Olympia, Stamford Hill, Brighton, Shepherd’s Bush, Manchester, Salisbury, East Finchley, Perthshire: 2018 has, rather like 2017, been a year of dotting about the place. This is actually my last week in the castle where I have spent the past six months; I then move to the Grieve’s House down the lane. Without those past six months I wonder if I would have gone mad. My gratitude to my hosts-cum-landlords knows no bounds. Their son G—, the one who rescued and tended Kutkh the jackdaw, is back for a few days: he has been to Kamchatka, donning a heat-resistant suit and throwing people’s regrets into a live volcano. Yes, you read that right. People emailed him their regrets and he printed them out and chucked them into a volcano. I forget which one.
My regret was not giving H— my business-class seat on the way back from our trip to Antigua all those years ago; it really has haunted me. (Yes, I once travelled in business class to Antigua. It was a freebie. And I knew that airlines don’t like it when you change seats, because they use the passenger manifests to work out who was sitting where if the plane crashes. Makes identifying bodies less of a chore.)
Funnily enough, G—’s stunt seems to have worked: I don’t feel so bad about this act of appalling selfishness any more. However, since then, a few other regrets I’d completely forgotten about have resurfaced, and so I’m going to have to ask him to do it again. Then again, one wonders whether he will find a big enough volcano.
“Personally of course I regret everything. Not a word, not a deed, not a thought, not a need, not a grief, not a joy, not a girl, not a boy, not a doubt, not a trust, not a scorn, not a lust, not a hope, not a fear, not a smile, not a tear, not a name, not a face, no time, no place, that I do not regret, exceedingly. An ordure, from beginning to end.” (Samuel Beckett, Watt, but he’s not always that upbeat.)
I’m trying to think what the highlights of 2018 were. I suppose getting slapped in the face by a woman has to be one. That hasn’t happened to me nearly as often as you might expect. On the evening in question I could see it coming, so braced myself, but it turned out to be more of a gesture than an exercise in inflicting pain, so I said, “Look, it’s all in the follow-through. Imagine you’re playing a forehand tennis stroke.” We made up.
The two big highlights were, of course, finding somewhere to bed down for longer than a month. I got my heart broken in Oxfordshire but got it mended again courtesy of a woman from Wales, who has been mentioned here from time to time. I got into a war of words with Rod Liddle, who then blocked me on social media, but then he’s awfully sensitive so that’s hardly a great achievement. At the time of writing someone is taking legal advice about something I’ve written, but having looked at his email threatening it, and at the piece he objects to, I can’t say I’m very worried.
I saw some beavers swimming in the stream and took some inept and murky footage of them which has been seen on YouTube about seven times, although I don’t remember what I called it (perhaps “murky and inept footage of beavers”), and that number may have gone up. I remembered how to bowl a cricket ball and then lost the knack again. I got a tan in Scotland and then lost it again.
That’s what it’s all been about, swings and roundabouts. And I have ended the year in the unusual position of being owed, literally, thousands of pounds, without having been paid any of them yet. (I also owe thousands of pounds, mainly to HMRC, and their letters are piling up. The frequency of their arrival makes me wonder if that is where JK Rowling got the idea of thousands of letters cascading through the Dursleys’ letter box.)
Oh, and I’m about to sign a contract for a second volume of memoirs culled from these columns. So that’s good. After all, the first volume made me practically a household name.
But the most extraordinary thing actually happened yesterday, when my friend S— complained that her dysania was very bad that day. “Dysania?” I looked it up, and lo, it is a word for finding it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
This made me reel. For one thing, English isn’t even S— ’s first language. (She has about four or five, “with Latin to hold it all together”, but she’s best at English and Turkish. She is awfully brainy.) I can’t believe I have passed more than half a century suffering from this condition without having learned the name for it. To name a thing is often to tame it, and it’s nice to know I can get a badge or a T-shirt made or something. I wonder what the condition is called for not being able to get out of bed in the afternoon.
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special