At the End of the Year

There is little more depressing than being in a ski resort when deep snow has been followed by heavy rain. Everyone walks round with a long face, the pavements are ankle-deep in slush, and French drivers – as ever – show no consideration for des pietons as they spray everyone with cold mucky stuff.

It is at such times – even on New Year’s Eve – that kids are a treat. “I’ve been on an aeryplane before,” said little Daniel this morning, “but I’ve never drived one.” His sister Ella – who calls him “snail-brain”, a description I’d have been proud to invent – said this afternoon, “Computers are not for writing, they are for watching telly”. But to Daniel, snail-brain is more of a term of endearment than “sausage”, which is what I called him the other day. “I am not a sausage,” he protested, ” but you are a smelly sausage” – before collapsing in laughter at this sub-young version of smut.

Two days ago, Ella (who is just three) drew a lobster. It was amazingly like a lobster even if she had forgotten the claws, but before I could offer praise, she said “It may look like a wiggly worm but it isn’t“. I assured her that it bore no resemblance at all to a worm, wiggly or otherwise. I’ve now taken to calling her Schnitzel, which she pronounces shitzel.

Yesterday I had a not unfamiliar battle with the local pharmacy. One of my mantras is, “After too much Dom Perignon, take Domperidone”. This is the generic name for Motillium, an intestine unbender of unaparelleled efficacy. But the assistant (with no intention at all of assisting) couldn’t sell it to me OTC, I would need a prescription, she said. I don’t need one in Lot et Garonne, I countered. This is not Lot et Garonne, said she. But it is France, I answered, trying to smile.

Chemists in France are, without exception, patronising jobsworths who dispense all medication with a large dollop of bollocks. The lady sold me some lemon-flavoured stuff that had me farting citrus groves for hours afterwards, and some Gallic mumbo-jumbo alternative nonsense. I offered to go to a doctor for an ordinance, but this only convinced her that I was a troublemaker.

“You do not need a doctor, ” she snapped, “Eat plain food and take the tablets”. I left muttering that she needed a psychiatrist. The bill was over 27 euros, and both of her suggestions have proved to be useless.

‘New Year celebrations begin’ headlined the Telegraph website this afternoon. Philippa Space is alive and well. David Cameron has said that the New Year’s Honours List is geared towards his Big Society idea. I wouldn’t have thought Ronnie Corbett had much to do with anything big, although Professor Andre Konstantin Geim, Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester, is definitely about a Very Big Universe. Perhaps Professor Mark Brian Pepys got a gong for services to Biomedicine, probably on the basis of making society even bigger than it is already. I don’t know to be honest: it just looked like the usual list of time-servers and national treasures to me.

I didn’t get many predictions wrong in 2011, but the Sterling/Euro exchange rate was one of them. It is 0.02 cents away from being back to 1.20 euros to the Pound tonight, but I thought it would be 1.30 at least by now. Still, at least it’s going in the right direction at last – and obeying a real market…as opposed to one responding to the ECB secretly slinging billions at it every week. I have an uneasy feeling that there will be a 3-6 month window for we Brits to exchange such Pounds we need to; for after that, I fear we too will begin going down….followed by the Dollar later in the year. One can only pray that, at some point, the Chinese float the Yuan, because I for one will be buying it, recession or not.

2011 was far from all bad: the progressives seemed to be in general disorganised retreat, some entertaining young, free-thinking columnists made an appearance, Murdoch was stopped in his slimy tracks, the EU began to fall apart, Gadaffi was slaughtered, and some early signs that the bankers won’t get away with it entirely were evident. But Hackgate has started to be divisive along political lines, the Americans left yet another country in disarray after becoming bored with cops and robbers, and both Camerlot and the Ed Miller Band remained utterly bereft of common sense, creativity or wit. The only truly enjoyable part of politics this year has been watching Ed Balls, Nick Clegg and Nicolas Sarkozy suffering a degree of discomfiture. The worst bit was realising that, very probably, Dave will stay in position, largely because there simply isn’t anyone else. The same sad truth applies to Obama, Netanyahu, and the unspeakably ghastly Julia Gillard.

Tonight here in the wet and cloudy Alps, we have fireworks. In Sydney eight hours ago, they spent £4m on fireworks. There is only so much staring at the sky and going ‘oooo’ that I can bear: I lost most of my interest in fireworks after the age of twelve, and then had my remaining passion for them extinguished once the HSE started to put 40 foot barbed wire round every display, and hiring 8000 stewards for every sparkler.

And talking of putting things out, our fire extinguishers in the chalet here labour under the brand name ‘Spit’. Quite appropriate that, really: on the whole, 2011 was the sort of year you could spit on and douse almost entirely. 2012, I fancy, is going to be considerably more inflammable.

Whatever happens, Happy New Year – and many thanks as ever for your lively debates and loyalty this year.