No broken promises next year. Wanna bet?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 12:00am

IT'S THAT TIME again. The moment to wipe the slate clean, renounce bad habits, adopt good ones and talk spiritedly of personal renewal over your egg nog. Once the hangover has subsided and the blurred memories of singing Auld Lang Syne are discarded, there is always an air of optimism pervading the New Year's Day smog.

Tomorrow is the day we vow to give up smoking, drink less, cut gambling, lose weight, get fit and finally mend the leaking air-conditioner in time for summer. The New Year's resolution is a tradition that dates back 4,000 years to the Babylonians, who believed that whatever a person did on the first day of the year would have an effect on the remainder. The tradition has withstood the test of time better than the Babylonians (whatever they got up to on New Year's Day, 540BC, obviously wasn't very propitious - they were overwhelmed by Cyrus the Persian that year).

Breaking resolutions is always easier than making them, so perhaps we should turn to the beleaguered Hong Kong government for help. Last year it did its bit admirably, helping avowed teetotallers and reformed smokers by raising taxes on wine and cigarettes, assisting ex-gamblers by threatening to jail those who punt over the Internet and ensured everyone could cut back on food by steering us into austere times. If only gym memberships had been made tax deductible. Perhaps the government should warn us today of such helpful policy changes so we can choose our resolutions more wisely.

The fact that we can no longer gamble with just a mouse and credit card is a pity, as British bookmakers are offering some juicy odds about what might happen in 2003. Fancy a wager on Winona Ryder to 'steal' an Oscar (12-1), Prince William to marry (25-1), Charlotte Church to get married (16-1) - if they were betrothed to each other that would be a tasty 400-1 quinella - or former royal butler Paul Burrell to get a knighthood (100-1)?

How about Cuba becoming a democracy (a measly 5-2), the Dow Jones Index dropping to 5,000 (20-1), discovering a cure for the common cold (300-1), the verification of extra-terrestrial life (1,000-1), the making of Who Wants To Be A Billionaire TV show (5,000-1, which could be attractive odds for CNN billionaire Ted Turner) or putting a person on Mars (10,000-1)?

The Hong Kong Jockey Club can only watch with envy as gullible overseas punters hand over good money on a whim. Nevertheless, I've drawn up some odds on which they could expect a few bets placed locally if they were allowed: Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee to get a funky new haircut (3-1), Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum to swap her pig-tails for a prison-regulation crop (10-1), a 'secessionist' to be prosecuted under Article 23 legislation (25-1), 'Longhair' Leung Kwok-hung to stop wearing his Che Guevara T-shirt (100-1), Victoria Harbour to be completely filled in (150-1) or Tung Chee-hwa to resign, admitting he has let everyone down since taking office in 1997 (1,000,000-1). Unfortunately, I can't take bets but there are a few shady Mongkok bookies who might wish to - it would help make up their lost revenue when the Jockey Club gets its hands on the soccer betting market.

Some things are so certain they aren't worth quoting odds on: an American-led coalition will invade Iraq, Madonna will continue to attempt to act and Hong Kong's air will continue to resemble mushroom soup. Yes, the outlook for 2003 is pretty bleak. Recession and repression, pollution and terrorism.

But let's look on the bright side. For those seeking advancement but who can't be bothered to make resolutions, there's always the year's horoscopes to read. Will it be a good 12 months for romance, career and health? If the stars are shining on you, you can bask smugly in the knowledge that you don't have to do anything to improve your lot.

Regardless of astrological ar-rangements, I will be sticking with personal tradition by not making any rash promises to myself or others. At least I won't let anyone down by breaking them. Besides, the only thing that would turn my life around is a New Year's revolution.

For those who do make resolutions, however, there is some consolation should you break your promise before January ends. The Lunar New Year is just a month away - you can always make them all over again.