Spectator: New Year, new resolutions

Lucy Baring is resolved not to make any resolutions this year.

I resolved not to make any resolutions this year, having realised that there’s no point in giving up things you like and taking up things you don’t. In January. Even if you keep them realistic, such as to ‘never run out of loo paper/milk’, you’re setting off into the New Year with a pre-destined sense of failure. But then, I look at the pile of Christmas cards, which seems to shrink from year to year, and I can’t help resolving to send more next year. I want the ones from friends to outnumber the ones from ‘the team’ at the garage/ dentist/insurance company.

As I pack them away, I consider the impressions the cards give off about the sender: Italian Renaissance paintings, minimalist line drawings of trees or snowy landscapes. Then there’s the photograph of a house we received this year, addressed ‘to all of you from all of us’. I have no idea who this is from—presumably someone who prefers their house to their family. But one mustn’t jump to conclusions —which is another resolution, although one I wish to backdate.

It was some weeks ago that a new friend saw me on a walking machine in the gym. I couldn’t explain that I’ve never set foot in such a place before, was only there owing to a combination of guile on Zam’s part and manners on mine (he’d assured me I was going to meet a woman who might put me through a light stretching move or two). I couldn’t explain, because I couldn’t breathe— I suspect that, by calling it a walking machine, I may have sent out a clue. Within 24 hours, my sister rang, incredulous: ‘You’ve been spotted in A GYM.’ Capital letters don’t do justice to her level of surprise.

I can barely concentrate on the supernatural ability of my sister to know about something I haven’t mentioned to a soul because I’m recovering from the latest in a series of pulse-soaring adventures on the school run, something that is remarkably short, but which takes Alfie and me up a steep hill on a single-track road that twists and turns with many a blind corner and few passing places. If you meet another car, you may have to reverse, trusting to luck, with a cricked neck, until you find yourself stuck on a bank that you need to be pushed off by other parents you’ve never met.

You set off in their slipstream, mightily relieved not to be the leading car, but now so worried about getting beached on banks that, when the road joins a plateau at the top, you give way to anything coming in the other direction, even if it’s but a speck on the horizon. As you wait, other parents overtake you with impatience.

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Setting off again, you sincerely hope they didn’t notice, in their rear-view mirror, that you’ve just waved thanks at a car that has not pulled over to give way to you, but is, in fact, empty and parked. ‘I think you need a different car,’ my sister suggests kindly. I think I need heavy-traction tyres and to develop some road sense. Resolution number 3.

The last card I pack away is my favourite. The sender created what she called a ‘card burger’ with a note explaining that, although she’s always sent a photograph of the children, she’s aware that plenty of her friends can’t bear the increasing secularisation of Christmas, so she now sends the one she thinks appropriate. In our case, the photo card stapled inside the Adoration of the Magi.

I’m still considering what conclusions not to jump to on this and would discuss it with Zam, but he is, conversationally, entirely absent, having entered the New Year with his customary rereading of the Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian. I’m envious of this literary journey and resolve to join it by getting stuck into Master and Commander. Resolving to not make resolutions—just as hard as keeping a gym visit secret from my sister.