This was the year I turned 40. It hit me much harder than I expected, but the mid life crisis hasn’t been too bad. I already had an eccentric dress sense, was already married to a younger woman, and I can explain the swap to a sports car by pointing out that my Jaguar has room for child seats.
There was plenty else to depress us.
In Brexit and in the United States of Trump, the stage of politics is Wagnerian in its horror. As an audience in the theatre of public discourse, we are gazing in grim fascination at the great dramatic tragedy of our time plays out. It grieves me that the principal actors would be cast beyond their ability as pantomime extras. I am professionally politically neutral, and although my own political optimism is seriously strained by a deeply unpleasant strain of recent intolerance that threatens to poison the vitality of our political life, yet I retain a shared value and experience with wonderful, moderate, kind people. Not all of these are in one party: there are decent, vigorous people in most.
That gives us all hope. Not just in the friends, thinkers, fellow citizens who refuse to wish a plague on all their houses but who challenge, motivate, question and agitate for better government. There is hope too in the young people I teach and mentor as a musician and decent adult, in rugby club and rehearsal room. They show qualities of optimism, solidarity, a world-weary refusal to be beaten down by the increasingly sterile and formulaic experience of school, living between the false image of curated social media and real failure of economic hope that defines their young lives. They still ask “why not” and I hope they always do.
2018 has been a challenge for us as a family. The trips to the Walton Centre continue as we all hope for medical advance to overtake Mrs G’s conditions. We’ve experienced the institutional cruelty of the “support” system for disabled people, which forces people to relive their daily trauma to feed a caustic bureaucracy undermined only by the splendid resistance movement of marvellous individuals showing moral and human sympathy in whispered help. During 2018 I experienced my own low of mental ill health, preventing it from becoming crippling with the help of an amazing GP, first class NHS support, and my family. With their arm to lean on, I’ve kept functioning thoughout, and the black dog has gone away. I know it may not always be so, but I know I can cope if it returns.
I’ve been employed in large organisations for half my working life. As 2018 ends, for the first time I’m working for myself. When you throw your cap over the wall, you never know if it’s a Hail Mary or a hospital pass. It’s been a major move. And I wouldn’t swap it for the world. I’m working with a great set of clients, some I knew well and some are completely new. The company looks healthy. It’s been warmly supported by very serious and weighty people whose gravitas I respect and whose counsel I value. The move has also taught me which of my professional circle’s friendship is real and those for whom it’s a means to an end. There are many more of the first.
So what has 2018 delivered beside turning 40 and surviving? I’ve learned to shave with a straight razor, gone entirely onto the Apple ecosystem, discovered Ariana Grande’s stellar voice with the help of the teenage band geeks, and mastered the flex-nib fountain pen. I’ve kept up the gym, refereed at the Principality Stadium, a national rugby cup final and a mixed ability international, and seen our son learn to rugby tackle and use a penknife. I’ve been there most of the time when I’ve been needed for my family, made big changes, and enjoyed the conversations with friends of all ages.
All in all, the view on New Year’s Eve looks better than it did a year ago. I’ve spent most of today working on two projects for inspiring clients, and enjoying family.
In 2019 I’m going to write more, laugh more, and keep on separating the important from the urgent.
Happy New Year. I hope you have a good one.