Monday, 12 July 2021


We are about to take a break. It’s not a full-blown, duty free, “do I have enough books and suntan lotion?” holiday. But I still have that new-chapter-in-my-life feeling.

My stark realisation is the past months have disappeared in a mess of self-absorption. Nothing remarkable achieved, failed or celebrated. So the effect of a new place and a new challenge is refreshing and will make me take stock again.

I was talking to a friend who has been working at home, 15 hour days, since the first lockdown (“at least I see more of my wife”). His review of his team seen through the prism of Zoom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams is there are two sorts of people. Those who thrive in a world of change and those who wither. Those who are constantly “reaching out” and those who retreat in silence. By the way I normally hate that Americanism - “reaching out” – but it occurs to me the victim in Stevie Smith’s poem should have been reaching out. Those who don’t will drown in depression.

“I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.” 

So lesson one – keep in touch, talk and listen. You don’t need to be face-to-face. You do need to be mind-to-mind. 

Next make the most of what you have. Being in isolation didn’t stop you reading unread books, drinking better wine, cooking a new dish. In the past year a depressingly large number of my friends have died. I wish I’d reached out to them more. I have spent too long in the presence of death to slither into a puddle of woe. 

Lesson two – seize the joys of life. Love it. It could be you next.

Celebrate the good things. It’s too easy to get depressed. I was taken out by good friends to celebrate a birthday last week. I was taken to the Hélène Darroze restaurant in London. She’s got three restaurants, London, Paris and Moscow; she’s also got three Michelin Stars. One is unlikely to forget the event. No, not the food which was very nice but a bit fussy but the people, their bonhomie, generosity of spirit and energy. That’s what sticks in the memory like a flashing light.

Lesson three – celebrate with a big spirit (no, fool, not an Armagnac).

Your life is a script which you can edit as you reflect any which way you like. My 98 year old mother in law reminisces in a brilliantly optimistic way. Her life is essentially “98 Years of Joy and Success”. Bad memories fall on her cutting room floor. Recently I had a spell of insomnia and a film of my life flashed before me (in black and white - what else?) The film might have been called “Cock-Ups, Blunders and Regrets”.  I’ve burned it. There are too many good things and fantastic people in my life to think about missed goals.

Here’s what, according to writer Tom McTague, Boris Johnson once said:

“All romantics need the mortar of cynicism to hold themselves up.”

“Cheerful scepticism” would be a better phrase because just being an optimist is irritatingly mindless and a bit blundering . We must just never stop asking questions.

Lesson four – Never stop thinking and questioning. 

And never forget to refresh yourself. You are not a machine. 

I’ve recently been feeling weary, stale and unprofitable (thanks Shakespeare). A break, a period of relaxation and eating out is what I need.

Lesson Five - Be kind to yourself. Take your body and mind away on holiday more often.

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