Hopeless at keeping New Year resolutions? JOSPEH CONNOLLY won't try
Hopeless at keeping your New Year resolutions? Writer JOSPEH CONNOLLY won’t even bother to try… as he admits never watching an episode of Strictly, riding a bike, drinking a pint of beer, using an iron, or even driving a car
Having recently notched up my three score years and ten, and now the awfulness of 2020 is almost behind us (O sunlit uplands, where art thou?), I thought the time might be over-ripe to take stock of the things I have done during these years on Earth.
Achievements. Realisation of grand ambitions – plans fulfilled, activities explored, experiences undergone. Jotting all these down on the back of the proverbial fag packet took no time, and although this was followed by a considerable age to further pummel my brain for fresh recollection, the list remained stubbornly and embarrassingly sparse.
Pretty sobering, really. So I thought a new tack was called for, and turned my mind instead to everything I have never done, either through lack of desire, bravery, determination, ability and even, on occasion, principle.
I could have filled a book.
Like driving a car, say. I have never done this – or, at least, not since completing my brief course of driving lessons in 1967
It transpires that most of the glaring gaps in my curriculum vitae do not simply form a series of unrealised whims, but are quite hard-core: the sort of stuff that most people have done and continue to do without thinking.
Like driving a car, say. I have never done this – or, at least, not since completing my brief course of driving lessons in 1967.
Well, I was just 17 and obsessed with cars almost to the exclusion of everything else. All I had ever wanted for my 17th birthday was to learn to drive, while feeling absolutely confident that I wouldn’t require any tuition, so positive was I that I had been put on this Earth simply to cruise the Corniche in a (convertible) Corniche, and even win a Grand Prix or two.
So it came as a poleaxing shock when, at the conclusion of my driving test, the examiner told me solemnly – while seeming grateful and rather surprised to find that he was still alive – that I had failed. So that was that. I have never ridden a bike either. Nor a motorbike.
The list continues. I have never rowed a boat; just as well, maybe, as I have never swum. My non-swimming is probably explained by a deranged master at school who threw me into a pool, fully aware all I was capable of was drowning. I haven’t entered the water since.
But then I have never been remotely intrepid. The fact that people will actually pay (as opposed to demand a considerable fee) in order to throw themselves out of an aeroplane, abseil, bungee-jump, ascend in a balloon – I just simply cannot believe it.
I have never done any of these things, and nor have I potholed or climbed a mountain (or wanted to. What? You go up, and then you come down? How stupid is that?).
The list continues. I have never rowed a boat; just as well, maybe, as I have never swum. My non-swimming is probably explained by a deranged master at school who threw me into a pool, fully aware all I was capable of was drowning. I haven’t entered the water since [File photo]
I feel the same about skiing, with the attendant splintered bones: après-ski will do me very nicely, thank you.
I would never go up in a helicopter. Stars, plutocrats and oligarchs do so all the time, and rather often it is their last act on Earth. I once met a man who had spent his life servicing the things. Do you fly in them often, I asked, and he laughed. Never once, he said – I know all the things that can, and often do, go wrong.
But even non-dangerous sports have been a no-no for me. Never played tennis or ping-pong: you hit a ball, he hits it back – oh please. Golf? God, no. I mean, honestly.
At school I did play a bit of cricket (badly, of course) merely because I rather liked the clothes. Never rugby, though: mud and pain.
I have never caught a fish, largely because I could not think of going through the process of sitting damply from dawn till dusk, my line dangling, in order not to catch a fish. Nor, incidentally, have I ever gutted or cooked one.
Actually, things I have never cooked could go on for an eternity. You might think I can’t boil an egg, but it isn’t true – never poached one, though, nor ‘whipped up’ an omelette. Never made bread, never baked a cake.
I have never stalked an animal, nor shot one: the plummet of a bird from the sky is just too awful to behold, although grouse remains one of my very favourite dishes.
I’ve never killed anything, apart from wasps, as they are truly evil.
And what about technology? Oh dear me. I resisted having email for as long as I could. That is, until the point when telephone messages were never responded to because no one was listening to telephone messages, and letters were going unanswered, possibly due to their never being opened, so unexpected was their sudden appearance.
Proper letters, I mean, handwritten with a fountain pen on decent stationery. For a good long while, the most modern innovations for me were envelopes and stamps which no longer required the dispensing of much saliva.
So yes, I do email, and I Google, and that’s about it.
Do you need me to tell you that I have never Skyped, tweeted or Instagrammed (being unsure what any of those mean), and nor have I Zoomed, pandemic or no?
I do not have a Kindle, because I continue to read books, magazines and newspapers in the traditional way. I have never owned an iPhone or an iPad or an iAnythingElse, and of course have never even so much as thought of taking a selfie.
Other everyday accessories I have never owned include a dishwasher, a microwave or a cat. The list of perfectly ordinary things which I have never had truck with is practically endless: a Lottery ticket, for instance. It never occurred to me to buy one: it could be Me, but it Won’t, will it?
Gambling is the one vice that seems to have passed me by. Never done the pools, bet on a horse, played poker (clad or stripped), baccarat, roulette nor any of the other impossibly glamorous-looking things that 007 gets up to in enviably louche surroundings.
