Gloomy mud-slick Northern days slither by, almost unnoticed, with barely a ripple of light from dawn, through noon, to twilight. The lamp in the dining room stays on all day, but who knows, or even cares what day it is? Some days slip past without me even setting foot outside, apart from to wrangle the teetering bags of recycling that patiently await collection. Even with the colour-coded timetable blu-tacked to the kitchen cupboard, we still manage to miss the anomalous festive refuse collections that seemingly take place in the dead of night. The wood-burner is my new best friend, we are inseperable. I worry about the chickens, they have slowed egg production to almost zero while some of the more bird-brained among them have decided that now is a good time to molt their nice warm feathers.
These are the dark days of New Year.
The SAD susceptible among us, no longer buoyed by long curly to-do lists and exotic grocery orders, or sneaky cocktails and cranking up the volume on Mariah Carey, start to feel a little blue, the colour of Eeyore in fact. It’s all over, I’m broke again, and the car’s on the blink. My exhausting, exhilarating role as 24hr on-call chef, entertainer, hot water bottle-filler, is redundant now that the children and winter visitors have flown back to their routines. The after glow of self congratulation at having cooked a delicious nine-part christmas dinner in a LBD and heels has faded, and a long haul to the Yorkshire Springtime stretches achingly far ahead.
Occasionally a startling burst of bright sunshine punctuates the long dark hours and we rush to greet it with upturned sunflower faces, and chase it up the hill or all the way to the sea. One morning after a particularly snorry night, (see ‘Things That Go Gaaaagh! In The Night’ blog) I woke late in the spare room. Opening the curtains I was assaulted by a vivid, full-frontal January sunrise. Creeping back under the still-warm covers I basked lizard-like for nearly an hour with my arms, neck and face exposed, literally soaking, slurping, sucking up the magic rays through my pores, feeling re-generated like solar powered WALL-E, the last robot on earth.
It only just occurred to me that Christmas lights have an intensely practical, health-giving purpose at this time of year; optimistically lighting up the dark places and bringing glittering good cheer, so it feels particularly dingy when they are all taken down and packed away in their mouse-proof boxes in the garage. The ones I strung on the cherry tree outside the front door back in December have accidentally-on-purpose been left on, and continue to give me a little internal squeak of joy when returning home at night.
There are other things that can apparently help us to carry our hibernating tortoise carcasses through this seemingly bleak waiting-room period, including Making Plans, Lifestyle Resolutions, and, less appealing, but extremely efficacious, Spring Cleaning.
With regards to Making Plans, I have already conducted a couple of lengthy internet trawls through fantasy holiday destinations around the world where it stays eternally hot and sunny. The Breadwinner, however, seems hell-bent on a family trip to the verdant fatherland, Ireland, land of bogs. It’ll be fine, we have waterproofs, and there’s always Guinness. Sunny Wexford here we come…
Meanwhile the satisfaction of transferring all our significant 2019 dates and engagements onto the new family calendar has been a treat, all those pockets of promise laid out in rows, waiting to be filled. Undeterred by the Irish issue, (and don’t even mention the B-word) I will continue with daydreams about one particularly heavenly little Airbnb I’ve found on Capri, and I’ll keep researching secret getaways for just me and Rose, somewhere hot with a pool. (See my first blogs from Cape Verdi)
There is also the happy diversion of choosing which Macmillan Mighty Hike to sign up for. It seems far too long since my Snowdon climb, (see ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ blog) and it’s time to get my walking boots limbered up for something spectacular. Northumberland Coast? Thames Path? Or maybe I could resurrect the grand plan which was scheduled for last May, to hike the 79mile East Kent Coast Path. It was foiled by my walking partner selfishly throwing herself off a stepladder. Maybe it was the prospect of 79miles of my incessant chirpy chit-chat that made her do it? But it’s been nearly six months since the nurses snipped off her Ilizarov frame with a giant set of pliers, so I could always ask…
Still on the subject of plans I am determined to save enough pennies to get my old camper van dusted off and tuned up for a year of free-range exploration. ‘Mummy Adventure’ is now a thing in our household. It is a derogatory term referring to the inevitability of some mishap (often mechanical, and sometimes map-related) that is likely to beset my occasionally over-ambitious notion of what constitutes an ‘exciting escapade’. But I refuse to let that dampen my spirit stove as I pore over wild swimming books (see ‘British Summer Fashion Must-haves’ blog) dreaming of spontaneously pulling up at a secluded spot for an exhilarating dip in a mystical tarn followed by hot chocolate and a cosy sunset in the faithful old jalopy. (In reality: Helplessly lost and shouting down negative comments from the family about the dodgy suspension, I screech to a halt beside a grim foreshore strewn with suspect frothy scum and risk Weil’s disease, just to prove a point, while they watch sullenly from the steamed windows muttering about other mums not being like this)
