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This has been a year of many lessons, some hard, others not ... 2017 will bring more


Cosy idea: The Danish craze, Hygge, which promotes simple, winter comforts, took off in 2016

Cosy idea: The Danish craze, Hygge, which promotes simple, winter comforts, took off in 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cosy idea: The Danish craze, Hygge, which promotes simple, winter comforts, took off in 2016

So, as 2016 enters its last month, I ask myself - what did I learn this year? I learned how to take photos on my iPad. My daughter-in-law congratulated me. "Well done, Mary." When it comes to technology, I only learn what I need to know.

There's a lot I don't need to know. I don't need to know about Snapchat, which is, I am told, where you put a photo online and it disappears within a short period of time. Although there is something poetically ephemeral about this.

Some words I became more familiar with, and even began to use: algorithm - that's the process which calculates rules to be followed (the Oxford Dictionary says it was invented by the Arabs in the 7th century).

When you buy something online and then Amazon suggests that you might like something similar, that's all done by algorithms, I've learned.

"Mansplaining": this is when men explain, in a patriarchal, patronising way, stuff to women. Actually, I don't mind if men explain things like particle physics to me (it's all atoms, dear), but I get snarky when people of any sex start lecturing me about stuff I already know - especially when I know better, thank you very much.

"Hygge": a smart marketing move by Denmark to persuade us that the Danes invented the delights of a cosy winter's evening wrapping their hands around something hot and cordial.

"Uber" and "alt" are ubiquitous verbal enhancers.

"Snowflake generation": writer Claire Fox's coinage for the millennials who are overly-sensitive about everything (snowflakes melt at a touch). Probably a consequence of psychotherapist and author Stella O'Malley's Cotton Wool Kids, who have been raised with over-protective solicitude. Still, snowflakes are often very nice.

"Brexit": the word of the year, deriving from the Greek suggestion of a "Grexit" from the EU. Followed by "post-truth culture" - political claims based on fantasy.

"Sexting": sending saucy messages by text which can cause distress to some.

"Fan-girling": this is apparently what happened in Seanad Eireann when the girlie-behaving senators received Nicola Sturgeon like they were fans of a pop star.

I learned that you can eat chocolate and still maintain a diet. A small bar of chocolate (100 calories) may satisfy a sweet craving and avoid a worse binge later on. Thus is borne out an old adage: "A little of what you fancy does you good."

I learned a handbag should never be placed upon a table used for eating, according to a health and safety expert. Because handbags are placed on all sorts of other places, such as loo floors.

I learned that if you need to acquire a hearing aid, shop around and ask friends. Some hearing aids fall out of your ear, so you lose a few hundred pounds just by turning your head. Some amplify every sound in a restaurant, including the sound of cutlery, but not the conversation of the person you're with. But lovely New York theatres - acknowledging an older clientele which supports the arts - provide special amplification earphones which wonderfully enhance enjoyment.

That Navan in Co Meath has a stunning arts centre, and that Birr in Offaly has a gem of a theatre and a world-class hotel and restaurant, Spinners.

That Fidel Castro, François Fillon - the Gaullist French presidential candidate - and James Joyce have this in common: they've all been Jesuit boys. Astonishingly, Castro was particularly attached to his Jesuit education.

That the most painful emotional experience is the sudden illness of a child, and doctors saying "antibiotics can't help, We just have to wait." What families have suffered to hear those words. And every moment of recovery is filled with gratitude.

That, as you grow older, you won't have time to do everything you want to do, so narrow down your priorities to what really matters.

That if you offend some people, even without meaning to, they may never forgive you, and you just have to live with the consequences, regretting the misstep. Sometimes, in relationships, you are powerless.

That a warm bed in a cold room can provide an excellent night's sleep, as I found when the sash on my bedroom window buckled and the room filled with Arctic air.

That most philosophers, according to my son's reading of Nietzsche, get their best ideas from taking long walks.

That you should never put at risk what you can't afford to lose: a friend left some valuable equipment locked in the boot of his car, but it was snatched just the same, by expert thieves who left not a trace of their raid.

That you should never put on social media anything that would mortify you if brought into the public realm. "Sextortion" is a new crime which has caused individuals - mostly men - to take their own lives, when a blackmailer threatens to publish a compromising photo on the internet.

And I acquired some thoughtful new entries for my notebook of quotations. From Carl Jung: "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." From the peerless George Orwell: "Any life viewed from the inside is a series of defeats."

At London City Airport, there's an encouraging prominent advert aimed at the business folk who travel: "Change is good. Transformation is even better."

Oh yes: and plenty more to learn in 2017 …

Belfast Telegraph