My Scots Presbyterian father always used to look forward to this time of the year- not for the parties; not even for the fresh start Resolutions side of things. No. He rejoiced in what he called “old clothes and porridge”- getting back to the ordinary everyday way of life in which we feel most comfortable, and just ‘getting on with the day job.’
A scruffy old fella came round to our house for New Year’s Eve supper- old explorer’s trousers, dirty anorak he never took off throughout the evening. You can picture the sort of chap I mean. You’d probably give him a pound for a cup of tea if you saw him in the street. Turned out to be newly knighted explorer, David Hempleman-Adams. He’s the High Sheriff of Wiltshire, Deputy Lieutenant of the County, Trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and of the Order of St John; he’s an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, he holds the Polar Medal, is a Knight of St John, and now he’s a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. That’s a personal award of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, especially for his work on the D of E. The County of Wiltshire is proud of him for all he has done and does for people of all sorts (he spent Christmas Day in soup kitchens in Swindon and Trowbridge) and we give him our warmest congratulations.
Another friend of mine –in reaction, I think to last week’s Column – said “Take my advice – I’m not using it.” She’s right. Self-righteous advice-giving has no usefulness unless you yourself are leading by example. And I fall short of my highest aspirations on a daily basis. That’s where Hempie is such a success. He holds every exploring record you care to mention, loaded with medals and honours, a successful businessman in Corsham; every success and glittering prize you can think of. Yet you wouldn’t know it to look at him. He just gets on with the job in a down-to-earth and unpretentious kind of way. And as a result he leads people of all sorts to give of their best, to climb higher mountains – metaphorical and physical – yet to keep their feet firmly on the ground as they do so.
There’s a message there for all of us in public and private life as we embark on the New Year. Who knows what it will bring – I personally suspect fewer surprises and turbulence than some of the gloomsayers in the media are currently predicting. Yet whatever it brings for us, our families, the nation, the world, let’s focus on ‘just getting on with it.’ Be pragmatic and commonsensical. Keep your head when all around are losing theirs. Take a lesson from Hempie and my old Father, and get into the old clothes and porridge.