Tim Dowling: my 2021 in numbers – minus the two courgettes I poisoned my family with | Life and style

Last New Year’s Day I found myself in the mildly paradoxical state of being relieved 2020 was finally over while still dreading the prospect of 2021. Twelve months on, I’m in the exact same position: the only thing preventing me from being glad to see the back of last year is the distinct possibility that 2022 will be worse still.

A lot of this is, of course, subjective. The only way to accurately assess the goodness or badness of one particular year in relation to another is through the prism of cold, hard numbers. Here, then, is my personal statistical index for the year 2021, using the latest available figures:

100 Percentage of my adult offspring presently living with me, up from 66.6% this time last year. Initially, I considered this to be a 50% improvement – I was relieved to have them all under one roof, and it was also reassuring to have a generous amount of muscle in residence in times of need. But a stricter cost-benefit analysis – ie how much you spend feeding them versus the number of times you need help carrying a safe upstairs – proves a full house to be an expensive luxury.

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27 Number of non-toxic courgettes successfully grown. In many respects it was a bumper season, but nobody remembers all those lovely, pale yellow, not even slightly poisonous courgettes I grew last year; just the two green ones that nearly sent my entire family to A&E after just a few bites. As far as I could work out, the poisoned variety were the result of accidental cross-pollination leading to a bad batch of commercial seed that produced courgettes laced with natural toxins that can cause – and I’m here to tell you, do cause – diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Also occasionally hair loss and death – rarely in both cases, although absolutely anything seemed possible that night.

After that fateful event nobody would eat any courgette grown by me, even after I licked the end of each one to prove their non-toxicity. Now I lick the end of all courgettes now, even the ones from the store, so I suppose a lesson of sorts has been learned.

6 Number of gigs the band I’m in played in 2021. It’s a lot more than the single gig we played between lockdowns in 2020, but rather less than the nine we were originally scheduled to play. One gig was cancelled and rescheduled three times, until it finally went ahead in October. We already have more than 20 gigs lined up for this year. I should probably practise.

4 Total number of injections received. This represents a huge increase over the previous year (0), the year before that (0) and the year before that (0). In fact, it’s almost certainly an annual record. I got my first vaccination jab in March and my second one in May. When I had the booster in November they asked me if I’d had a flu jab yet, and when I said no they gave me both, one in each arm. I walked out of that community centre feeling invincible, and woke up the next day feeling like crap.

1,063 Amount of money, to the nearest pound, that I spent on Covid tests in 2021. Again, it’s a big jump from 2020, when I spent nothing. I suppose one should average the total cost of testing across the whole pandemic, but in this case the entire sum was expended in an effort to get my family to the US for my father’s 100th birthday, the bulk of it on a single, ruinous trip to a drive-through testing centre in the States, 48 hours before our return.

19 By my reckoning, the total number of different names the old cat called me in 2021 in a bid to get my attention so I would feed it, or turn on the tap so it could drink from it. Those names included Mairead, Muireann, Meryl, Noirin, Noel and Joan, plus some minor spelling variations, none of which were even close to my actual name. Then, in August, the old cat died. RIP James.

1 New cats acquired. I thought it was too soon to replace the old cat with a new kitten, but I was overridden by four votes to one. It arrived in October and proceeded to wreak havoc upon our household. Months later, it still jumps out at me from hidden corners and it still stands on my plate while I’m eating. At least it doesn’t call me names. I sort of miss that, to be honest.

Happy new year.

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