, but it was in June. It was one of those few decisions we make which was life-changing. This was when I launched into Larkism and it’s achieved the supposed impossible: more sleep yet more productivity. I am happy to say that this was a resolution I not only kept but would find difficult to un-do. Sometimes, I admit, I creep into late night scribbling which drifts into Facebook surfing and binge tweeting and I’m quite happy. But the next day, when that old befuddled haze hasn’t lifted until 8pm, I am reminded that I am better when I turn off the light before midnight.

So, whilst I have a healthy respect for anybody resolving to change something for the better in January, I am resolutely not making any resolutions before March. Maybe having experienced 43 new years, I know my limitations. But I’d love to know if you are a January resolution achiever. And if not, when should new year start for you?

Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Novel in your Hand

Sun setting, men tending to the early summer barbecue, children playing sweetly together in the vast fields attached to the camp site and the scene is set for a much loved relative and I to have a glass of wine together. I ask about the novel in her hand and she talks enthusiastically about the brilliance of this book, how she doesn't want it to finish and how she’d feel differently about a friend who didn’t enjoy it, such was the impact the book has had on her own life.

I understand this level of passion for a novel. However I’d defy anybody who’s played any part in a book club to feel like this, nothing being less predictable in a group of people than who will like and dislike your chosen story. Our conversation came to a natural close but nonetheless left me with a slight uneasiness and the hope that this relative wouldn’t buy me the book in question. 

Three months later, the book arrived. I bet you’ll love this, she wrote inside. I do hope so, I thought to myself.

To make matters worse, this same relative, whose opinion I do respect, had bought me a novel for a previous birthday which I really didn’t enjoy, despite it being tremendously popular and a film having come from it. I decided to be honest when we discussed it later, although choosing to focus on the parts I liked, or perhaps should say, could bear, rather than those which had me squirming with nausea. Yes, the nostalgic scenes were great, I said, with a fixed smile. I wrestled with myself even back then about not admitting my true feelings about a book. It wasn’t as if my friend had written it, or even that a friend of a friend of hers had written it. But somehow, it just seemed a little ungrateful to talk about not enjoying a present.

So, imagine how I felt when I finally picked up this now infamous book during the Christmas holidays and struggled to get started. Reading under pressure to enjoy something, I’ve discovered, is a little like being asked to ‘walk normally’ as a consultant asked me to do, recently. How hard can it be to put one foot in front of the other? Try it! I nearly fell over, such was my determination to produce an even tread.

I re-started this book three times – each time, thinking that I mustn’t have been in the mood or was too tired to concentrate. On the third, I made a pact with myself. I would treat this book like any other; if it wasn’t working for me by the 100th page, I would cut my losses and turn to the next in my To Be Read pile which is reminiscent of a publisher’s slush pile of reads from wannabe first-time novelists. 

Besides, hopefully the conversation would never come up.

I saw the book-giver over Christmas and she said how much she’d really enjoyed Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown which I’d given her for her birthday. She spoke so fondly of the adorable main character, Jake, that I had no doubt her praise was real. I’ve just started yours, I said, the blurb looks great.

It wasn’t going well. By page 30 I was tempted to skim read. For the record, my problem is with the introduction of the main characters and their stories, without enough happening elsewhere. I reminded myself that I felt similarly about Atonement by Ian McEwan up to around 50 pages and that went on to become one of my all-time favourite reads.

This novel was now under about the same amount of pressure to be enjoyable as David Cameron is to sort out the debt crisis. It wasn’t fair to heap so much responsibility on one story, to put it under such close scrutiny.

I started the novel for the fourth time, knowing I had a good unbroken couple of hours ahead of me to ‘get into this book’, such had become the nature of the challenge. There was a flicker, around page 45, when I found a character I thought I might care about but other than that, I’m afraid, at page 114, I gave up for the last time and went to bed.

And that’s where my story ends. I can’t bring myself to pretend I’ve read this book but I also don't relish seeing the disappointment in the relative’s face if I reveal I can't even finish it. What would you do in this situation? And if you’ve been in a similar place before, please do tell us here!

Happy New Year everyone and happy reading, whatever you choose!