Five changes of direction for the new year

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

In the January 2021 edition of Village Views there was an interesting article about breaking free from debt, which it describes as “a new year’s resolution worth making.” As the article’s preamble explains, January is the month when the festive bills arrive, very few transactions now being settled on the nail and in cash. I’m not any kind of financial expert so I can say little more than that the advice (supplied by the charity Christians Against Poverty) on matters such as budgeting, cutting costs and seeking help seems sound as far as it goes. We’ve mentioned the organisation ourselves in the past and it seems to help those that need it. You can visit the CAP website here.

The article also has seven tips on teaching children about finances. The one about using pocket money as a tool caught my eye. We were chaotic about this aspect with our sons and normally ended up in some exhausting muddle involving advance payments and loans from which I suspect the boys generally emerged as the winners. The article suggests that if kids are encouraged to save for something, by the time they’ve done so “they may have realised that they don’t want it.” Capitalism would probably collapse if instant gratification were removed – a good thing too, some would say – but in a different way this certainly worked for me during lockdown. I’ve always hated clothes shopping but felt a vague compulsion to do it every now and then. The pandemic has proved that it’s possible to go for two years without buying any new clothes at all. This may not have benefitted the local economy but it led to small improvement to our domestic one. Charity begins at home, after all.

What this article set me thinking about was what resolutions I might make. This was followed almost at once by the realisation that, as usual, I wasn’t going to make any because my failing to keep them, as invariably happens, creates a worse position than before: the same problems but now imbued with the whiff of failure. No, I thought cunningly – what I need to is not to make resolutions, which often involve an impossible 180º turn, but to contemplate more minor changes. After all, if you veer even slightly in a new direction, it’s not too long before you’re in a very different place from where you would otherwise have been. So, here goes…

Eat much, much less meat. This was embarked on by Penny and me in September after our son Adam came back from 18 months in Vietnam as a vegetarian. We’ve not bought any meat since then (if you don’t count a leg of lamb for our Boxing Day feast) and, aside from a few pasta sauces out of the freezer, haven’t eaten any either. I’ve not missed the stuff at all – the trick, in my view, is to have plenty of herbs and spices to hand to fool my taste buds. There are many reasons why eating less or no meat is a good idea. I have high hopes that this one will, with the odd lapse, survive.

Do more things that benefit others. Most new year resolutions are about oneself – I want to get thinner, fitter, stronger, richer or whatever. That’s fine up to a point but can, perhaps, lead to a degree of self-obsession and competitiveness. Of course, if we don’t make ourselves fitter or thinner then no one else is going to do it for us: however, I would like to be able to say that my adjustment would in some way benefit other people without (of course) inconveniencing myself too much. I could argue that carrying on doing Penny Post (which no one pays to receive and some are kind enough to say they enjoy) would tick this box but I don’t think that counts. I confess that, until I’ve worked out what this particular transformative change of direction will be, I’m a bit stuck. When I have done, I’ll let you know.

Stop being so smug in the swimming pool in January. Aside from walking up and down stairs to my office about 20 times a day and uncorking wine bottles, the only exercise I take is swimming. This has a number of benefits, of which perhaps the biggest is that it’s incredibly boring and so brings my mind to an almost complete standstill. This, however, ceases to apply when there are too many swimmers in the pool, something most frequently seen in January when people are trying out their new membership before, in most cases, deciding that this isn’t for them. It’s hard not to study the newcomer, assessing the chances that they’ll return, in the meantime tut-tutting at the fact that the pool is sometimes inconveniently crowded. These are unworthy sentiments. I know that. These people have just as much as right to be there as I do, even though a part of me doesn’t think that they do.

Read more different books. One of the troubles with doing Penny Post is that I read and write so much that words are often not the relaxation and escape they once were. I suspect one problem is that I’ve got in a rut with my reading habits. There’s no excuse for this. Penny and I have fairly different tastes so there are plenty of books in the house I haven’t read. We also have one of the best bookshops in the country in Hungerford and two libraries nearby. This one really shouldn’t be that hard.

Learn a bit more about the computer programmes I use. I have no intrinsic interests in computers, any more than I do in cars, seeing them merely as a way of getting something done. The result is that once I’ve learned a way of doing something I stick with it, usually without thinking if it’s the best way; much as if the first time I drove from East Garston to Newbury I went via Wantage and have followed that illogical route ever since. I wonder how much time I might be wasting and whether I could, in less time, produce a better result. The complex world of WordPress which we use for this website is one example: but what I’m really thinking of is Logic Pro, the wonderful music sequencing programme I use for recording the songs I write. I doubt I employ more than 25% of the features. The other 75% are there for good reasons and it’s high time I found out what they were.

None of these improvements, even if realised, are going to change the world. They may not even change me much, or for the better; but they also seem unlikely to hurt, disparage or inconvenience others. Making such small alterations might even spill over into other aspects of my life. I’m not saying that by this time next year I’ll be changing gearboxes, juggling fire sticks and speaking fluent Japanese: but I might – just might – have worked out what the alarming orange light on the car dashboard is, learned more about grouping audio tracks and done my tax return more than twenty minutes before the deadline. Little steps is all I’m after; small changes of angle that shift my gaze onto a slightly different part of the horizon. If I can do that, and keep going in the new direction for long enough, I suppose anything is possible.

Brian Quinn

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale