Tuesday 2 January 2007

Where did I go wrong?

I spend far too much of my life wondering where I went wrong: a vice which reaches its peak at the turn of the year.

Sometimes the answer is blindingly obvious. For example, I decided not to start a family until I was absolutely certain of my own destiny as a failure. I reckoned that I could then throw myself into pursuing vicarious success through my children. The snag with this plan is that by the time I was quite sure I had failed, so was everyone else. Making for a distinct shortage of partners in the whole child-producing enterprise.

Maybe this is the male equivalent of those driven women who focus on their careers until their fertility is shot and they are deemed too old to adopt. Or maybe, like so many things, it is peculiar to me.

Consciousness of failure makes for grumpiness. According to the Financial Times of 22 December, I am “the grumpiest man in Northumberland”, which seems a bit unlikely to me. Other claimants are urged to make urgent contact with the paper, to set the record straight. (Wives and girlfriends may act as proxies.)

Those words came in an article referring to something I wrote here about condemned roadside trees. Happily, those ashes and beeches achieved their apotheosis on Christmas Day, when an intense frost left every twig covered with about a quarter of an inch of ice. The effect was simply dazzling, with fallen ice on the roads (another major Elfin Safety hazard, soon to be eliminated), adding a crunchy delight to my afternoon walk.

I can honestly say that they have never looked more beautiful, and deeply regret that I did not have the wit to take a camera with me to capture a truly amazing View of the North. Even extreme cynics can occasionally be wowed by Nature.

Normality was swiftly restored on Boxing Day, when I visited an inexplicably popular seaside pub after a bracing walk with some friends. Here grumpiness was much in evidence, the odd twist being that it wasn’t mine. I was in a surprisingly good mood when I joined the long queue at the bar. I did not sigh or look at my watch when the people in front of me all placed food and drink orders of Baroque complexity. Nor did I lapse into those alarming imitations that I tend to do when bored: the orang-utan with scabies or the nervous plotter with the time-bomb in Hitler’s bunker.

In fact, my only possible offence was waving a five pound note to indicate that I would really quite like to be served when I finally reached the bar after 15 minutes or so, and the two staff decided that that was the perfect moment for a friendly chat with each other instead of pulling pints. At this point, a gorgonian landlady made it crystal clear that my custom was not desired, and added a lecture about ingratitude when all her team had “given up their Boxing Days” to serve others.

I’d like to take this opportunity to point out, madam, that you are not actually running a social service. You opened your pub because you knew it was a great opportunity to make a load of dosh, and didn’t you do well? I hope you were paying your staff well over their normal hourly rate, too. Clearly you can afford to pick and choose your customers, and you’ll doubtless be pleased to know that I shan’t be coming back.

Unfortunately you came along too late to help with my 2006 New Year’s resolution about cutting down on drinking. I’ve just checked the full list of ten: all broken, mostly in the first week of January. This year I’m only trying two: live for the moment and look on the bright side. As I used to say in pubs in the days when they were prepared to serve me: what’s yours?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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