A cautious welcome to the new year


Image courtesy of kimboltonfireworks.co.uk

I’ve been informed that it’s unacceptable, on January 20, for my most recent post to be a “Merry Christmas” one and I suppose that’s true. The problem is that for the last five years I’ve shooed away the musical advent calendar with a new year resolutions post, but this year I decided not to make any resolutions, for two reasons:

1. 2013 was so unpredictable that doing any sort of planning for 2014 seemed like tempting fate. As Baz Luhrmann so wisely said,

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Worrying about whether you’re swimming as often as you should be when you are (for example) about to be homeless seems unnecessary. So, screw resolutions.

2. Oliver Burkeman, whose weekly Guardian column sounds as though it should be annoying but is actually well-researched and thoughtful and elegantly written and useful, pointed out recently that a year is a foolish amount of time to commit to anything for, because it’s so long that you can’t think forward to the end of it, which ties in with the point above about unpredictability. Much more sensible, he says, to set short-term targets, maybe over three months at a time, and let yourself change focus as the year goes by:

In adopting this 12-week perspective we might also finally abandon the futile, misery-inducing notion of “work-life balance”. Nobody can devote enough time, every week, to work, family, sleep, staying healthy and the rest. Telescope your annual focus down to 12 weeks, though, and an alternative suggests itself: seeking balance across multiple “years”, focusing on one or two areas for 12 weeks, while deliberately dialling back on others, then shifting focus for the next 12, and so on. (Neglecting something as important as your career or your health for 365 days feels unwise, but when you know you’ll return to it after 84 days, that’s different.)

So in that spirit, I intend by the end of March to be settled in my new flat (about which more another time; for now all you need to know is that it’s awesome); to know how much money I have and spend less than it, and to start cooking properly again, rather than having some variation on cheese on toast for almost every meal (although I do really like cheese on toast). Those feel like goals which can withstand any amount of battering, but let’s wait and see.

I also want to talk about football, but I don’t want to get you overexcited, so that will have to wait until later in the week. In the meantime, though, feast your eyes on this:

Premiership league table

Sixteenth. That’s SIXTEENTH.

White Christmas, December 24: The King Of Soul

I have loved almost all of the recordings of White Christmas we’ve had this advent, but as soon as I heard this one I knew I was saving it for Christmas Eve, because it’s not someone singing the well-known Bing Crosby song; it’s a completely immersive reimagining of the original, and a glorious piece of music in its own right. Turn up the volume really loud before you begin. Happy Christmas!

White Christmas, December 23: A Treat

In the 1940s popular music often wasn’t immediately, or ever, associated with an individual performer – many versions of songs would be recorded, and the composer generally given the lasting credit. Which is why, I’m thrilled to be able to tell you, there were FOUR versions of White Christmas recorded and released in 1942, and here they all are in a playlist that I have made using science. It’s interesting that the first three (by, in order, Gordon Jenkins, Charlie Spivak and Freddy Martin, though in each case those are the names of the bandleaders rather than the singers, who feature as “guest vocalists”) are all quite like each other and not a great deal like Bing’s (and, because unfamiliar, much more instantly evocative of that era than Bing’s).

The version of Bing that we had on December 1, incidentally, was from the movie Holiday Inn, whereas this is the solo recording which you probably know better, so I tricked you when I said we were getting Bing over and done with at the beginning. Sorry.

White Christmas, December 20: The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys might even be my favourite band of all (not counting the Beatles and the Carpenters and the Pet Shop Boys and the Who and probably some others). This starts off so slowly that I keep thinking someone’s accidentally playing it at 33rpm rather than 45, but it’s a gloriously swooshy and whooshy version, with singing as luscious as you’d expect. Also, all Christmas songs should end with a sweep of violins, I have decided.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sleep for 48 hours. I think I am too aged for the Christmas party season.

White Christmas, December 16: Neil Diamond and Cliff Richard, Together At Last

OK, not actually together, but – amazingly – spliced together by a dedicated fan, in possibly the best, and certainly the oddest, mash-up of all time. May your week be as much fun as this song is.

(Make sure to keep listening past two minutes in, where something exciting happens. And something else exciting, in a different way, happens at 3:53, and you know, you just really need to listen to the whole thing.)