It’s the tail end of one year, and the beginning of another. We tend to get very excited about this, attaching all sorts of significance and weight to what is - let’s face it - just one day passing into another. The fact that we decided back in the mists of time that the old year should end, and the new one begin, in the middle of winter seems a strange choice - invariably the new year is mustered in by grey clouds and insipid dawns, what Bill Bryson likened to “living inside a tupperware container”. What we should have done is had our New Years Eve in mid July, all languid evenings and gorgeous sunsets. I have visions of Maypoles, Morris Dancers, the thwack of leather on willow, and seeing in the new year with a burpy raising of a glass of cider. Now that’d be the way to do it.
But we’ve got to get by with the decisions made by our ancestors, and I must say that this new year has already served up a treat. It’s cold and crisp down here in Devon, and as I drove my toddler to nursery this morning the sun was rising over a field that glowed with frost, looking gilded and surreal. As we rounded the corner a cock-pheasant was standing on the fence, touched by the winter sun, glowing like a stylised figurine, ablaze with red, blue, purple and all the other colours that make up your best dancing clothes if you’re a male pheasant on the pull.
It was inspiring stuff, and - as ever at this time of year - my thoughts turned to the ambitions for the year ahead. Between you and me, it’s been a crazily busy past twelve months with varying levels of success and failure in the numerous projects I’ve been involved in. This is part of life of course, with some soaring highs interspersed with crashing lows. The latter involved a certain company, that I’d spent several months filming a new series for, going into administration and taking most of my fee with it. No-one’s fault really. Except theirs, the thieving gits. This in turn resulted in a highly exhilarating last few months of the year, where I had to work like a pit pony to make ends meet. As such certain things slipped down the agenda, important things. And here, at last, we come to the theme of this first blog of the year.
If you think back over the last year, what moments really stand out for you? For me it’s fairly simple - it’s the little things. Spending time with my friends out kayaking. Spending time with my family on the beach. Running with the dog along the coast path. Long summer evenings incinerating perfectly innocent sausages on the barbecue. Polishing my tractor (not a euphemism) at the local lifeboat station. Yes, I’m very proud of being tractor driver number three (recently promoted from tractor driver number four) for the local lifeboat, and am positively nerdy about having a shiny cowling and gleaming hubs (again, not a euphemism).
The point here is that all of these stand out moments are in the context of having done four major expeditions last year, to South America and Borneo, to Cape Wrath and the Slate Islands, and yet the moments that make me smile are the simple ones (not a direct reference to my family there) close to home.
Here’s a couple of little facts to fire you into the new year. The first is that when dying people are asked what they really regret in life invariably the answer is that they wish they had spent more time doing the simple things with people they love. The second fact is that those who volunteer for things tend to live two years longer than those who don’t.
So, taking those two facts, there’s an unequivocal argument for getting out and about in the local environment, ideally with a group of people or with your family. This, it seems to me, is never a bad idea. It might seem a bloody awful idea when you’re sitting at home in front of a roaring fire and the rain spatters the window, but fast forward a few hours when you’re back in the same spot, steaming gently with ruddy cheeks and a hot chocolate, and you’ll marvel that you even considered not going.
For me personally this means exploring the local paths, beaches, lanes, and forests. I’ll do so at 0.000000001 mph as my daughter Isla is only three, and has legs that are a lot shorter than mine. She makes up for this by having a voice that is a lot louder, and let’s me know at any point if the pace is not exactly to her liking. It’s like dealing with a permanently infuriated top-end client on a five star hiking holiday. My other daughter Molly - nine months old - is slightly easier as she sits in one of those rather clever back-packs. It’s like having a slightly faltulent ruck-sack that steers you by grabbing your ears.
This coming year there are already a few larger projects in the pipeline - expeditions and explorations in Iceland, Newfoundland, Komodo and South Africa amongst them - but I’m pretty sure the things I’ll remember in twelve months time are those moments closer to home, with the kids and the dog, celebrating the wonders of our home patch together.
So this year has already been good enough to serve me up a treat - a glorious dawn I’ll remember for many a month. The least I can do is pay it back by resolving to get out and explore a little more, accompanied by my vociferous, mutinous, hilarious, expedition team. They are, I’m sure, the adventures I’ll remember for the rest of my days.