There is little to be happy about this month.
The weather is horrible, we feel flabby and lethargic after eating and drinking too much over Christmas and ITV have commissioned a second series of Tom Daley’s Splash – it is a programme which does for television what North Korea does for world peace.
The one thing I do enjoy about January, though, is it is the perfect month to read.
I get bought a lot of books at Christmas. I ask for Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell – not to read but to stick in the lounge bookcase to impress visitors (in my head I imagine that when guests leave our house, they turn to each other and say ‘did you see those books? My, what an intellectual chap he must be’, while inside I’ve opened a can of Fosters and started reading the Daily Star).
One of the more interesting books I received at Christmas is called The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures. Written by Stephen Pile. Its premise is there is something much more romantic and inspiring about failure as opposed to succeeding.
“All successful people are the same,” he writes. “You know – drive, will to win, determination... it is just too dull to contemplate, whereas everyone who messes up big time does so in a completely individual way.”
I like that argument and I think he’s right – we, as British people, excel in cocking things up – and are oddly proud about it.
I, for instance, felt strangely uneasy during the last few years, when the English cricket team suddenly and inexplicably began playing well.
I grew up in an era (80s and 90s) when a batsman getting into double figures received a standing ovation, so the last few years, when we’ve won a few games, have been troubling.
Thank goodness then for the last month or so in Australia where normal service has been resumed. Once again we are utterly terrible and, somehow, it feels fitting, more in keeping with our proud history.
This attitude is why our top sports stars from over the years – the likes of Nick Faldo, Andy Murray, Nigel Mansell, who have achieved wonderful things in their chosen field – have generally received bad press. They took themselves seriously, trained hard, were ultra-focused, a little aloof, didn’t joke around, wanted to be the best, in other words totally un-British.
We prefer a hard luck story. We want fewer Mo Farahs, more Eddie The Eagle Edwards’. Sure we admire Mo, but we loved Eddie, prescription glasses and all.
It is why I think The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures appealed to me (and to many others, for it sold by the bucketload) – it tells of losers.
Take this anecdote from the book: “In 1987 Mattieu Boya popped out during his lunch break for some golf practice next to an air base in the African state of Benin.
“Slicing his shot, he drove the ball over the fence and into a passing bird, which plummeted towards the runway, smashing into the windscreen of a plane about to take off and alarming the pilot, who slammed on his brakes and skidded, plunging into Benin’s four (and only) military jets.
“With a single stroke, this athlete had wiped out his country’s entire air force.”
That’s my kind of bloke.
The book also contains details of the worst selling film (Offending Angels, released the same week as the first Harry Potter film in 2006).
It tells the story of two angels – one a former dolphin, the other an ex-squirrel – and was seen by fewer than 20 people. After VAT and the cinemas’ cut it’s box office take was just£17.
The book also references the least successful survival talk. Alistair Emms arrived at a Devon school to give a talk on how to survive in the wild, went for a stroll beforehand and fell down a cliff. He was rescued by helicopter five hours later... his lecture was never delivered.
The book is now proudly alongside Shakespeare and co in my lounge, the only difference being I’ve actually read this one.
Growing old before my time is most depressing
I fear old age has arrived.
Opening a parcel the other day, containing goods I’d purchased on the internet over Christmas, I found a jumper and two T-shirts in a large clear plastic bag.
Without a word of a lie my first thought wasn’t ‘those clothes look nice’, it was ‘what a good sized-bag, that’ll come in handy’.
I folded the bag and put it in a safe place on the window sill before I suddenly caught myself and realised what I’d done.
Then, later in the week, a friend almost as old and as sad as me phoned. ‘You’ll never guess’, he said, with an air of genuine excitement.
‘I’m in Tesco and the large bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo are three for a tenner’.
Asking why he had felt the need to phone and tell me (was this his polite way of saying I had very bad dandruff?), he replied that he knew I’d be interested because I love a bargain.
I tutted at him and the conversation ended shortly after yet, before the night was out, like some bargain addict, I’d actually driven to the store and bought three bottles.
I genuinely think I might have a problem, or is this just what happens when you hit a certain age? I used to be young and trendy but now in a cupboard in the kitchen, I have a collection of Tupperware boxes, including a really small one for leftover sauces.
It’s all most depressing, though on the upside I am yet to start buying lavender pot pourri and putting it in a display bowl in the lounge. The day that happens I’ll know I really am a lost cause.