Since it’s the first week of the New Year I’m going to pretend the bad stuff isn’t happening and focus on the lovely, life–affirming things I learned (or relearned) last year. Here are some of them.
1. There is hope for the youth. Yes, I know we think they’re all grisly little Marxist snowflakes who are going to vote in Jeremy Corbyn, but this is largely a product of brainwashing and poor governance, rather than fundamental malignity. In fact, some of the kids I encountered last year have given me great hope: check out, for example, the two teenagers I interviewed for my podcast, Sebastian Shemirani and Steven Edginton. Bright, hard-working, big-hearted and able to absorb and process vast quantities of information at gobsmacking speeds, the kids are all right. They just need red-pilling.
2. The pun is mightier than the sword. Actually I hate that pun. In fact I hate puns generally. But my point stands: if you really want to kill Nazis, as the painfully earnest and increasingly aggressive left is always claiming it wants to do, the deadliest method is wit, humour and snark, not violence. This is why I know that however bad things get politically, those of us who believe in stuff such as liberty, free markets and limited government will inevitably prevail over those who don’t. We’re nicer, we’re funnier — and the left can’t do memes.
3. Build your mental poetry library. Two years ago, I learned about 12 poems by heart and they’re still there, intact, waiting to be filleted for judicious quotes or muttered under my breath while I go on my morning jog. This time, I vaingloriously opted for just one — ‘Burnt Norton’, the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets — and because it’s long and abstruse and mostly doesn’t rhyme or scan, it has taken me the whole year. Still, how many people do you know who can recite the whole of ‘Burnt Norton’, eh? (Well, apart from the Greek epigraph at the beginning, which technically means I haven’t yet learned the whole thing after all.)
4. Cherish the classics. Though it isn’t quite true that the only books written after 1960 worth reading are the collected works of Derek Robinson, it is almost. No question, my richest, most satisfying literary experiences last year all involved acknowledged masterpieces that I should have got round to reading ages ago — and which I’d then foolishly told myself weren’t worth reading because if they were I would have read them by now. The Iliad; The Odyssey; Homage to Catalonia; Life and Fate…
5. You’re (probably) going to live much longer than you think. My billionaire investor chum Jim Mellon has written a book on this called Juvenescence. Basically, medical and anti-ageing technology is about to go through a paradigm shift, where many more of us will live active, healthy, productive lives into our early hundreds. The downside of this is that your current pension arrangements won’t nearly cover you. Happily, Mellon has included some investment tips that should see you through: biotech and age-related stocks, he reckons, are going to be the biggest ‘money-fountains’ in investment history. If you need to ask why, you’re not paying attention.
6. Better fit and happy-ish than unwell and miserable. As a hypochondriac and a depressive (thanks for the genes, Pa!), I’m a great candidate for an early grave. But I’ve been turning this round with some simple steps, one of which is doing intervals. I sprint 250 yards up a hill outside my house, than walk down again, x3. Or I row. It’s hateful because it leaves you gasping, and if you’re not hurting you’re doing it wrong. But not feeling like you’re old and dying is a great feeling. The other thing I swear by, if you can get hold of it, is RemiDay zinc sulphate drops, which boost your immune system.
7. Horses. As every rider knows, any time spent not on a horse is time wasted. Even though unfortunately my family has remained resolute in enforcing the hunting ban they imposed on me after my accident, I’m still grudgingly allowed to go riding once a week. Alfie, a grey of around 19 hands, is a hell of a height to fall from. But I do like the way that if you point him at a jump and leave him to it, he’ll sail over without you having to do any complicated riding stuff.
8. Friends. Scott Adams — creator of the Dilbert comic strip, explainer of the Trump phenomenon — recently said his politics had cost him about 75 per cent of his friendships. ‘Yep. Sounds about right,’ I thought to myself. Even so, I look round at the minuscule, nay microscopic, circle of friends I have now and I think to myself: ‘You’re great. And you’re all I need.’ How many friends does one have time to see, anyway?
9. David Attenborough is wrong. By which I mean that the Malthusian vision he and his ilk promote in deceptively cosy programmes like Blue Planet II is no way to look at the world. This idea that we humans are the problem is a construct of the guilt-ridden liberal elite. Forget politics; forget the big outside world as much as you can. What truly matters — and always — are the basics: family, friends, the struggle to improve ourselves, the satisfaction of a task well done, the escape provided by art, gastronomy, booze, hobbies, reckless speed or daydreaming, a good conversation, and the beauty of the natural world, which you can enjoy without a pang of self-hatred…
My main resolution in 2018 is to avoid again upsetting Miqdaad Versi, ever–vigilant assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Versi quite rightly wishes to draw attention to an egregious error in one of my 2017 Spectator pieces. After a careless misreading, I claimed that ‘there are an estimated 32,000 Muslims eager to commit the next terror atrocity, with another 100,000 prepared to give them moral support’. I would like to apologise unreservedly. The current figure, according to EU counter–terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, is that there are only up to 25,000 Islamist extremists in Britain, 3,000 of whom are worrying to MI5 — 500 of them so worrying that they are under constant and special attention.