By: SKIP BANDELE
HAVING JUST about struggled clear of my local shopping centre, gridlocked, enormous monster-trolleys stacked impossibly high with mountains of colourfully wrapped gifts of every size and description, on a warm and sunny early November Saturday morning, I began to seriously doubt either my own or everyone else’s sanity.
Had I missed something? Was Mattel at war with Lego, resulting in toy rationing or an embargo on children’s Christmas presents? Or had I just overslept by well over a month?
Deciding that none of these was the case and faced with this premature materialistic frenzy, (oh yes, while avoiding the relentless parental onslaught, I did manage to spot through the corner of my eye that Santa’s Grotto was also already enjoying a brisk trade, although the man himself was otherwise engaged on his matching red and white mobile) I too decided to get something done well ahead of time, and write my personal contribution to the 2007 festive season.
Unless I am suffering from deja vu, or having a ‘Groundhog Day’ experience, today should be Friday December 21, a perfect time just before Christmas to reflect upon the year about to close and plan for the future, while reading the hopefully stimulating results of my thoughts all those weeks ago, which apply equally now as they did then or, indeed, tomorrow.
Only yesterday I was sitting at my usual place in the bar just around the corner from where I live with a good friend of mine righting the world’s wrongs over a glass or three.
We somehow both came to express our disappointment at the selfishness of human nature, an air of melancholy suddenly pervading an otherwise jolly evening.
We compared notes on how we had both at one time or another come to the aid of perfect strangers who seemed to have reached some desperate crossroads in their lives.
Having someone from the ‘outside’ prepared to listen, understand and give advice can be of great help, as is financial assistance, which can sometimes avert an otherwise hopeless situation.
Fortunately, we came to the conclusion that the joy was in the giving, as none of our charitable acts had ever received any other form of recompense. Those people we had bent down to help back on to their feet disappeared as quickly as they had sprung into our field of vision, perhaps embarrassed at their own weakness, as soon as their circumstances had improved.
“No matter”, we wistfully conceded, no good deed goes unpunished. We felt good about ourselves, although somehow used. Upon parting later that night, it was only left to express the sincere hope that someone would show the same generosity of spirit should either one of us should ever find themselves in a similar dark and lonely place.
While on the subject of giving, it may come as something of a shock, but doctors are claiming that hectic modern life has killed off the hug.
Psychologists believe everyone needs at least one cuddle a day to help them cope with the stresses of 21st century living. Mind you, I am sure we don’t need someone with a lot of letters after their name to tell us that.
Yet it is worth pointing out nonetheless, just in case political over-correctness, manic lifestyle-inspired nervousness or forgetfulness has prevented you from putting your arms around someone you care about in recent times. In the absence of such a person, get a pet but don’t squeeze too hard!
A survey sadly found that a third of us receive no daily hug at all, while three quarters yearn to be hugged more than they were. Apparently, Britain has forgotten how to hug, no one does it anymore. We have just gotten out of the habit.
Furthermore researchers, likening humans to animals, have established the scientific fact that those of our four-legged furry friends which receive little affection are unhappier than those which receive more physical contact. Now, while I am not saying rush out into the street and throw your arms around the next best stranger, do use the coming days to reacquaint yourself with giving your nearest and dearest a good old-fashioned hug. You’ll be surprised at how much good it will do your soul and that of the recipient.
In the same vein, (Victor Meldrew probably wouldn’t believe it but the Monty Python team would) scientists have found that we humans are inherently optimistic – hooray! Our brains have a section which is programmed to make us think the best rather than worst.
The existence of this hub of hopefulness explains previous research which shows that people often expect too much out of life. For instance, we tend to think we will live longer and be more successful than average, while underestimating the likelihood of some misfortune befalling us.
Unless, of course, we belong to the Meldrew school of pessimism, portrayed in the classic BBC TV comedy One Foot in the Grave.
The grumpy pensioner, played by Richard Wilson, rarely manages to look on the bright side but for the rest of us the tendency towards optimism has evolved as a survival strategy, with positive thinking being a powerful motivating force.
In contrast, dwelling on the downside can stop us from getting on with things, enjoying life. My advice this Christmas and beyond, therefore, is banish the gloom, imagine uplifting scenarios and activate that part of you which projects happy thoughts into your emotional make-up.
If I still haven’t been able to lighten up your existence, try standing on your head but not immediately after overindulging at the Christmas dinner table.
Yet another set of clever people believe blood flowing through the brain may affect the way nerves transmit signals to other parts of the body, a fact which, to my mind can only be beneficial to unblocking your cheerfulness.
At the very least, your efforts to take an upside-down position should cause a few giggles in your immediate vicinity!
Practitioners of Chinese medicine and yoga have long taught that standing on your head can boost memory and sharpen alertness, while it is a well-known fact that blood transports oxygen and fuel to brain cells.
Why not give it a try, you may find yourself becoming the new Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit champion, if nothing else.
Of course the passing of another year also signifies that we are all getting that little bit older again, if not wiser.
So let me end with heartening words of the late Bob Monkhouse: “You are young at any age if you are planning for tomorrow. I take inspiration from that wonderful Scottish actor, Finlay Currie. Shortly before he died at the age of 90, he was asked on a television chat show if he’d ever played a romantic lead. ‘Not yet, laddie,’ he replied, ‘not yet’”.
In this sense, I wish all our readers a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!