Farewell 2012, the year Britain found its confidence

We may not have known it, but we are a confident nation

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Another year over, and, as John Lennon didn't quite say, what have we learned? For many of us, as we greet 2013 with a headache, nausea, a vague recollection of doing something inappropriate and a dry throat (Thirsty? You obviously didn't drink enough last night), the first piece of wisdom might have something to do with abstinence.

A new year, a new alcohol regime. A few of my friends usually give up drinking for the whole of January, some practise one week on, one week off for the whole year, and others, in the wake of New Year's Eve piled on to Christmas over-indulgence, vow never to take another drop.

The only thing I have learned through a long – and not noticeably successful – relationship with alcohol is this: don't decide anything when you're hungover. Easy to make pledges then, but you won't keep them, and that's no way to treat your self-esteem. The 2nd of January, when you're in the full flush of the morning after the morning after, is the time to make life decisions. At this stage of the game, I have largely given up giving up, so the passage from year to another is little more than a notch on the calendar to me. I suppose it's logical that, the older one gets, more time is spent is looking backward, rather than forward.

So, to return to the opening proposition: what did 2012 teach me? For a start, I found out that washing cashmere jumpers in baby shampoo works an absolute treat. I realise that this may not be an epoch-defining discovery, but it certainly raised my quality of life, and I pass on this tiny piece of advice in a spirit of altruism. Oh yes, Spirit of Altruism. Also very good for cleaning one's conscience.

But 2012 was a year for big thoughts, inspired by events of overweening collective experience. And the big question that remains: did the Olympic Games, the Paralympics, and the Diamond Jubilee before them, mean anything in a profound sense? Were these events anything more than a flag-waving break from our lives of austerity? Or did they fundamentally change the way we think, or how we interact as a society?

Sporting success, and the national pride it engenders, is transitory, and while the memories of Jess Ennis's gold, or even of Madness on the roof of Buck House, may remain with us for some time, they are only that: memories. But whatever the legacy in terms of bricks and mortar, the Olympics did alter a couple perceptions, possibly for ever.

We may not have known it, but we are a confident people, confident enough to stage an opening ceremony that scores political points, that takes the mickey out of ourselves, and that parades the wealth and depth of our culture. And we are more at ease with the polyglot nature of our nation, the true of expression of which came when we cheered and roared and wept as a man born in Somalia took gold in a British vest. For these reasons alone, 2012 may be considered a good year. As for 2013... cheers! .

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