Then, the Lifestyle Resolution is going fairly well. Although we are only nine days in I feel modestly proud of almost sticking to my ‘NO NEW CLOTHES IN 2019’ rule. The rule was also meant to include make-up but Rose insisted on dragging me into the Beauty Outlet in Princes’ Quay where I accidentally bought a red lipstick, like I needed another one. (see ‘Getting Lippy’ blog) I’m still toying with including shoes in this self inflicted prohibition. On Sunday I loaded £350 worth of gorgeous Plümo sale bargains into a virtual basket, just for fun, including some gold and silver dancing shoes. Then, with a heavy heart, and a trembling bottom lip, I logged off before it went too far. But on the whole, the idea of not buying a single new garment this year genuinely appeals to me, and not just because I’m skint and have run out of storage space in my bedroom. It was a conversation with my beautiful kooky friend Millie that gave me the idea, and then I remembered following The Uniform Project, where a girl posted a daily pic of the creative ways she utilised just one dress for a whole year. As my own wardrobe is hardly a walk-in, I am looking forward to the challenge of being more sartorially inventive, and I literally have enough scarves to wear a different one every four hours for the rest of my life, even if I live past 100, so accessorising will be a doddle. The only fly in the ointment so far has been a gorgeous pair of deep burgundy velvet cigarette trousers. They called to me from The Dove House Hospice shop today, and are essential for a Burn’s Night dinner later this month, so I made a one-off exception, and a solemn vow to avoid all clothing outlets until 2020, unless I’m donating. It’s going to be tough, but I will save bags of time and money and can invent wonderful new ways to utilise both of these valuable commodities. (The camper van jiggles with excitement in the barn)
My first tentative taps of the repoussé hammer in the workshop at the end of last year yielded a couple of pleasing outcomes including a silver bangle, a couple of bowls in brass and copper and I even took a little foray into enamelling, so another lifestyle resolution is to schedule much more of my time in that space from now on. It’s been exciting to re-discover my old gold-smithing skills that have lain dormant for nearly 25 years. Note to self: Half an hour on the buffing wheel coats the middle of my face and fringe with a stiff layer of speckled dirty red rouge. Not a good look for the school run or a trip to Sainsbury’s.
As for Spring Cleaning, well, since becoming a worryingly enthusiastic owner of a Dyson vacuum cleaner and all it’s myriad attachments last year, (see ‘Squeaky Clean blog) and undertaking some major Marie Kondo de-cluttering projects, (see ‘Living Rooms’ blog) my home is already quite bearably clean and tidy. I have just swished round retrieving paper party hats from behind arm chairs and recovered a quantity of glitter and streamers from some unexpected corners. There are always rows of storage jars on the kitchen shelves that could do with a little attention, that is, they are coated in a thin veneer of fluffy grease, and the filing cabinet resembles Hades, but until the sun starts to put in longer more committed appearances it is hard to actually see the cobwebs, and therefore I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to don the marigolds just yet. I’ll save that particular treat for maybe February or March, when I get really desperate, but I know it will feel insanely good once it’s done.
On the subject of housework: As a working mum I used to say with a casual air of defiance, ‘I don’t do ironing!’ How tragic it is now that, as a stay-at-home-mum, I literally relish the sight of a full basket of ironing (Woman’s Hour and podcasts make it a particular pleasure), so it was devastating when my iron went kaput yesterday. It was quickly parcelled up in an empty box of Felix cat food pouches, thanks to our pyramid of uncontrollable refuse, and sent back to the manufacturers who kindly agreed to send a new one by return. So for now, perhaps I can content myself with tackling the over-stuffed airing cupboard, a long overdue chore, which, when complete will surely have the same endorphin-releasing effect as a thorough Spring Clean.
There is one thing that carries a 100% guarantee to make my heart sing at this time of year and that is the discovery of spring flowers peeping above the leaf litter in the woods. In the absence of Christmas decorations the house is now dotted with mossy cups, bowls and pots of soon-to-be pungent hyacinth and téte a téte. Their stout green spears powering skyward are a potently optimistic symbol of promise. Last week as we walked in chilly silence along the Pocklington Canal, I gasped dramatically at the sight of a tiny floret of perfect primrose leaves emerging among the hawthorn on the Bielby Arm. The thrill of spotting it was almost matched by the delight I took from seeing Danny jump three feet in the air.
Joy is out there, everywhere, go seek it!