I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since I didn’t become a better person

‘At this point, I think we all need to agree that it is a truth universally acknowledged that you can either home school your children or be happy. You can’t have both!’

This was the fraught conclusion offered up over Skype earlier this week by one of our close friends. She did take the time to point out that she was only telling us this because her kids keep eating all the food in the house and so she can’t afford a real therapist. We dutifully reassured her that it’s absolutely fine for her to offload onto us. ‘After all, what are friends for?’ We were even kind enough to ensure that she didn’t see us high-fiving each other just out of shot, over the fact that we cunningly don’t have children of our own.

* * * * * * * *

Lockdown does things to people. If you’re lucky, it gives you time to think – though even this comes with consequences. Thinking might be considered a good thing if only lockdown didn’t also hand you plenty of time to flounder amongst those thoughts. 

‘Remember what I told you,’ says Nat. ‘Thinking requires close supervision.’

‘What? For everybody?’

‘No, just for you.’

Lockdown resolutions are similar to New Year’s ones. I say here, similar, not identical. I may or may not go on to explain this difference.

Included amongst my lockdown resolution failures so far (and in no particular order) are: meaningful exercise, a variety of lifestyle diets, a regrettable promise to learn a new language, and researching cheaper utilities providers. I’ve also wandered around my house on more than one occasion with a clipboard, writing down lists of DIY jobs I’m definitely going to do this time. On one occasion, I even thought about keeping in touch with family on a more regular basis. On the wins side, however, I have managed to successfully embrace minimalism, though as this mostly entails throwing things away, I’m not sure I can include it here. 

My wife hasn’t really subscribed to this resolutions thing that months of lockdown has tempted many of us into. She maintains that making foolish self-promises equates to merely giving oneself more rope to hang oneself. ‘There are enough disappointments in life without designing your own,’ she tells me as she picks up another curled and dusty Post-it note that has fallen off the fridge door. This one is in my handwriting, is addressed to me, and simply says, Stop stuffing your face, you fat pig! ‘It’s a kind of hand-made self-help meme,’ I explain as I attempt to stick it back onto the door. Written in green pen in the bottom right hand corner is: And do some sit-ups!

In times past, things like work or family commitments could legitimately be allowed to get in the way of perfectly reasonable New Year’s resolutions. This meant that one could appear ambitious whilst simultaneously blaming one’s daily responsibilities for one’s failure to see anything through. Thus, all aspirations could be legitimately binned within a fortnight, blamed, perhaps, on too much Prosecco consumption on the 31st of December. Not so with lockdown. Lockdown hands you the freedom to get off the wheel and then stares you out while you make declarations that you are in no way designed to keep – like finishing that novel you always intended to write, or learning to salsa.

My latest fad is cookery. I’ve started cooking. Yep, it came as a surprise to me, too.

‘One reasonably raised loaf of bread does not a deli make,’ says Nat when I call her into the kitchen to suggest we open a new business together. 

To be fair, she has tried to be supportive of my new culinary interest. After all, if it wasn’t for her, I would have binned the oniony bits of the leaks I was chopping this morning and kept the leafy sections – which I still maintain are the prettiest parts.

‘I think I might write a cookery book,’ I say, in response to her acceptance that my current cawl recipe experiment seems to be working out. 

‘What exactly is cawl?’ she asks, dipping her spoon into the pan.

‘It’s a traditional Welsh stew,’ I tell her. (I’m not only cooking, here, I’m educating people – well, people who aren’t Welsh, of course.)

‘So, you’re going to write a cookery book based on one stew recipe and a semi-successful attempt at Italian bread? That’s hardly a book. It’s more of a pamphlet, really. Don’t you think?’ She says this with what I conclude to be a wholly unnecessary giggle which instantly changes my mind about describing her as being supportive. ‘You’ll be sorry when I get my Cookery around the World TV show,’ I inform her. 

Our conversation is cut short, however. ‘Stop!’ she yells, as she leans in and takes a bunch of yesterday’s focaccia rosemary out of my hand and replaces it with parsley. ‘…That was close. You’d have ended up with an even shorter pamphlet if you’d have destroyed your cawl.’

‘Bugger!’ I say, looking at both herb plants and trying to memorise the difference for next time. 

‘On the other hand, it would make your TV show hilarious.’

‘Bugger!’ I repeat.

* * * * * * * *

My first thought for a cookery book was to research a bunch of Welsh recipes and to sprinkle Welsh stories and anecdotes amongst them, but a quick Google search reminds me why the Welsh don’t generally feature highly – or, indeed, at all – in any list of the world’s greatest cooking nations. Any country that includes variants of cheese on toast amongst its national dishes ought to be disqualified before it starts.

My cawl is smelling nice though. 

So. Lockdown. I’ve not seen many of my plans through. I doubt many of us have. I didn’t think to add anything spiritual to my ‘To-do’ list but we are having cawl for dinner this evening, and I feel that this must amount to something. We’re having it with the rustic bread I made yesterday. But can I really say that I’ve improved myself in any way as a person? I very much doubt it. And to make it worse, so does my wife.

I look at the calendar to remind myself of what new skill I promised myself I’d master during this coming week. ‘Excellent,’ I say to myself, as I run my finger along the dates.

I’ll let you know how my moonwalking classes go.