Bots, Brexit and Meghan
What not to say at a party and other lessons from 2017
In 2017, I learned: how to waste an enormous amount of time on Twitter. How bad-mannered and ill-tempered I can become on Twitter, in (perhaps imagined) contrast to being reasonably cordial in normal life. How to pronounce 'quinoa' - though I'd rather pronounce it than eat it. That the "new" cure-all therapy is sleep. Not all that new, though: the Victorians prescribed "bed rest" for every ailment.
That you should never discuss Brexit at a soiree or party. Poor Ruth Dudley Edwards, admitting that she had voted for Brexit, was told by an otherwise friendly colleague: "I'd rather spend an evening with a child-molester than with a Brexiteer."
Other subjects not to discuss at a social gathering: Donald Trump, the Eighth Amendment, and whether Meghan Markle really can claim to be "an ambassador for equality" while attaining the rank of princess.
That Switzerland is very, very expensive: €35 for a Calvinistically plain lunch for one. If visiting Basle, lodge in France or Germany, just over the border (which is handled with invisible Swiss efficiency).
That there's a fabulous innovation in the arts called "streaming", whereby you can see some of the best productions of theatre, opera and ballet, live, via the cinema. The Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin specialises in this great entertainment, which brings you inside the Bolshoi or the New York Met for the price of a movie ticket.
That a "vlog" is a blog as a video.
That there's a robot called Alexa, which a friend of mine has in her bedroom. It's a cylinder-shaped object which answers all factual questions in her creepy robotic voice: ask her anything from the weather in Sydney to the date of the Battle of Crecy and she instantly produces the data. But ask Alexa anything controversial ("what do you think of politics? Do you believe in God?") and she replies in her unsettling bot voice: "I have no opinion on that."
That Constance Markievicz, while still in her teens, once felt the hand of an older guest on her knee at a dinner party: she picked up the fellow's paw, held it aloft for all to see, announcing loudly: "This is what I found in my lap!"
That banks could pull an alarming stroke whereby customers were not permitted to access tracker mortgages to which they'd been entitled.
That Mount Stewart, seat of the Derry family in the famously Orange Ards peninsula, is today a delightful stately home and garden open to the public, crammed with wonderful paintings, and a mini-peace process in itself, staffed by people from all sides of the community who take pride in cultural heritage.
That it's just a 100 years since Finland became independent from Russia, and that Finnish men - though not women - still do compulsory military service. A young musician returning to Finland to do his military duty told me: "We are glad to give this service to our country." Good attitude!
That the best way to roast a chicken is to slither soft butter, maybe mixed with garlic, under the skin before popping it in the oven.
That there's a terrific word in German for "the improvement that makes things worse", a situation we often encounter: schlimmbesserung.
That almost everything touching our lives changed radically 10 years ago, in 2007, and after a decade, we still haven't come to terms with just how shattering the changes have been: Apple reinvented the mobile phone; cloud computing was started; Bitcoin appeared and the Kindle was launched. According to Thomas L Friedman, the writer of "the age of accelerations", 2007 also brought us AirBnb, and began the shale ("fracking") revolution which has greatly reduced energy prices in the US.
That this all comes under the umbrella of "Moore's law": everything speeds up approximately every two years.
That Joy Lofthouse, last of the female Spitfire pilots, died at the age of 94. She flew 18 different types of fighter aircraft, but said the Spitfire was "like flying on your own wings". She last flew in one at the age of 92.
That, according to an overseas banker who was involved with Irish business and politics in the 1980s, "Charlie Haughey was the most effective politician I ever encountered - he had a quick grasp of information, was highly decisive and got things done. Garret the Good's instinct was to refer any matter to a committee".
That there should be a Single European Market in postal services - preferably run by the Dutch, since Amazon considers that the Netherlands has the most reliable mailing service. A parcel posted to Italy spent six months in Spain before arriving in Rome. One package posted by special delivery to France took three weeks to get to Paris, and another, sent from an official Dublin source, still hadn't arrived after a month.
That Melania Trump speaks five languages, and was named after an early Christian saint who was married off to a wealthy man but led him to holy virtue.
That life is hard and life is sad, and we sometimes make it harder for ourselves, yet the kindness of friends is the most enduring of comforts.