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Sunday, 25 January 2009

January "is the cruelest month"

T.S.Eliot was wrong in "The Waste Land". April isn't the cruelest month. January is.

January has seemed so excessively long this year and what a wearily wintry month it is! Once the fireworks of the first have burned out, and all the New Year resolutions have had time to be broken, it's just the stark reminder that it's still the dreary English winter of dark mornings and rain. No wonder scientists have observed the gloomiest day of the year fell last week. If I were Gregory or Julian creating calendars, I'd have made January last for no more than a fortnight and, rather than making February the shortest month, I'd have lopped days off January and added them to the others throughout the year.

One day, a thousand years ago, when I was at school and January had dragged on and on and on, I was sitting in a classroom with black blinds drawn over the windows, poring over the fine print in a very dull history book - "Modern Britain" or "Modern Europe" can't remember which one, but they were both equally dull with green binding, describing the massacre of the Tsar's family and the entire reign of Queen Victoria as though they were mere dates and battles! - when the black blinds slipped up and a chink of light flowed over the desk. It was February 12th - I remember the date from it being written at the top of my page. The light flowed over the book, over my hands, over the desk and I pulled on the blind till it shot right up and flooded everything with light. It was like a massive gloom had suddenly been spring had come and the world was suddenly new. The glow was pure amber and seemed to seep into every cell of my being.

It was a time when the upper deck windows of green buses were always clouded with cigarette smoke on the inside and smog on the outside; when it took forever for the bus to come - standing with a violin case, school bag, cookery things - and wet, windy walk home. A time of car headlights in the slush at the side of the road. A time of nothing moving or growing....just grey school gabardines and puddles splashing fawn socks or 'American tan' (orange) coloured-tights and sensible shoes and a stark black and white world, cold, wet world...

And now, again, on a gloomy January Sunday night, when all the trees still look like skeletons and it seems that nothing is growing or moving, and everyone around seems so depressed, I feel that again but I think, "When the black blinds shift just an inch...when the chink of light comes in...." And it will. It always does...without fail. January - named after the two-faced god; one looking forward, one looking back - I don't think January has ever been a month for living in and I wish it were much shorter.

But, to quote (one of my least favourite poets!) Shelley..."if winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

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