Many years ago, I made the very sensible New Year resolution, the only one I've really kept, which was never to make any more resolutions. January is the worst time in the year to make them – it's usually cold, stormy and downright miserable – plus there's the business about paying HMRC (but I will refrain from discussing them – that could be another genuine resolution: see below). It's definitely not the time to go on a weight loss regime or take up an interest like wild swimming. Best to wait to do all these things until the weather is more inviting, say March time (although here in Aberdeenshire that's often still winter). Didn't our ancestors start the new year in March? I wonder what busybody changed it to January.
However, in the spirit of the thing, if I were
to make resolutions, here they are:
I will stop buying bananas! The only time I quite like them is when they are slightly underripe, but unless I just buy one banana, they very quickly start getting ripe, when I hate the flavour and texture. I have made banana bread or cake with them, but there's a limit to how much banana bread you can inflict on friends and family, so often I end up eating the horrid thing as I hate food waste and bananas are supposed to have all sorts of vitamins and minerals. There's one just now awaiting me in the kitchen – yeuggh! If my granddaughter comes round, she will eat them, along with most of the contents of my fridge, but I can't rely on her as a banana disposal machine. So: no more bananas in 2023.
I will try much harder to improve my French and not cheat by putting messages to my French friend through Google Translate on the pretext that Google puts all the accents in, whereas WhatsApp's predictive text makes mincemeat of French words when I try to write them. Before coming to live in Scotland – 25 years ago now – I had assumed that with the Auld Alliance, and the fact that so many Jacobites had to seek political asylum in France, the Scots would be much more linguistically sophisticated than the English. Sadly that's not the case. However, I can't criticise without making more efforts myself.
I will not embrace minimalism just because I am downsizing my house. And my possessions are not junk, but archetypal objects according to Professor Jung. This still leaves me with the problem of a very large number of books.
Farewell to the printed word?
By my standards, I have been quite ruthless with taking books to the charity shop, including all the late Mr B's Inspector Montalbano
books, together with his Venetian equivalent Inspector Brunetti
(I never thought he and his shrewish wife ever really worked as characters, and neither did that mysterious female assistant who was supposedly a genius at IT stuff).
Also off to the Red Cross shop was the whole oeuvre of Alexander McCall Smith. I didn't dislike them, especially the Scotland Street
series, and the Ladies' Detective Agency
ones just managed to avoid patronising the characters. But I became increasingly irritated by his trope of the millionaire character like Isabel Dalhousie or Matthew, the chap in Scotland Street
who owned the art gallery. Even Big Lou had been left a fortune by one of her deceased patients. The reason for their well-heeled status was sort of understandable as it meant the author could develop more interesting plots, but in real life – and even fictional life – some of us have to earn a living. As her series went on, Isabel and her soppy husband Jamie became more and more annoying with their idealised, wonderful relationship, and her busybody activities were such that one might imagine their friends and neighbours would start to make excuses not to go round their house, especially if their precocious offspring were about.
But that leaves me about 50 books on cricket owned by Mr B. The older ones that he has autographed will stay, but there are many more that people bought him as birthday or Christmas presents which have no sentimental value as he was always very critical of such efforts as Cricket's Strangest Matches
, claiming that they were only of interest to those who knew nothing about cricket. They are joined by the same number of textbooks on employment psychology and organisational culture, left over from my lecturing days on the subjects, as I would get a free copy whenever I reviewed the title for the publisher.
But getting anyone to accept second hand books is an uphill struggle, as one bibliophile sadly informed me, 'no-one reads books any more'. They are all using Kindles and suchlike apparatus apparently. Even the chap who owns the famous shop in Wigtown never responded to my email (although he might if I had been giving away Mr B's Shackleton
collection, but I'm keeping those).
If no-one reads 'proper' books any more, then why are there still so many books for sale in the local WHSmith, or even Tesco, most of them written by half-educated 'celebrities' like that beardy chap who advertises used cars on the TV?
I don't think many of my friends and acquaintances read SR as they are too busy going about doing good deeds and supporting their less able chums like me, but I owe them a debt of gratitude for putting up with my angst and mood swings during the process of moving house. Even the solicitor was aware that it was the most stressful thing anyone can embark on (I'm not absolutely sure about that, as I think producing a baby or a PhD thesis might be equally daunting). I've also been informed that it's fatal to do it after the age of 70 (move that is, not have a baby or do a PhD), which means I've left it very slightly too late to survive, though I would appreciate a few more years of life in the new house, in which I can unpack the hundreds of books I'm still hoping will fit there!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant