Tuesday 19 December 2006

Turkey feet and chips

This time next week it will all be over. Well, not the turkey, obviously, which you will be eating cold as a prelude to enjoying it in rissoles, curry, sandwiches and broth. But you’ll have survived, if you’re lucky, that great family get-together which reminds you why you try to avoid seeing most of your relatives on the other 364 days of the year.

Now it will just be a matter of sticking all the wrapping paper in the recycling bin; desperately trying to find the receipts so that you can take the broken toys back to the MetroCentre and demand a refund; and ensuring that you don’t miss out on the unrepeatable bargains in the DFS Boxing Day sale.

Don’t you just hate it when newspapers try to predict the future like that? Every morning I am brought to the verge of apoplexy by Radio 4 telling me, not what happened yesterday, but what is expected to happen today. So much so that, if I were in that sort of PR, I’d be tempted to be a little bit mischievous with them. For example:

“Hello, is that Radio 4? I thought you might like a heads up on the Stevens Report. Yes, it is a bit of a surprise, actually. The Duke of Edinburgh’s coughed. “It’s a fair cop, guv. I done it. You got me bang to rights. It’s bird for me this time. Society is to blame.” Yes, straight up. I’m quoting directly from the Report. Hello?”

Well, I might need to be a bit more subtle than that, but you get the general idea. And, let’s face it, it is the only answer that would have satisfied the people who wanted the inquiry in the first place. As it was, all over Britain conversations took place like the one I overheard on the 13.30 from King’s Cross last Thursday, as one Geordie couple pored over their evening papers:

Him: “You see? I told you so.”

Her: “Come on, you don’t really believe that, do you? It’s a cover-up. Of course she was murdered.”

Thereby demonstrating, as might have been safely predicted, that the whole exercise was a colossal waste of everyone’s time and our money. Like all public inquiries unless they demonstrate that the barmy conspiracy theorists were actually right.

So if constantly looking forward drives us mad, and looking back achieves nothing, where does that leave us? With the present. Which in six days’ time will be the Christmas present, which surely has its compensations. No less an authority than the Buddha prescribed the following recipe for contentment: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

In the modern world, we seem to have lost sight of this entirely. Just look at the TV schedules, filled with nostalgic “100 Greatest …” clip shows and “another chance to see” treats. These are interspersed with endless clips for the few new programmes which ensure that you will have seen the very few good bits at least a dozen times before you get to the real thing, thereby guaranteeing that it will prove a disappointment.

So we pass from eager anticipation to fond reminiscence without ever really enjoying the moment in between. When did you last do anything which made you think, ‘”Wow! This is terrific! This is what living is all about!” That’s what we should all be aiming for every day.

I’ve got modest hopes for my own Christmas, which I shall be spending alone with a Border terrier, what I hope will prove to be a good book, and a microwaveable economy dinner for one: turkey feet and chips. I don’t think I’m likely to go “Wow!”, but at least I’m not wasting time looking forward to it, and I reckon the chances of nostalgia are decidedly limited. So at least it’s one small step in the right direction.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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