The year of living rather less than dangerously

Stem-cell transplantation was pivotal to Sam in 1998. Losing my glove loomed large in my year
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The Independent Culture
IT'S SO difficult trying to synthesise a busy year on to one page, write our good friends Sam and Marcie Lapwing, from Boise, Idaho, at the top of their festive reindeer-and-robin encrusted cards. We met the Lapwings on holiday in India 12 years ago and haven't seen them since, but every Christmas, without fail, we get this detailed report of how the family are getting along.

"We've been to a lotta places and done a whole bunch of interesting things," the Lapwings' newsletter continues. "Marcie has been nominated to the National Board of the Scleroderma Foundation, and you may have caught Sam's face on Dateline TV in the middle of September talking about stem- cell transplantation in scleroderma and related conditions."

Why are other people's lives so much more interesting than mine, I thought gloomily, having heard all about the very lovely wedding in the woods of Lake Taho that the entire Lapwing family attended in April and what a truly rewarding time Marcie's mother had visiting kinfolk in Maine.

More to the point, why are other people's memories so much sharper than mine? Marcie and Sam complain that it's difficult to synthesise a year on to one page. I have problems trying to synthesise what I did with the back door key last night. It's unlikely we went to a wedding last spring - my friends get divorced - but if we did it certainly wasn't in a wood. I haven't seen inside a wood for years. And I don't believe my mother has visited her kinfolk recently because they're all in the "southern Shan states" of upper Burma, and if she had she would definitely have asked me to feed her cat.

This loss of memory is particularly galling because I used to have a brilliant memory, especially for numbers. Ask me to reel off any of my Austrian friend's three 13-digit telephone numbers in Vienna, Salzburg and St Anton and out they would come pat, digit perfect. Now I can't remember the four-figured pin number of my credit card which I use practically every day.

There are, I know, all sorts of ingenious methods you can employ to remember important things, like whether you've switched the iron off or sent those vital cheques to the bank. The best way I was reliably advised by a psychologist called George is to verbalise - yes, of course, he's American. In other words you don't just switch the iron off and pull out the plug. You say: "I'm switching the iron off and taking the plug out." Better still, you talk to the iron as a friend. You say: "Hello iron, I'm going to switch you off and then I'm going to take out your plug and put you away." This way, said George, you build up a relationship with the iron, and, since relationships are important to humans, particularly women, there is no way you would ever forget how the relationship ended.

None of this I appreciate would be of much use when trying to synthesise a year, busy or banal, on to a Christmas card to send back to Marcie and Sam. The other drawback is having to refer to yourself in the third person, like a character in a novel. "Heavens, is it really a year since Sue left one of her gloves, her brand new gloves, in the back of the commuter cab? My, how time flies."

On second thoughts it's not other people's lives that are more interesting than mine, it's other people's priorities. Stem-cell transplantation was pivotal to Sam in 1998, losing my glove, my brand new glove, in the back of a cab looms large in my year. But I do see it's not the sort of thing you record in a Christmas card. Some might say that scleroderma isn't exactly festive either, and, at the risk of sounding disloyal to our good friends in Idaho, I would agree with them. There are only two requirements of a Christmas card message. One: it should be brief; two: it should be legible. You will have gathered by now that I haven't sent my Christmas cards yet, but no panic, there's still plenty of time despite all those dire warnings. What I need is two completely uninterrupted hours to write the wretched things.

The woman in the seat beside me at Battersea Arts Centre one year had the right idea. We were watching a production of the Bible, not the whole thing just the Old Testament, performed by a cast of four. They balked at nothing - the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Philistine hordes, the multitudes passing through the Red Sea, we had it all. The fact that there were only three people in the audience (it had poor reviews) did nothing to dampen the cast's enthusiasm, not even when the woman beside me opened her handbag, took out a stack of Christmas cards and began writing them. "Stay thy hand," said the angelic host, all two of them, as Abraham lifted his knife to sacrifice Isaac. "You don't happen to know the postal code for Swindon?" whispered the woman beside me.