Joanna Briscoe: This is the life

Click to follow
The Independent Online

This year I might cut down slightly on fizzy lollies and cups of tea followed by Bombay curry mix and more tea over Heat, while contorting myself into a home-made yoga position to pick at the dry skin on my heels. Alternatively, I might stay exactly the same, but with a few more split ends. I will also embellish my repertoire of caustic remarks as I become ever more worldly-wise, sarcastic, and virtually tic-laden with snorting outbursts of New Year's cynicism.

This year I might cut down slightly on fizzy lollies and cups of tea followed by Bombay curry mix and more tea over Heat, while contorting myself into a home-made yoga position to pick at the dry skin on my heels. Alternatively, I might stay exactly the same, but with a few more split ends. I will also embellish my repertoire of caustic remarks as I become ever more worldly-wise, sarcastic, and virtually tic-laden with snorting outbursts of New Year's cynicism.

How the New Year malarkey goes the way of the dogs. I well recall the moment the Seventies moved into the Eighties, the clock's very digits invested with fiery symbolism as my young teenage soul was forged anew by fresh resolution. That year, I planned to work like a bluestocking, look like a whore, seduce a couple of teachers into underage sex, model my morals on Beth of Little Women, change my name to Roxanne, be more extrovert, witty and fascinating, affect the personal style of a Charlie's Angel, write two novels, appear on Top of the Pops, charm those around me, diet till my periods stopped, jog three miles a day, and temper my unruly soul until self-discipline was as breathing to me. By and large, I failed.

Yes, one can set oneself up for failure very successfully. New Year's resolutions are the handiest of cop-outs. You just make a list that's too daunting to achieve - then, whoopee, sit back, enduring spasms of self-hatred at the collapse of the latest self-improvement regime, and eat even more compensatory crap. Just as diets don't work (see page 4), attempted self-restraint in any guise is likely to have the opposite of its intended effect. All those holistic wheat-intolerance diets, exfoliating mineral wraps, kick-boxing, yoga and Pilates lessons; all those purifying spas, snow-boarding holidays and de-toxifying Reiki sessions are fine for turbo-charging us through early January and setting us limping into February, but after that, let realism flourish. There's an art to retoxification.

Retoxing is more subtle than the old Bridget Jones, chick-lit brand of excess - that yawny mid-Nineties cocktail of kitten heels, cream cakes, fags, calories, semen and piss-ups for all career girls. Retoxification involves a constant and reliable supply of gut rot, brain decay, and soul poison to provide leaven to good habits, and to prevent one from careering towards Ginsters pies, Flakes and the National Enquirer in rebellion against all that holistic twaddle.

I, for one, retox all year. I've always thought that as long as you maintain a diet of wholemeal bread and broccoli, olive oil and brown rice; that as long as you walk everywhere, read broadsheets and Russian authors and roll up at the odd art gallery, then you can afford fairly regular top-ups of sugar, alcohol, and fully fermented cultural and spiritual trash. As we know, only idiots, office girls and teenagers diet. If they'd simply eat as much vegetable wholewheat ballast as they want, hit the healthy carbos and use their Atkins diets as hamster bedding, they wouldn't have room for all the fat-free folderol and doughnut cravings.

My own spurts of excess involve penny sweets (fizzy cola bottles, sour cherries, sweet necklaces worn as bracelets and gnawed while typing), beanburgers from Euston station, the lentils from Bombay curry mix to accompany my Tony Benn-like quantities of English breakfast tea, and reasonably regular excursions into too much red wine and other people's smoke. Trashy TV, mind-dulling magazines, nasty gossip sessions and brain-dead ruminations also make me feel better. Then it's happily back to the tofu, brassicas and A S Byatt.

So I won't be dieting, going to the gym, or even deciding to become a remarkable human being this year. If growing up teaches you anything, it's that everyone's the same writhing mass of cringing neuroses; that everyone feels like an inadequate freak who nevertheless could, given the right formula for self-improvement, tap the femme fatale and modest genius hidden deep inside. You realise that everything changes, that nothing much changes, and that self-chastisement gets you precisely nowhere.

Yet none of us can quite resist the idea that New Year brings a magical sprinkling of fresh hope as we frantically ward off the signs of our mortality with plans for self-alchemy. Our culture is stuffed to the gills with symbolic renewal and reinvention, from Ovid's Metamorphoses to Frazer's The Golden Bough, from the rituals of plunging into the Mikvah to becoming a bride of Christ. OK OK. Enough of the short serious bit. Time to lie on the sofa for a sherbet Dib Dab and a little think about celebrities. My New Year's tip: get real.

Comments