On The Buses: Will the real New Year please stand up

To paraphrase Henry Hill in Goodfellas, as far back as I can remember I’ve always thought New Year started in the wrong month.

Imagine you’re starting an exciting new project based around the concept of time. At the brainstorming session to decide what form it should take, the person who says “Let’s start it at the absolutely most depressing time of the year,” would be instantly thrown out of the meeting.

But we kid ourselves that all is well with having it in January, instead of April when the earth and all the things that dwell upon it are beginning to regenerate and burst forth with vernal thrust. Instead we drag ourselves through these sour months clinging to what’s left of Christmas.

“Did you have a good Christmas?”

“Great thanks – we had the time of our lives.”

Nobody knows they’re having the time of their life at the time they’re actually having it, but I’m willing to hazard a guess that I won’t be sat, years from now, looking back all misty-eyed, and thinking about all the hours I spent watching TV and stuffing chocolates down my throat.

As the rolling behemoth of a jamboree that is Christmas disappears in the rear-view mirror, I can’t help but wonder if all that build-up can lead to anything other than a disappointment and so some people have to over-egg how great their Christmas was. We all know the basic drill. We spend the best part of a couple of months in preparation for one or two days of over-eating, watching films we’ve seen before, and tolerating the company of people we’ve gone out of our way to avoid in the saner months of January to November. And we never learn. We’ll do it again next year. But it isn’t the time of our lives.

Is it all a desperate attempt to create some magical memories that will nourish our spirit through the bleak winter months?

Included amongst them February – the shortest month but the one which my friend Jason (mentioned once in a previous column) compared to “A giant backside pressed up against your window. Best shut the curtains.”

This making of memories seems more important to me as I get older. Life feels like the tracing of a finger along a sentence of unknown length, scrawled across a page; as the finger moves, so more is learned, but the knowledge that there are fewer words remaining haunts the meaning of the line. For the young everything is future with no past to speak of. But the ratio of past to future changes as we grow. Now I live a half-life – half in the present, a wary eye to the future, and half that remains resolutely in the past, a half that I constantly draw upon these days, like taking water from a well. When I see my own children doing anything I am instantly transported back to myself at that age and, as with all nostalgia, there is an exquisite mix of pleasure and sadness as my mind settles on times and people gone in the years. For every joke remembered, every golden summer moment, there is the spectre of wasted chances, missed opportunities and the people who can only be found in the recesses of my mind or in fading photographs. To take a walk down Memory Lane incurs the risk of heartbreak as well as delight. Each kiss or smile is measured against an empty pair of children’s shoes or a redundant dog-leash hanging unused by the back-door.

And then I think of the very oldest among us, betrayed by their bodies, for whom life is nearly all based in memories with only the mundane necessities of staying alive – cooking, eating, staying warm – to distract them from the much richer interior world of their past.

So how do we know when we’re having the time of our life?

Not for nothing was Club 18-30 so named. When you listen to people talking about their lives, their smiles are broadest when they recall that period from the end of adolescence until the accumulation of responsibilities. It is certainly when we acquire most of the anecdotes upon which we will later dine out. And yet how would we describe, in an amusing story, the feeling of being “quietly satisfied” or “finally at ease after the completion off an onerous task”?

I find myself thrown slightly off-balance at this time of year. It probably shows in the reading of the words above. As we are in the midst of winter so I am in the midst of life. A new year is a new page and a blank one so far. I will fill it with memories and not hope that next Christmas is the time of my life. I know already that the time of my life is yet to come and that my finger will continue to trace across the paper with a steady hand, writing its own sentence not merely reading the words of another. It is within my gift to make the words say whatever I wish and there is so much to say in whatever number of words I am afforded. I shall abide and make dreams reality. And I shall recognise April as the real New Year.