All this goes a very long way to explaining why I have never won anything, this to include all raffles and tombolas: not even a wooden spoon. Nor have I ever won a competition, though, to be fair, I have never entered one.
I have never shaved. Not really. The few odd little downy hairs sprouted on my face up to the age of 17. But when it became clear they would never become a gently drooping moustache like Paul McCartney’s on the gatefold of the Sergeant Pepper LP, I attacked them with a malevolent electric razor inherited from an uncle. My face has been obliterated behind a beard ever since.
What else? I would love to be able to say I have never ventured on to the London Underground – I have, though not since 1976: I am told it is no nicer.
I have never ironed a shirt. Let me be plain: I have never plugged in an iron. Never changed a nappy. When I was at that stage of my life, you could still call it ‘woman’s work’ without being vilified, cancelled and lynched from the nearest tree by the virtuously feministic and baying mob.
In similar vein, I have never knitted nor sewn. And although I am a stranger to plumbing and wallpapering, let it not be thought that I am just another of these effete arty types who could not put a nail in the wall. I have put plenty of nails in walls: done a lot of carpentry and room-painting too.
Not at all sure quite how these two endeavours managed to slip beneath the wire. My guard must have been down.
I never smoked pot – never even saw pot being smoked. If the middle classes really do round off their parties with cocaine, they are not the parties I am invited to.
At one time it was everyone’s ambition to go to India: I wouldn’t have gone if you’d paid me. Heat, dust, poverty and – I have always thought – perfectly unspeakable food. I have never eaten a curry. The smell, the opposite of appetising, is quite enough to repel me.
Never drunk vodka. Nor, in cosier vein, have I known the apparent comforts of Bovril, Ovaltine, cocoa or Horlicks
But there are loads of things I have never eaten, or spat out the first mouthful and avoided ever since (which is odd, really, as I spent seven years as a restaurant critic).
Any offal comes into this category (steak pie, yes please, but no kidneys in it, thank you): I make the sole exception of pâté de foie gras (goose, for preference).
English mustard, baked beans, treacle, syrup (golden and maple), coconut, ginger, rollmops, gherkins, Twiglets, gravadlax, pretzels, goat’s cheese, digestive biscuits, honey, marmalade, chilli, Weetabix – oh no.
Booze? Wine is my thing – largely Bordeaux – and I have never drunk a pint of bitter. Just one sip was more than enough.
I’ve had port and sherry just the once, and that was that. Never drunk vodka. Nor, in cosier vein, have I known the apparent comforts of Bovril, Ovaltine, cocoa or Horlicks.
And here’s something – I have never smoked cigarettes, largely because I am physically incapable of inhaling: immediate bulging eyes and convulsive hacking. I like Havana cigars, though, because those you merely sip.
In what other ways would my life appear to be deficient?
I have never watched EastEnders, Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake Off, Gogglebox, I’m A Celebrity…, Big Brother, Game Of Thrones, The Wire, Line Of Duty or The Crown. And no quiz or game shows since Take Your Pick and Call My Bluff.
The list of unmissable films that I have missed would be utterly eternal, and although I love the arias that everyone does, I have never been to an opera. At the other end of the scale, I have never attended a pantomime, and feel not in the least deprived.
Do you really have to ask whether I have ever been to a festival, such as Glastonbury? No, you really do not.
Is there more? Of course there is more. I have never lived abroad, or, indeed, outside London. I have never mastered a second language, but continue to cope as well as I can with the first one.
Never had a second home, never had a second wife.
Other little bits and bobs? I have never been a best man, supported a football team, taken a gap year, been camping, had a massage, joined a union or a political party, been on a diet, ridden a horse, voted Labour, attended a seance, foraged, played an instrument, gone jogging, gone dogging, shot a gun (aside from at the funfair), read The Guardian, set a bonfire, taken an Uber, used Airbnb, had a tattoo or a piercing, lived in a bedsit, digs, flat-share or even a flat.
I never liked Jane Austen (nor, while we’re at it, Milton, Hemingway and Tolkien). I have never danced – properly, I mean, knowing the steps and with a partner, as opposed to simply jiggling around. I never wanted to try vegetarianism, let alone go vegan, and nor have I had the tiniest hankering to be a woman.
How to round off? I think with a list of everything I have never worn, and nor would I ever wish to.
Trainers, a T-shirt (and certainly not one emblazoned with a ‘joke’, an advertisement or the name of a band), a tracksuit, a tie-pin, a Christmas sweater, sandals, a bowler hat, decorated socks, boxers, white tie, a man-bag, a shell suit, a hoodie, a fleece, a Barbour, a cap (neither flat nor baseball), a tank top, shorts (since prep school), a backpack, a cummerbund, flip-flops, an anorak, a sweatshirt, a biker jacket, loafers, Lycra, a padded coat, a wedding ring, reading glasses, a uniform, make-up, anything sporting a ‘designer’ logo, nor anything (apart from trousers) with a zip.
So there we have it, the gaping emptiness of my life. And amid it all, I shelter not a single regret for avenues unexplored. Looking back on the list, I think that all in all I have had a lucky escape.
And how about you? Did you take up the challenge? If so, well, I have won, haven’t I?
You may well have started the thing with a certain gung-ho confidence, but now you just have to admit defeat, yes? Own up to it: I haven’t done far more things than you haven’t done.
A version of this article is in the current edition of The Critic.
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