More Laughter, the Hoping Machine, and 5.7 Million Steps: ten things about 2013 (parts 1-3)

After a very busy period, I have recently had a few days to reflect on the past year. New year is traditionally a time to look forward, but it’s also worth taking stock of the recent past and lessons learned.

So here, in instalments and with no apologies for randomness or triviality, are my ten things from 2013. First, items one to three.

1. In 2013 I walked more than 5.7 million steps…

…or around 2,500 miles. This is more than I have walked in any year since 2005, and probably more than any other year in my life.

I know this because I have been wearing a pedometer for the past nine years, to count my steps. I also record the daily totals.

Some people I know (OK, practically everyone I know) thinks this makes me something of a geek. But it works for me. Despite my advancing years I am probably fitter than at most times in my life. I eat and drink what I like, I have never dieted, and I have not put on a pound in weight in the pedometer years.

At this time of year, and this time of day, there's no doubt which way is north

At this time of year, and this time of day, there’s no doubt which way is north

The incentive it gives me to walk also takes me to interesting places, and walking always makes me feel better. Whether it’s in the streets of London where I live, or somewhere emptier and muddier.

2. Dream good, dance better…

Woody Guthrie's New Years Rulin's 1942

Woody Guthrie’s New Years Rulin’s 1942

…is some of the wisdom from one of my favourite Christmas presents – this poster, thoughtfully sourced and created by the Boss.

The aspirations in the poster come from a longer list of new year resolutions that Woody Guthrie wrote in December 1941. You can see the full list here.

I fear Woody may have had too many items on his list for it to be practicable. After all, most of us struggle to stick to any new year pledges, never mind 33. But it’s hard to argue that the pledges don’t add up to an impressive manifesto for a good life.

I suspect (and hope) that most of us don’t need a resolution to prompt us to change our socks. But sometimes we can all do with a reminder to avoid getting lonesome, to ‘learn people better’ and (I love this one) to keep the ‘hoping machine running’.

It’s possible that the injunction to wake up and fight now feels a little archaic. But remember that Guthrie wrote this in the month that the USA entered the war against the Nazis, and this was a man who wrote on his guitar that ‘this machine kills fascists’. Some things continue to need fighting.

3. We need more laughter

In the movie Play it again Sam, Woody Allen’s character talks about his wife divorcing him. Diane Keaton asks him what reason his wife gave for wanting a divorce.

She wants a laugh. She doesn’t laugh enough. Insufficient laughter – that’s grounds for divorce. Oh, skiing! She wants to go skiing. She wants to ski down a mountain, laughing like an idiot.

One of the side effects of giving up my previous career last year is that I set up a new company and am now co-director with the Boss, my ever-lovin’ Her Indoors. I don’t know if that is a recipe for long-term marital harmony but we’ve spent more time together and we seem to spend much of it laughing.

Even when I was still a civil servant (let’s face it, not in most people’s top 10 occupations for laughter) I was keen to take things seriously but not be too serious, if you get my meaning. I once spoke at a conference on early childhood nutrition and opened with a joke that even my most flippant member of staff advised me not to use*. But I risked it and even the forbiddingly serious-looking audience of health experts appreciated a moment of levity.

Which made it even sadder last year when I read Damian McBride’s memoir of his time as Gordon Brown’s spin doctor and found this anecdote about the time when journalists reported that Cherie Blair was caught muttering ‘that’s a lie’ during Brown’s speech at the 2006 Labour Party Conference…

…the next morning, Tony [Blair]’s office called Sue Nye [Brown’s assistant] and informed her that Tony would indeed be making a jokey reference to the incident at the start of his speech, and Gordon should be ready to smile.

…and I gave thanks that I don’t work in a job where I have to be told to smile.

(Next time: items 4-7)

*What’s the difference between snot and spinach? Kids will eat snot.

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