For many people, this is the most depressing time of year. For me, November has that dubious honour. Whereas in January, at least the nights are growing shorter, however slowly. There are bulbs peeping through in the garden and if you look closely, there are faint signs of spring everywhere.
However, I'd be the first to admit that when we take down the Christmas decorations, the 200 year old house looks forlorn, especially when the weather outside is as dreich as it is today. Added to that, we are both suffering from the mother of all viruses, one that stubbornly refuses to leave, along with all kinds of associated chest and sinus infections, for which the cure is only marginally better than the condition itself. It's like a plague house in here. All it needs is a large red cross on the door.
So I thought I'd blog about a few simple, inexpensive ideas (not resolutions) to cheer us all up.
1 Stop 'giving up' things. This is the worst month of the year to give up anything. Staying cheerful and staying well are big enough challenges. (Although I'd make an exception for smoking, since the health benefits of stopping that so far outweigh any pleasure it might bring!) Only do Dry January if you've gone off alcohol anyway. That would be me, incidentally, since one effect of the virus has been to kill stone dead any desire for even the smallest of small toddies. Do Veganuary by all means, but only if it gives you pleasure. Eat kale if you like it, not out of duty. Try not to undertake anything that fills you with deep misgivings, whether its expensive gym membership or challenging life changes. Instead, do stuff that makes you happy without costing a fortune. Be kind to yourself.
2 Reorganise your Christmas decorations. That's if you haven't already put them away for another year. Use some of those Christmas parcel boxes to sort and repack the stuff that goes by the name of 'Christmas Tat' in this house. I don't mean throw away precious vintage stuff. By all means hang onto all of that. But there are always things that wear out, or that you no longer like, or the broken bits and pieces that you find at the bottom of the boxes year after year. Sit down, have a mug of coffee or three, and have a very gentle declutter. Nothing drastic. Just the kind of ordering that makes you feel better. Fewer boxes will be easier to store.
3 Recycle your Christmas tree. That's if it's a real one. There are schemes everywhere. We have one locally using trees to help rebuild sand dunes, but most councils now have recycling schemes or, at the very least, garden waste bins, into which you can cut up your tree. Some authorities have charity schemes where you make a small donation and your tree is recycled to help keep down costs in public parks and gardens. This will make you feel virtuous, which is always a good thing. Especially when you are being virtuous.
4 Do some baking. This may seem counter-intuitive. Haven't we just finished with Christmas and New Year and all that rich food? We have. But this may be a good time to try baking good wholesome bread, that fills the house with gorgeous scents, or a pline caike, such as Colonel Pickering describes in My Fair Lady. Baking is soothing, especially when it's easy, everyday, simple baking. Besides, kneading dough is immensely therapeutic. You can imagine you're kneading a politician's head.
5 Eat more fruit and veg, even if you're not doing Veganuary. Have a browse in Aldi or Lidl. Their fruit and veg is good and very inexpensive. Go towards the end of the day if you're looking for bargains. Better still, get hold of a seed catalogue and think about what you might be able to grow for yourself, even if it's only on a windowsill. Seed and flower catalogues are a joy to behold in these dark days and they're free. Or just browse online. Start with something simple. Herbs like basil and mint and parsley will grow in pots on any sunny windowsill. Start small. Get your hands dirty.
6 Begin a new pastime or resurrect an old one. This needn't be expensive. I've been learning basic Spanish with Duolingo. It's free, it's fun, it exercises your brain, it makes you think of sunshine, and you can go at your own pace. You can do Scots and Irish Gaelic. You can even do Klingon. A word of warning here: so many hobbies and pastimes have, over the past few years, been 'monetised'. Well, I write for a living and I'm not averse to a bit of monetisation myself. But there are a million things you can do for pleasure that cost very little. Sketching needs only a pad and a packet of pencils from your nearest Pound Store. If you want to knit or crochet, you can often find good yarns in your local charity shop. Do a bit of upcycling. Make cards. Join a choir. Join a walking group. Take photographs with your phone. Teach yourself to cook. Buy a few cheap notebooks and write something.
7 Finally - my favourite. It will cost a little, although if you've had the foresight to do some autumn planting, not so much. Bring springtime into your house or apartment in the shape of bowls of bulbs: hyacinths, narcissi, daffodils. I always do it as soon as possible after Christmas. If you bought bulbs in the autumn and forgot to plant them, do it now. I've often had excellent displays from forgotten bulbs, sprouting in their bags, planted after Christmas. If you want your spring flowers already in bloom, many supermarkets will be selling off those unsold early hyacinths that they had in for the festive season. Soon, they'll be bringing in small pots of tiny daffodils or grape hyacinths. Three of them massed together in a bigger bowl will cheer you up no end. Dig out your nana's 1940s or 50s embroidered tablecloth and make a display. Just the sight of those spring flower colours will do your heart good and remind you that - as Shelley himself said - 'if winter comes, can spring be far behind?'
Do feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. What do you do to brighten up the gloom of January and February, especially given a world situation that is far from joyous?