The best companion for a New Year’s Day walk is a hangover. The new year wears the grubby overcoat of the old; nothing fits properly any more, whether it’s last week’s trousers trousers or the day of the week. Everywhere bears the scars of the festivities: empty bottles linger in hedges, withered trees loiter behind windows, while abandoned relatives roam the parks and department stores, counting the hours until they can retreat inside their regular lives.
The masochism of the Boxing Day sales is an exercise in instant nostalgia. People flock to the shops to learn the true value of those boxed sets of shaving equipment they gobbled up in the pre-Christmas gluttony, back in the days when the New Year was something to look forward to. We have anchored our hopes to this moment for so long, only to discover, not for the first time, that the future is a mirage. When it arrives it’s grey and cold and litter-strewn, just like all the ones before. A pertinent scene appears before me as I turn a corner: a man hauling his white-haired, tight-jawed mother out of a rust-ridden car and looking like he’s spent 2010 resolving to be rid of them both. Ah, resolution: you are the mother of disappointment.
New Year’s resolutions are a masterpiece of forgetting. After a month of indulging our vices in familiar company, we are seized by an urge to become someone alien. I will give up comfort eating and start eating celery. I will shake off this creeping weariness that assaults me every time I walk to the bus stop and start stepping out in a headband and shorts. I will distil the aimless thoughts that flit about my head, cocoon myself in the spare bedroom and emerge with a brilliant novel.
Why, when mulching leaves line the pavements and our vital organs are a Domesday record of our personal failings, do we launch ourselves on these terrible self-improving missions? Why are we suddenly determined to turn into the kind of person we were scorning just weeks ago? Habits don’t happen by accident: they form like mould; they accumulate like Pot Noodle cartons on an embankment; and they form us in turn. Our drive to become newer, shinier, happier people is gatecrashed by our inner selves, who drag us back into the place where we feel most at home, and which we celebrate every December.
We think, when we buy the gym membership or give up the chocolate cake, that we are turning a corner, taking a different course from the one we were drifting along. But really, all the paths lead to the same summit. It’s better, really, to invest some time in enjoying the view on the way up. That’s how I decide, as I make my way home in the fading light, that my resolution this year is to kick the habit of making worthless, fantastical promises to myself.
Damn it. Failed again.