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July 2002 - Broken Promise

What is it, I can't help wondering, that makes every single one of us fail to keep the promises that we make to ourselves? How ever good we are at keeping those we make to other people, the ones we make to ourselves either just get forgotten, or we deliberately decide not to keep them.

In my case, the other weekend was a sorely typical example of this.

The choice of the word "sorely" in that last sentence was very carefully considered, as it is exactly the right word to use in the context of what I am about to explain to you.

It's as true as the fact that we break our promises to ourselves that when we do it we will sorely regret it after the event. In my case at present, a truer word would be very difficult to come by.

I blame the recent sudden changes in the weather for this particular incident of promise breaking.

Now, I should perhaps apologise to those of you in parts of the world where the temperatures haven't suddenly spent odd parts of the last few weeks in the seventies, for any feelings of envy which you might be feeling just at the moment.

Believe me, however, you will most definitely not be feeling envious by the time you've read through all of the remainder of this month's exciting edition of Nick Harvey's Comment.

Indeed, it is I who is already feeling envy for YOU good people, in those cooler corners, away from what feels like blistering heat if it creeps up on you unexpectedly from behind.

I envy the fact that you're capable of wearing clothes; walking around; and not being scared of doing a good job and getting a pat on the back for it.

Those three are unfortunately, not on my list of things which are easy to achieve at the moment. And it's all because I did it again this year after promising myself numerous times that I wouldn't.

Don't you get that feeling of the need to dip yourself in the sea and relax on a beach for the day when the temperature suddenly rises?

I think most people do; and most people, like me at the moment, live to regret it over the following few days and nights. What idiot was it who invented the wonderful phrase "in the pink"?

As far as I'm aware, "in the pink" is intended to indicate a feeling of well being; of excellence; and of being on top form.

Well, loyal reader, I can definitely say I'm in the pink at the moment, but I CAN'T say I'm true to any of those definitions offered above. In fact, I feel decidedly the opposite of all those three offerings just at present.

Every year, three or four days after my day on the beach, I promise myself that I'll never do it again. And if I do do it again, I promise myself that I won't stay out in the sun for quite so long, especially after coating my poor little body with such a liberal layer of salt from being in the sea.

Every year, when I make the promise, I DO mean it!

So why on earth do I then wait between eleven and thirteen months and then deliberately break the promise I wonder?

I think it's something to do with the fact that the pain wears off over a couple of weeks; and you go from being in the pink to being in the dirty brown colour instead. Once the pain's gone, it's too easy to forget how bad it was.

And, after all, the Rudolph jokes when you walk into the pub for a drink only last for a few days as well, so it's all too easy to forget how dreadful they are after the event.

Why is it that your friends never slap you on the back and tell you what a fine fellow you are unless the colour of your face indicates that you've been out in the sun?

Walk into a room full of mates with a bright red face and arms and you can guarantee that every single one of them will insist on giving you a pat on the back to significantly add to your agony.

And why have you always got that very important appointment the day after the beach? The one which means it's essential you wear a collar and tie?

Doing up that top shirt button and putting on a tie has got to be one of the most painful occupations for someone who's neck has spent the previous day being exposed to salt and sun for far too long, and for the first time that year.

It is, however, not quite as painful as the act of walking around if you happened to be on your tummy when you fell asleep on the sand.

It's as you drive home from the beach that you start to realise what the sun's done to you as you were fast asleep there. The use of the accelerator's all right, but it's when you come to put your foot firmly on the brake pedal that you realise that the soles of your feet are burned.

That's just the first sign of days of immobility!

It's also the first sign that a very high level of pain is imminent. If the tough soles of your feet have been damaged to that extent, what of the soft skin on the rest of your poor body?

You're about to find out! As you drive home, the redness starts to appear all over. And close behind the colour change is the agony of the burning sensation.

It's about now that the feelings of regret start to surface and you remember an identical feeling from about twelve months earlier. You also vividly remember the previous promise and start to wonder why on earth you didn't stick by what you said to yourself the last time round.

You start to make plans for pain minimisation when you get home.

As soon as you get indoors you'll have to run a bath. Not too warm and not too cold, it's got to be at just the right tepid temperature to be bearable to get into.

You then have to carefully calculate the correct pressure to exert on the skin as you wash it, in order to get rid of all the spare salt, but not get rid of what's now extremely sensitive skin.

Once out of the bath it's a hunt for whichever brand of moisturising cream 'er indoors happens to have in stock this week. You apply it liberally to yourself, regardless of the fact that you now smell a little less like the butch hunk you think you ought to be.

The pain is eased slightly by this operation, but now comes the rather difficult bit.

What do you do with yourself now? You're not going to get dressed because of the pain of contact between even the loosest of clothes and your skin. You daren't sit in a chair because that also means your skin's in contact with something.

You just stand there for a while, wondering if the soles of your feet can take your weight for very much longer.

You feel so dreadful that sleep seems the only logical possibility. But getting horizontal on a bed means a larger surface area of your reddened body will be touching something. What can you do?

I can assure you that there isn't an answer to that question. You'll eventually have to succumb to the pain of horizontality, but you see how long you can last out vertical.

All that keeps going round in your mind is why on earth didn't you keep that promise and NOT do it? Why didn't you at least keep your shirt on? Why didn't you get some of that factor 75 blocking cream and smother it on before you roasted?

And the most important question that doesn't seem to have an answer, why didn't you notice yourself burning while it was happening?

None of these questions have answers to them. You'll be asking them all again next year when you do exactly the same again and they still won't have answers.

I'm still asking them now, days on, as I sit here leaning forward away from the chair back, writing this in order to take my mind off the pain coming from where my back and shoulders used to be.

We all do it. We all break these important promises; and we'll all continue to do it as long as we live. We don't know WHY we do it, but we still do.

However sorely we regret it after the event, it doesn't stop us all doing it. I suppose it's some masochistic tendency we all have lurking below our sensible outer shell.

Assuming I've got over the agony, I'll be back with the next edition of Comment at the beginning of August, so I trust you'll join me then.

Until then, if you take my advice, you'll just stay indoors; but why should you take the advice of a lobster? Right, I'm off, where's me sun tan oil?

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