Now You’re Asking!
Hello and I hope you’re all well and that January is not too miserable for you. Which leads me directly to the subject of New Year’s Resolutions. If you’ve made any and have already lapsed, will you hear me out on the subject? See, I sincerely believe that almost every one of us is doing our best on any particular day. That’s not to say that our best (I should say ‘my best’) isn’t always something to boast about but we try, amirite? New Year’s Resolutions have always struck me as an exercise in self-punishment – all that deprivation. It’s too grim!
We front-load our Januarys with several wildly-ambitious plans – to stop eating, to start running marathons, to get promoted, to cut out alcohol, etc. At the best of times, these deprivations are cruel and difficult but at the moment, twenty-three months into a pandemic, we are SPENT. We are EXHAUSTED, we’re very ground down, our hope has been worn away to dust, it feels like a long, long time since we’ve had freedom and fun and normality – and we’re proposing removing the few things that give us pleasure? This, my beloved amigos, is not the time!
The only circumstances I would countenance any of the above plans is if you genuinely feel extremely strongly about say, stopping smoking on HEALTH grounds. Or going wild swimming (Or Swimming in the Sea, if you’re my age) for the legendary Cold Water High. It may be hard, but ultimately if you think you’ll feel better in your body and better about yourself, then yes, that’s a positive thing.
But may I suggest that ONE of these ‘difficult’ changes is enough. Doing without something that usually gives you pleasure or making yourself do something that you dread is exhausting. Depriving yourself of several dopamine-providers means that you’ll run out of endurance in double-quick time and lapse across all fronts, then (if you’re anything like me, in countless Januarys in the past) feel hopeless and useless.
Here’s my suggestion: instead of removing from yourself, how about giving yourself something nice? How about taking up something enjoyable, something that might be helpful to you? Me, for example, I’m back, for the gazillionth time, trying meditation. Again, I would suggest only taking on one of these positive changes, because overloading ourselves at the coldest, most solitary time of the year, might not be a great idea.
I must admit that as well as the meditation, I’m ‘toying’ with the idea of learning crochet, because I see all these beautiful colourful blankets on Instagram and Etsy and I think, “OOOOOH! I wish I could make one of them!” I’ve actually bought some crochet hooks and wool but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had any time to ‘log on’. Or whatever the word is? Is it ‘cast on’? Or is that just knitting?
Yes, think about something small and secret and nice that you have a curiosity about and, if you had the energy, make some enquiries about starting it. Making jewellery? Cooking something you’ve never made before once a fortnight? Allowing yourself to luxuriate in bed every Saturday afternoon, with a medium-sized Toblerone, as you watch eg Toast of Tinseltown, The Tourist or whatever you’re having yourself? Starting therapy? Planting things in pots or the ground (if you have access to a garden)? Making a promise to yourself to, every week meet up with a kind person or someone who makes you laugh? You know, something small, something that attracts you. And if it turns out it’s not your thing, then fine because now you know and there’s no need to feel like a failure at all!
If this is of any interest to you, the very funny, clever and kind Tara Flynn and I have started a podcast on BBC Sounds. It also goes out on BBC Radio 4 every Sunday evening at 7.15. It’s called Now You’re Asking and the idea is that people (indeed, you, if that was your thing) email us at [email protected] if you had any problems or conundrums you’d like us to try to solve. It’s all in strict confidence and the first show got lovely reviews. The Sunday Times called us ‘Oddly Soothing’ and Tara is definitely ‘soothing’ and I am undeniably ‘odd.’
And if you have a listen and like what you hear, we would be so delighted if you subscribed to the podcast!
As I write, it’s Saturday January 15th and Mammy Keyes, desperately missing her bridge sessions because of the latest restrictions is A) In an absolute fouler and B) Has issued an order to several of her children and grandchildren to show up at her house later to be taught bridge so that we can play it with her until normal bridge resumes.
And I swear to god, I am SO SCARED. She’s in ferocious form (entirely justified, she’s been so brave and optimistic so far, but even though it’s justified, it doesn’t make her any the less scary) and I don’t have ‘a head for cards.’ Himself is great at them, my sister Rita-Anne is TOP-NOTCH, brother-in-law Jimmy isn’t bad, Redzer the Younger is like Quick Draw McGraw, but I can see me, Hannah and Tomas (who isn’t even 2) being despatched, in no time, to Gobshite’s Corner.
