I was at a small girly gathering the week before Christmas, and conversation turned, as it increasingly does, to the trials and tribulations of our lives.  And it struck me, that, good as such bonding undoubtedly is for us, also good would be to close the year with something more positive –  a summation of all the good things I’ve learned.

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The only way is down: Santa Maria, looking down on Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

 

For example,  I’ve learned that I’m braver than I realised. Despite my pedigree – former biker, driver of trucks, style-free skier – I
find going downhill on a pushbike extremely scary. But back in January, atop the highest point of Gran Canaria, knees- a-knocking, I  pushed off on my pushbike, and surprised myself greatly, by returning to sea level quite fast.

That ‘quite’ is key. I still have a long way to go. But also key  – and I think this is true for so many things – has been to realise just how far I’ve come.

I’ve learned that we’re allowed to pronounce quinoa (the gloopy grain-mutant-weirdiness formerly known as ‘keen wah’) as the prole-friendly  ‘quin – oh –ah’ after all. James Martin said so. So it must be true.

I’ve learned that if you post everything that niggles you with the hashtag #firstworldproblems it makes them funny, yes, but also acts as a reminder that, actually, you should shut up, and crack on.

I’ve learned some new French. Je Suis Charlie. Bataclan. I’ve resolved to learn more.

I’ve learned to let television go. Not so much in terms of watching, but of trouncing  television tyranny, by hearing “but you absolutely must watch”, and  “you cannot possibly miss”, then accidentally-probably-on-purpose forgetting to set the planner. It’s incredibly freeing.

I’ve learned that it’s possible to like tomatoes.

Astonishingly (for me, if not for everyone) I’ve learned that I can still be transported by fiction, after several years of beginning to accept as inevitable that I‘d be finishing barely half the books I bought.  (And, yes, I do see the irony.)  I remember my dad saying to me once that he’d outgrown his beloved Sci-Fi (saying he was too old, too jaded, too lacking, now, in wonder)and was lately beginning to suspect the same might be true of me generally.

This year, however (unashamedly on account of Aidan Turner) I bought the first Poldark  book – Ross – then the second – Demelza –  then the third, and the fourth and the fifth. A dozen later, I was reborn and back in the game. I have read an astonishing amount of brilliant books this year.

I’ve learned that an ereader with a light is a joy. And that insomnia doesn’t have to be a negative.

And that the very best way to find books which transport you is to ask friends what they’ve loved, every time.

I’ve been on a speed awareness course, and it did raise my awareness. I have been driving much more thoughtfully ever since.

I’ve also learned that as soon as you say ‘I’ve been on a speed awareness course’ it turns out all sorts of other people have too,  but had  previously neglected to mention it.  Which says a lot about how, increasingly, we feel about speeding. Which would appear to be ‘ashamed’. Which is good.

Sadly, I’ve also learned that in every speed awareness course you go on, there will be one person – invariably a man – who is a dick.

I wrote a novel this year from the viewpoint of a cat, so I’ve learned that adult anthropomorphism can be surprisingly joyful.

I’ve learned that it pays to keep an open mind. I thought I’d learned that, while a fan of adult anthropomorphism (obviously) I wasn’t one of adult ‘stress-relieving’ colouring books. That, as an ‘artist’ (how tragic) I could get nothing from them. That they were a niche idea (REALLY?), which I wasn’t buying into, chiefly because I saw it as a piece of cynical, greedy marketeering – peddled as a must-have for the stressed (and the gullible),  so the CEOs of various publishers could upgrade their yachts.

I was wrong. At that same girly gathering I was bought one. By a dear friend. Very thoughtfully. With love.

And it’s a thing of great beauty.  And I will do some colouring. Because, a thing bought with love is a thing to be treasured.

My bad, then. Which is surely what learning is all about.

Happy Twixtmas. (Or Christween, or Christwix,  as Pete has it.)

See you all in the New Year. xx

First published in The Western Mail Weekend magazine, 26th Dec 2015

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