31 DECEMBER 1994, Page 33

Low life

In search

of happiness

Jeffrey Bernard

Th. e next person who tells me that there is always somebody worse off than myself is going to get a crack over the head. It is of no consolation to me nor is it a cure for Chronic pancreatitis to be told that somebody in Bangladesh has cancer of the stomach. And I am also getting a little fed UP, having been on this wagon for 12 weeks now, with people who keep telling me that I look well. I know exactly how I look. Awful.

1 have been thinking about all this and kindred things ever since reading Robert Byck's piece in last week's Spectator about the attempt to define happiness — so far without success. It doesn't really bear thinking about but it is extraordinary how people continue to think that they have the right to inherit it like an old age pension or any other government hand-out. When I was a boy I somewhat naively thought that this thing called happiness Would be something I would wake up to find every day once I could smoke, drink, fornicate and when all authority like my Mother, school and National Service were dead and buried. I suppose that one cure for unhappiness might be the chemistry that could make one stop thinking altogether and to live only by instincts, which is what I suppose the fish in my new aquarium must do. I have yet to see or meet an unhappy village idiot and that very nearly goes for all the city idiots that I know.

I have also noticed during the time I have spent drinking in pubs and clubs that very nearly all bores are quite happy or at least content, and contentment is my idea 01 happiness. But I think a lot of people, like children, confuse unhappiness with being bored, or children say they are bored when they are, in fact, depressed. I am confused about it all myself. My fellow traveller on this wagon is called angst but then when he isn't obviously sitting next to me he is simply lying in wait around the corner. Even if Robert Byck and other psychiatrists ever find a drug to cure the general malaise of being unhappy, they will surely never find a cure for specific components of it such as remorse and guilt and yea, though I run through the valley of death I am running straight into its arms.

I wonder if the suicide rate goes up at Christmas. I should think it does. If somebody as free from care as I should be feels a little down in the dumps, God knows how many people involved with and in families must feel. I can't remember many Christmases as a child that were par- ticularly happy ones but then I believe that most unhappiness starts with what can be a ghastly institution — the family. In many ways I am glad I am no longer involved deeply in my own. My daughter is going to spend Christmas in Spain with her mother and I shall spend mine wallowing in my television set and Mary Poppins but, unlike most children, I shall be ogling Julie Andrews who I suspect in reality is nearer to being a raver than Mary Poppins.

I have had some invitations to go away for Christmas and people kindly but erroneously think that a quantity of self- pity will ooze into this flat on the day itself. It won't. Although my goose will be cooked by 2 p.m. and always has been, I shall just miss that Christmas card I sometimes got telling me that my dinner was in the oven, and I shall wonder if they yet have written new scripts for their present husbands. I doubt it.

One of the biggest rows I have ever had began and ended soon after one Christmas Day morning with my mother-in-law triumphantly sweeping out of my house and victoriously declaring, as though it was a bullet through my heart, 'You must be a very unhappy man.' Not to see the end of her, I wasn't, but I did cry later on that very cold day when I saw that not only had I run out of wives but logs too.

And a happy New Year, whatever that means, to all my readers.