On a grey Sunday afternoon, at the beginning of January, I was at home contemplating my NYRs (New Year’s Resolutions) when I became aware of the sound of helicopters circling low over the city and emergency sirens echoing around the streets. Could this, I thought, be the beginning of the much-anticipated revolution, the Northern Spring? Alas no: it was merely the routine aftermath of another local football derby - a ‘sporting’ event.
No change there; nor in my NYRs which comprised the usual drink less, think more and keep fit intentions. Last year I decided it would help if I joined groups of like-minded people for encouragement and support, but the outcomes were disappointing. In the first instance my friends proved reluctant to commit to the idea of going out for fewer drinks (which has led me to consider the NYR ‘get new friends’). On the thinking front, I joined a newly established philosophy discussion group, which could have worked out well but for the fact that we had neither sufficient knowledge to sustain discussion nor the will to acquire it. And then there were the various gym classes which I embraced enthusiastically - too enthusiastically, as it turned out, for the net result was my having to seek osteopathic treatment for a disjointed spine.
I even thought of teaming up with the Chinese senior citizens who exercise publicly each morning in the little park nearby. They are a loose congregation of six or seven tiny, ancient women who make barely-perceptible movements of their limbs. I once stood shyly on the periphery, undecided whether to approach (it is rumoured that they have never learned to speak English) and ask to join. Although theirs was not quite the vigorous workout I really needed I thought it inspirational in its unselfconscious and dutiful performance. In the end, however, it proved to be a cultural step too far for me: I lost my nerve and fell back into solitary-resolve mode.
NYRs would be easier to keep if we all agreed to adopt the same ones; they would become part of our social fabric and, like the Chinese ladies, we would all pull together for the greater good. We could take a vote and choose NYRs which would really make a difference to society. If, for example, we all gave up drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, the money spent repairing the collateral damage could be diverted into education; if all football supporters resolved to be friendly and sporting to each other, peace would break out and the resources of law and order would become available for helping old ladies across roads.
If this sounds too totalitarian to bear, individualists and anarchists need have no fear of it ever happening: our society is too loose a confederation of tribes to allow for any such unity of purpose. Although, peculiarly, when it comes to international sporting competitions, tribes seem happy to set aside their differences and unite under national flags. The Olympic Games, the mother of them all, will soon be upon us and enthusiastic, consolidated tribes from around the world will compete in a £9 billion (at least) orgy of flag-waving, podium-posturing, medal-ranking displays of national pride egged on by commercial sponsors keen for ever-multiplying numbers of viewers. Those of us who may have lost the battle of the NYRs - to give up drinking and smoking, lose weight and get fit - can watch those who apparently have not as they strive for national glory on our behalf.
Participation in the Olympic Games may not be on my agenda but my NYRs are no less a challenge to my personal abilities. I’ve made a start by aiming to get through January in one piece. That in itself should win me a medal.