This Is The Life: Hopes and expectations for 2004? Well, let's start at the top...


The deluded belief that our lives will somehow change for the better in the new year, and that we will miraculously become more resolute people, is the biggest triumph of hope over experience since caveman first turned to cavewoman and uttered grunts to the effect of: "I'll love you 'til the day I die."

The deluded belief that our lives will somehow change for the better in the new year, and that we will miraculously become more resolute people, is the biggest triumph of hope over experience since caveman first turned to cavewoman and uttered grunts to the effect of: "I'll love you 'til the day I die."

I suppose the whole concept of new year, appearing as shiny and unblemished as your new desk diary, is a form of secular absolution for the masses. It's a line drawn under your failings, chaos and ceaseless procrastination, and a chance to become the person you always knew you could be if only Liv Tyler hadn't got there first. In setting yourself all these personal targets it's important to remember the famous maxim that it's not enough to succeed - others must fail. Thus if you lose two stone on the Atkins diet in 2004, it's imperative that a couple of your friends or colleagues become real porkers. Similarly, if you get a big work promotion, you next need to bump into the meanest girl in your class, who once teased you mercilessly because you thought doggy-style referred to our four-footed friends, and find that she's now busy stacking shelves in Asda.

My own hopes for 2004 are modest. I aim effortlessly to become healthier, wealthier, prettier, more witty and wise, while simultaneously reclaiming even more hours of the day for aimless pottering and watching essential TV, such as University Challenge and Six Feet Under. To achieve this state of earthly nirvana, I have set myself a few targets, listed below.

Why do this, you ask, when the road to hell is not just paved with, but submerged beneath, a landslide of good intentions? Because, damn it all, I'm a romantic. I do think people can change (though they rarely do) and I do think love can last for ever (though it often doesn't) and, after all, it's better to aim high than to aim low and miss.

Keeping up with dearly beloved friends

I hope finally to tell my friends and acquaintances, my bank, building society and the company I work for, that I moved house back in September 2003 so that correspondence takes less than two months to reach me and I can actually go to the parties I'm asked to. I also intend to reply to letters within a fortnight rather than two years of receiving them. And while I'm on the subject of paperwork, I aim to send off for a new driving licence some four years after the old one was nicked in Soho, which will once again enable me to risk being pulled over for driving in an erratic manner: "Can I see your licence, ma'am?" I mean, Juan Pablo Montoya didn't get where he is today by driving predictably.

Doing my bit to bolster Britain's declining birth rates

I aim to make my contribution to the gene pool next April when my first child is due. It is my sincere hope that in the intervening time I will maintain my unblemished record of reading no parenting literature whatsoever and will also have avoided prenatal classes or the drawing up of a "birth plan". My own scheme, such as it is, is to wait and see if my cervix gets big enough, quick enough, to expel a child without turning the air blue as I howl like a wolf and scream for every form of medical intervention including voluntary euthanasia. As far as I know, no amount of whale tapes and scented candles can help influence this outcome.

Though, if I were to be delusionally optimistic and utterly mean-spirited, I would aim to drop my child like a lamb in the field and snap back to a drainpipe Earl jeans wearer within weeks, while yoga-fit, macrobiotic-thin Gwyneth Paltrow swells to a size 20 and endures an unpleasant three-day labour while doctors search for the baby exit amongst folds of fat. Alas, it will surely be the other way round.

The practical approach to parenting

For many years I have made a sacred pledge to myself that at the birth of my first child I would grow my hair long (therefore avoiding that Prisoner Cell Block H thing mums do because they're, "too busy to wash their hair") and buy a sports car. This second measure has become increasingly urgent since my husband forced me to purchase a four-door Fiat Stilo last year, a car so lacking in charisma that you'd have to pay a joy-rider to steal one - if only they could find one. They're literally so dull that they're invisible to the naked eye. Well, have you ever seen one? What I want instead is a scarlet Fiat Coupé, the one they used to advertise with the slogan, "Nobody in Italy grows up wanting to be a train driver." Quite right. I want my child to grow up to be Juan or Juanita Pablo Montoya.

And just because I'm a mother, I will never think that I'm wiser, closer to nature or more in touch with the eternal than my fellow beings.

Sharing your household gods

I have made a sacred pledge to my good friend Lawrence that I will not resent or ostracise him for showing no interest whatsoever in my infant either when it's born or over the coming years until it's around 18 and able to offer an informed opinion on the films of Werner Herzog. More than that, I vow never, ever to send a Christmas card featuring an adorable picture of my offspring to anyone - except, perhaps, my closest family who have been inflicting same punishment on me for the past four years. This vow will be made easier to keep by the fact that judging on past form, I'm unlikely to send any Christmas cards at all. In 2002 I made 60, wrote 30, and posted two. I nearly sent the rest last year, but forgot to buy stamps in time.

What not to wear

I hope that spring sees a revival of the tent dress favoured by Nana Mouskouri, teamed with Boots support tights and sheepskin slippers. Strangers might laugh openly in the streets at Gwynnie and Heidi Klum as they slip their tiny bumps into tiny T-shirts over combats. I can't suppress a sneaky hope that Stella McCartney's boutique in Bruton Street is taken over by World of Leather.

The glittering world of interiors

I do so hope that the elves that live under the floorboards will stop scampering out at night and sewing bells to my shoes and will decorate my new house instead. We've camped out of two rooms for four months, and a pile of paint charts lies dejected under the coffee table. The husband and I can't agree on what makes a "warm colour". He keeps talking about "cold yellows". How anyone enthuses about sisal, bespoke curtain rails and Italian marble bath fittings is beyond me. I aim to start a new trend away from the Carole Caplin-style cream dream, towards the matted cat-hair brown. With this look you just say to the nice assistants in John Lewis, "I'd like anything that looks OK with sick and dead mice on it."

Neither am I

Things we all plan to do but won't, so you don't have to go to the bother of making this list for yourself:

1 Write a novel

2 Go to the dentist

3 Go to the theatre and art galleries

4 Remember godchildren's birthdays

5 Put wedding photos into album (nine years after event)

6 Lose weight

7 Clean inside the cooker

8 Pay off store cards

9 Darn hole in jumper

10 Go out more, while simultaneously spending more time at home doing self-improving pastimes such as:

11 Learn a foreign language

12 Take up tap dancing

13 Read Margaret Atwood

I wish you all a resolute and entirely unrealistic 2004.

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