Last week began with a bit of a false start, still sicky and sofa-bound with all the glamour of antibiotics and regular steaming sessions. By Thursday I was actually thrilled to be back on my feet and back to work, but those extra few days not leaving work in the dark or standing at bus stops in the rain did soften my already rather fluffy spot for the dreaded month of January. I spent quite a lot of my hazy, horizontal time last week pondering the things I love about this month, not least the fact that my birthday lies at the end of it. So I am here in spite of the rain and wind, the grey skies and dark nights, punishing diets and self-enforced physical exertion to persuade you things ain’t that bad. I am here in defence of January.
1. Fresh starts
Let me be clear, I am not talking about resolutions here. The world puts too much pressure on January, launching it with expectations of shrinking waistlines and finishing it inevitably with discarded, dusty exercise equipment and a large Big Mac meal. I’m talking about the mid-winter clean that comes after you take down the tree. The barren shelves of the fridge now clear of cheese and clotted creams offer something much more than the avoidance of calories: opportunity.
Coming back to the flat after two festive weeks away there was something quite satisfying about clearing away all the Christmas cards and baubles (not the fairy lights though – they should be a permanent feature until at least June). And the empty fridge, combined with the half dozen cookbooks I acquired over Christmas, was just the incentive I needed to whip up some filling chickpea stews, orzo soups and plenty of supplies for cheese toasties!
2. Embrace the Hygge
Yes January will be cold, dark, probably quite grey (hence the need for all-season-long fairy lights). But don’t stop there – pick up some nice candles in the sales, wrap yourself up in something fluffy and make the most of the long winter nights with a good book, or a box set, depending on your preference.
Winter is inevitable so rather than complain about it, embrace it. Wrap up against the cold, get out there and blow the cobwebs off with a walk on the beach, through the park or along the waterfront. Popping into a cosy pub for a hot toddy or coming home to a pot of tea, a steaming bowl of tomato soup and the comfort of your own sofa – utter bliss.
I’ve always thought the bears had it right, once the chill hits just stock up on supplies and call it a night until the daffodils appear. Yes of course in the real, boring, human world we still have to get up, go to work, shower, eat regularly… pft.
But you can stage something of personal dormancy during January at least, after all, everyone’s skint and probably punishing themselves for Christmas excess with veganism or going teetotal. Nights out on the town are probably going to be limited so make big plans for your Friday nights – big mugs of something hot, big fluffy socks, big Netflix binge. This is no season to be dragging yourself around the streets working up a sweat, you’ll catch cold. And as for being sociable, there’s so much flu being passed around the wise thing to do is to stay put indoors.
4. Make some plans
January is like a metaphorical pit stop in an otherwise busy year. From here on in we’ll be bounced from Valentines to Easter to all those summer festivals and holidays until before you know it we’re creeping up on Halloween and Christmas. Enjoy the quiet time, and take advantage of it by planning ahead for all the chaos.
If you’ve resolved to manage your finances better in 2018, this would be a good time to highlight those big spend occasions like birthdays and holidays in the calendar so you know when you really need to count your pennies and bulk buy baked beans in preparation. If like me you need something exciting to look forward to during those long spells of nine to five working weeks, this is the month to plan some trips – check out the sales, budget for holiday spending and look forward to those sunny days ahead.
5. Enjoy the seasons while they last
The fact is, you can’t spend three or six months of the year wishing for summer – what a waste of time? And lets be honest, the British summer is often quite a damp disappointment. Best to embrace what’s at hand whatever way you see fit – by eating seasonally, shopping the new lines of winter woollies or spring prints, and by getting out into the great outdoors to really see the seasons change.
We can forget in the rainy, grey days of the city that actually the colder months can be beautiful too – snow, low winter sun, the expanse of sky that opens up when the branches are bare. It may be a Gothic kind of beauty, a little more Tim Burton than Ang Lee perhaps but there is magic to be found in the bleak mid winter.
If you need a little help finding it, I recommend reading Nigel Slater’s new book The Christmas Chronicles or his Kitchen Diaries III which is, for me, the most magical book to embrace the seasons. I also recommend tuning into Countryfile – yes, yes I am middle aged before my time, but seriously, having grown up in the country where you could feel the change of the seasons through every sense, tuning into the BBC’s seasonal exploration is as close as I can get from Liverpool City Centre on a Sunday evening. And really, nothing makes you tolerate the freeze more than realising how much farmers rely on the seasons – we might all joke that global warming could have its perks in the worst of winter but it’s no laughing matter. How’s that for guilting you into some January love?