But feck it! Maybe I’ll display an entirely unexpected aptitude for it!
What other news? Telly! Oh thank the lord for telly! I’m watching The Tourist and LOVING it so much. In Ireland, we’re limited it to one episode a week (those of you in Blighty are luxuriating in all-six-at-once, if you so wish.) It’s so good and Jamie Dornan is great! Did you see him in Star and Barb go to Vista del Mar? He was MAGNIFEEK in that! Utterly MAGNIFEEK! His performance in that entirely cleanses Wild Mountain Thyme from the record. Toast of Tinseltown, any takers? It’s niche, no doubt about it, but Matt Berry is so funny. If you’re interested, see if you can watch Toast of London first.
I will also admit that I’m watching The Apprentice. In general, I get cross when people talk about Guilty Pleasures, because most of these pleasures are perfectly innocent, but perhaps slightly sneered at by insecure folk who desperately want to appear cultured. But I do genuinely feel guilty about the pleasure I take in watching The Apprentice – it’s long departed from its stated purpose, to find a business partner for Alan Sugar. Instead it feels more like an invitation to be riveted by misfortunate young people, who are too innocent (or sometimes perhaps too egotistical?) to realise that they’re being had. And yet I enjoy it…
Books? Oh, mother of god! So many great books coming this year! The new Mhairi McFarlane, Mad about You, is published in April. I love her books so much!
Also in April is Louise Kennedy’s first novel The Tresspasses, is INCREDIBLE. Her short story collection The End of the World is a cul-de-sac got rave reviews when it was published last year.
Candice-Carty William’s second novel People Person is WONDERFUL. Very different to Queenie, in my opinion. This is about 5 half-siblings (1 dad, 4 mothers) meeting properly as adults, in response to a crisis and shaping themselves into a family. The tone is deceptively lighthearted, comic at times, but in the undertow we’re constantly reminded of the daily micro-aggressions that black people have to deal with and that white people are oblivious of. It’s warm, funny, sweet and political. Also out in April.
Coming in May is Louise O’Neill’s latest novel, Icon. Oh my god, it’s absolutely wonderful! Louise is always pushing boundaries. This book is very glamorous – until it isn’t. About a US self-help guru, who has ‘healed herself’ and become a multi-millionaire from writing books and doing massive events, finds the wheels coming off her glammy life, when something from her past comes out. I read it compulsively.
A I L M E N T O F T H E M O N T H
Nothing particularly thrilling this month except I have become Coldsore Girl. I was always ‘prone’ and have realised it’s quite a handy device, actually, in that it alerts me to the fact that I’m not fully well and am a bit ‘virally’. Usually after a coldsore makes its first, deceptively-innocent appearance on my chin – frequently masquerading as a small, harmless spot who isn’t planning to stick around for long – a bout of ‘not well-ness’ follows: the usual thing, you know? What we used to call The Flu and what we now call Not-Covid-But-I’m-Still-Sick – weak limbs, achey bones, a bit of a cold. Lately my coldsores have been playing a relay race – as soon as one begins to fade, leaving fecky pigmentation scars that take months to fade, another little blighter pops its tingley unsightly head up. But so it goes. What can we do and to quote Mammy Keyes ‘there’s always some poor divil who’s worse off.’ (Thank you in advance but I am already mainlining Lysine and using some beepy yoke I got off the internet. And still the blighters persist!)
And that is really all my news. I’m in a state of countdown to February 17th for the publication of Again, Rachel. I veer between terror and genuine excitement. My great fear is disappointing all the lovely people who loved Rachel’s Holiday but at this stage, a fair few bloggers and social media book people have read the proof of Again, Rachel and have been very nice about it. So I’ve decided to be hopeful. And I’d love it to be out because there are parts of the book I’m DYING to talk about but obviously can’t right now!
If you’d like a preview, my publishers are doing a thing called First Look Fridays on my Amazon page (I didn’t even know I had such a thing!) where you’ll be able to see – and hear! – the opening chapter. More will come every Friday, until the book is out in the world.
I’ll be back with one more newsletter before publication. I hope you’re well. Go easy and gently with yourself. I’m serious. Life is very draining right now. The bare minimum is what you should be asking from yourself. This is all about endurance. Anything that seems pleasurable or that might life your spirits, jump on it! Jump!
Thank you for all your loveliness to me
Lots and lots of love