Like the Christmas tree and “seasonal” cards (42 this year – not bad – including one received today from far-away East Sussex, postmarked 15 December), 2022 has been consigned to the bin. At least, that’s what I’m trying to do. I hope for fewer traumas; obviously none at all would be better.

When I looked back at my post from last January I was reminded of the grim events that dominated day-to-day existence. I do not wish to spend time and mental energy revisiting unhappier times, but I am still dealing with Dad’s estate, and the family house requires maintenance (and there are bills to be paid). Mum is in the Upton Manor care home, so I will be back once a month for the foreseeable future. I enjoy being in my childhood home but each trip requires 11 hours travelling, there and back.

***

I really need to stop complaining. I now have lots of time to enjoy life – without feeling guilty about it, or fretting about receiving an unwelcome phone call.

New Year’s Day parade, with an American college band

We went up to to Piccadilly on New Year’s Day with friends to watch the parade, followed by a whizz round Making Modernism at the Royal Academy of Arts. Then a surprisingly good value – if not cheap – lunch at Zedel, one of the capital’s most opulent brasseries.

Diana and Anne at Zedel, New Year’s Day 2023

The very next daywear took a stroll through a sunlit London to Somerset House to the Courtauld Gallery for the first time since it reopened a year ago. What a collection! – famously, of Impressionist masterpieces – but much else besides. It ought to be packed out every day; fortunately it isn’t. Then, a few days later, to my local, Dulwich Picture Gallery, the UK’s first public gallery, with its world-class collection of Old Masters and a current show on M.K Čiurlionis, Lithuanian painter and composer.

Three art galleries in the first week of January sets the bar pretty high.

But why do I go?

I never studied art and I’m not much good at drawing (then again, I’ve never practised). But after many years of shambling around galleries I do feel that I have learned something about art, and not just the history of art. Recognising painters and distinguishing schools of art isn’t so different from bird-watching; anyone can do it if they can be bothered to look and learn. But just what it is that attracts me to one painting rather than another is harder to answer. Obviously there’s the subject-matter, but what about the skills and style of the artist? How is it that we can look at a Cubist portrait of a woman, for example, and know that she is beautiful? What makes Picasso a great artist? I ask those questions and try to answer them, at least to my own satisfaction. I will never be an expert so I shall leave it there …

***

It is mid-winter: at best it can be sunny and relatively mild; at worst it is cold, windy and wet, as it is today. Horrible. During the first week of January we went swimming twice. Can we keep that up? Not while this weather continues, but I have been walking over 7,000 steps a day, rather than the 6,000 on average I managed last year. A modest improvement. Lots of sleep helps. For most of last year I got by – just – on four or five hours a night, sometimes less, and I often had to take a nap in the afternoon. I was chronically, to employ the vernacular, knackered. Bad sleep habits are hard to break. I was worried about my parents so I could never really relax. I would wake at 4 or 5am and not get back to sleep. But now I can.

As a result I have more energy

How to employ it? As well as the well-intentioned attempts at more exercise and cultural visit, I’m giving more time to reading and practising the guitar. I may finally get back to the Difficult Second Novel I began three years ago. Or is it four? Then there’s good old housework. Ours is not the tidiest of dwellings.

***

Having to deal with Dad’s estate has made me think about all the stuff that I’ve held on to for decades. Not all of it is worthless. There are the shelves (and, increasingly, piles) of books that are worth a few pounds if you gather them up and send them to a dealer, and objects such as old typewriters and cameras that you feel ought to be worth more than they are because they still work … but it’s a buyer’s market. Nevertheless, a few pounds is better than nothing and they are literally gathering dust at the moment.

Recently I gave away some letters that I could have sold. I have previously blogged about my youthful attempt at translating three excerpts from a novel by Javier Marías. Marías, who became Spain’s most celebrated living writer, died on 11 September 2022. For over 40 years I kept five letters by him. On the basis that they are of potential academic interest I decided to donate them to my alma mater, The Queen’s College, where they will be looked after and made available for consultation. The fact that the Librarian, Dr Matthew Shaw, is an ex-colleague from British Library days was a factor in the decision.

On the very day, Friday 2 December, that I arrived at Queen’s to hand them over my letter about Marías (below) was published by the TLS. (this is only my second contribution to TLS; the first, in 2021, was about Pat Nevin and Tranmere Rovers!)

So that’s my Christmas present to the nation. I hope it will be appreciated. At least I’ve offloaded a my “archive” during my lifetime. Now for the dusty tomes. Anyone need any Portuguese 19th-century novels?

New Year’s message to myself is: don’t spend too much time thinking about it, get it done. Almost anything! We shall see how I get on.

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