I’m not a big fan of January (you may have already gathered that from the title of this post). It’s just got so many things NOT going for it. For a start there’s that big come down after Christmas. All that mounting excitement building up to the big day, the free pass you give yourself to consume vast quantities of booze, Ferrero Rocher – or whatever peccadillo you fancy. Those days between Christmas and New Year are OK – there’s a good chance you’re still off work and the alcohol supplies haven’t quite been exhausted. There’s the New Year’s party to look forward to as well, a last hurrah before you plunge into January. Then you wake up, hungover on New Year’s Day. It’s dark, it’s miserable. It’s all over.
Part of the misery is self-inflicted because I make it a Dry January. I’ve been doing it for about 15 years now, long before it became trendy, inspired by a work colleague who’d been doing it for years himself. It always starts out OK – after the excesses of the holiday my body is crying out for mercy. But about a week in it gets tough. An imaginary demon perched on my shoulder starts whispering that a small glass of wine in the evening wouldn’t do me much harm. I stalwartly resist. As someone who is at least mentally dependent on alcohol, if not physically, I’m going cold turkey by about this stage. I usually stick it out till the end of the month but god, I’m miserable. “Why do it in January for chrissakes?” someone said to me the other day.
Hmmm… good point. (Note to self. Consider a Dry February or March next year)
January is always such a slog. That sad day when you take down the Christmas decorations and drag the wilting tree out of the front door. And then come the worries. ‘OMG, how overdrawn are we this year?’ How many people out there have ever lived within their means at Christmas. This year has been even more extortionate than usual because Groucho asked for a laptop. I ended up going top end and getting her a MacBook
My rationale for this extravagance is that it’s going to have to last her at least until she’s at uni, so it’s worth spending a bit on quality and security. When I went cheap on her first tablet a few years ago, it was pretty quickly riddled with Chinese soft porn malware. I feel uneasy though – I don’t want to spoil my kids (too much) so in order to instil in her a sense of what things are worth, I made her pay half the cost herself out of her lifetime savings. None of this prevented her dropping the bloody thing off the dining room table within a week of getting it. It survived with just a minor dent – which pales into significance compared to the hug hole in my bank balance (which was already fragile after the Death comes a calling for the rabbit saga).
I find myself fretting about all of this. About 10 days into the month I have a terrible sleepless night. One of those nights where suddenly all the worries, all the jobs that need doing – they all start flying about inside my head like startled bats. I look at the clock. It’s 3am. Now I’m worrying about how knackered I’m going to feel in the morning. When I finally drop off into a listless half sleep, I start dreaming about fish.
The fish in question belong to my youngest daughter, Tinkerbell. Her sisters have the rabbits – but she’s never had a pet. So in a moment of madness, we bought her a tropical fish tank for Christmas. Now we’ve finally got round to setting up the tank, I’ve come to realise that to own fish these days you needed a Master’s Degree in chemical engineering and biology. The water has to be treated with chemicals to get rid of other chemicals. There’s daily testing to ensure the nitrate and nitrite – and god knows what else – levels are correct. Finally when the tank’s been running for a week, we are allowed to buy her some fish. We opt for six neon tetras and Tinkerbell gives them all names. The little one is called Chip. By the following morning it appears to the biggest two have eaten the other four (Chip included).
Tinkerbell takes this lesson in Nature’s bloody tooth and claw with remarkable stoicism – and while she’s at school I figure out that the missing tetras haven’t actually been eaten. They’ve just escaped to some secret compartment at the back of the tank where all the filter equipment and pump are all concealed. When she gets back home, she’s delighted to discover I’ve resurrected Chip – but all this is not helping my stress levels. And to top it all, the water has gone cloudy. You can hardly see the bloody fish at all. It’s hardly surprising I’m now having nightmares about neon tetras.
By now I’m midway through the month. Not a great beginning to 2018 – but then something amazing happens. I’m sitting beside the local swimming pool, uncomfortably hot in the chlorine scented atmosphere, watching Tinkerbell make excruciatingly slow progress in her swimming lesson. Suddenly, all that anxiety just vanished. Ideas for the future came flooding into my head. I stop feeling like the walls were all caving in on me – and become the master of my own destiny again. I have absolutely no explanation for this “and with one bound he was free” moment. Maybe it was chlorine induced euphoria – but whatever it was, it’s still with me. Maybe January isn’t so crap after all. And guess what? The fish tank water has cleared.