Hardly surprising, then, that this is the time of year associated with resolution. It isn't really that the calendar provokes thoughts of a fresh start in us, the year lying ahead as spotless as a new exercise book; it is more that our powers of consumption are now at their lowest ebb. Repletion has them in a full nelson, breathless, sweaty face pressed to the dusty canvas.
So why not make a virtue out of necessity? Why not attempt to pass off this hapless submission to the limits of stomach and liver as a moment of moral reassertion? The conscience comes bullying into the ring to lord it over an opponent safely incapable of resistance. And every year the conscience conveniently forgets that in about two weeks' time wayward appetite will recuperate and wipe the floor with it. Give up smoking? Easy, when your mouth is still tarry from a brakes-off nicotine beano that would stun a Polish docker. Lay off the alcohol? No problem, when the words Appellation Controlee make the stomach lurch uneasily. But try saying the same things when consumption's bruises have healed, when it is spoiling for a fight again. Even Don King wouldn't have the audacity to promote such an ill-matched bout.
Which is why this year I will be making no large resolutions at all; nothing grand about diet or demeanour or general human benevolence. Let those come, if they do at all, on days less inauspicious for fulfilment, and let them be provoked by some unease more permanent than dyspepsia or distension. This year, instead, I have decided to make only micro-resolutions - mere molecules of determination. No grand, New Frontier declarations, no moon-shots of self-improvement - nothing more challenging, in fact, than a local bus-ride. This way I stand some chance of success and, who knows, these tiny seeds of amelioration might thrive, extending tendrils into unexpected quarters. Perhaps, as with Zero Tolerance policing, you have to begin with the trivial details in order to change the big picture.
This is my list so far. I will never take a telephone number down on a scrap of paper without noting the name to which it is attached (and, where necessary, an explanation of who that person is). This is going to be a year in which I don't have to ring numbers simply to find out whether I really want to ring them at all.
I will no longer save mysterious pieces of plastic/solitary screws/Playmobil pirate neckties in a little dish on the mantelpiece, where they form an entropic pot-pourri, reminding me that everything around me is hastening towards universal disassembly. They will be summarily binned on capture.
I will not stick dirty plates into a clean load in the dishwasher and put it through the cycle again in the hope that my wife will not find out and will unstack the whole thing later. I will keep the little plastic capsule that the roll of film comes in somewhere safe, so that when it is ready for developing it can go back into same, rather than into the capsule borrowed from the next roll of film. Ditto video cassette boxes, CD covers, etc, etc ...
I will not stuff bills into a folder marked Bills to be Paid, in the hope that this will make it more likely that they are paid on time rather than less likely. I will change the sheets before they turn beige. I will not purchase grapefruits in the belief that I am going to have a healthy breakfast tomorrow. I will buy them only for their decorative qualities. I will throw them away before their decorative qualities have diminished so far as to render them actively repulsive.
I will not change lanes in heavy traffic, having been persuaded by repeated experiments that Einstein's Law of Jam Relativity is true; that is, from any given observation point the velocity of an adjacent stream of cars will always appear greater.
When I find unidentified organic substances on the carpet I will not dispose of them in the gap between the wall and the back of the sofa, on the grounds that at least there they are out of reach of the baby. I will not spend time thinking about newspaper reports of fellow journalists' salaries. Failing that, I will ask my wife to censor all such references with a heavy black marker pen before allowing me to read the paper. I will not pretend that when I watch Friends I am merely keeping a professional eye on a symptomatic element of popular culture. Ditto Brookside and RugRats.
And that should do, I think. No point in taking on any more than that, for the moment. You can see in the undergrowth here the occasional glimpse of one of the big game animals conventionally aimed at by New Year's resolutions: Pride, Envy, Sloth and so on. But I'm not aiming for any big trophies. I will leave that for the young and the ambitious. I do have hopes, though, that as many as two or three of these miniatures might make it through the year unchipped and unstained. It may only mean a modest improvement on last year, but even modest improvement is better than nothing.