Surviving winter and the new year

By John Kirkbride

CHRISTMAS is over and it’s back to work and wintry weather, so John Kirkbride offers some ‘helpful’ tips on getting through the months that follow.

Christmas and New Year can be a terrific time of celebration and over indulgence – unless you’re one of those people who hates parties and would rather stay in and watch old episodes of Eastenders. So let’s assume you’re not, and that you and your family and friends have had a great festive season.

But like all good things, the celebrations must come to an end. The Christmas decs go back in the loft, and that bottle of unidentified spirit from a holiday in Greece ten years ago gets popped back in the drinks cabinet.

But when the last of the festive glitter has been vacced up and the children’s laughter is a rapidly fading echo, how do you face that return to real life during what is potentially the coldest and grimmest time of the year?

My best advice would be to hibernate till April. Unfortunately that isn’t an option for most people, so let’s take a look at some other ideas. But first, here’s a bit of useless but interesting info.

Dovestone at winter

January: The chilly month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, who symbolised beginnings and endings.

Apparently he was a bit of a two-faced chap, with one at the front looking to the future and another on the back of his head looking into the past. Quite handy if you have small children I imagine.

In January, a lot of Romans made promises to Janus about behaving better over the year ahead.

The practice persists to this day, though we now call them New Year resolutions, and I’ll wager the Romans were no better at keeping them than we are. (I once resolved not to drink alcohol for the whole of January, and didn’t even make it till lunchtime).

New Year can be a pretty noisy affair in some countries, including here in the UK, where the tradition of setting off fireworks at midnight was spontaneously initiated in 1999.

In Thailand they used to fire guns to frighten away demons, while the Danes throw plates and glasses at each other’s front doors (which is quite surprising given the price of household goods in Denmark).

Avoid the winter by jetting off to the sun!

In Spain it’s traditional to eat 12 grapes during the 12 strokes of midnight, and if you scoff the lot before the chimes stop you’ll have good luck during the coming year.

In some countries eating ring-shaped treats like doughnuts symbolises coming full circle, which is also supposed to bring good luck. Speaking personally, I don’t need the promise of good luck to stuff my face with Krispy Kremes (other doughnuts are available).

And that’s probably all you need to know about New Year, given that it isn’t going to happen again now for another 12 months (unless Boris decides to change the rules on that too).

Surviving the winter months

Go on holiday
One of the easiest ways to survive January and February (and often March, April and May if you live in Saddleworth) is to wear a big coat. An even better way is to go on holiday somewhere hot. It may be more expensive, but it’s a lot more fun than wandering around looking like a Michelin Man in bobble hat and boots.

Towards the end of November last year my wife and I booked three cheap nights in Faro in southern Portugal, and walking around streets festooned with Christmas lights while wearing shorts and tee shirts was surreal, but good for our souls.

And if blue sky and sunshine isn’t quite enough for you, decent Portuguese red at €3 a bottle is another distinct benefit of the region.

Book yourself a bargain break, dig those shorts out and get yourself somewhere sunny.

But make sure you get to the airport three days early to allow for all the people who won’t have completed the forms they were supposed to fill in before travelling.

Sadly, since the time of writing the Omicron variant has resulted in some new international travel restrictions. I’m afraid that means you may have to dig out that big coat after all, but I would still recommend a break away from home if you can manage it.

The real takeaway from all of last year’s staycationing is the reminder that we live in a wonderful land full of vibrant towns and cities, beautiful countryside, picturesque villages and history by the bucket load. So get that big coat on, cheer yourself up with a new pair of boots and get out there and explore.

Stick to your resolutions
In a typical year around 25 per cent of people in the UK make New Year’s resolutions, and each year around a quarter of those admit they haven’t stuck to them.

But research has shown the most common reason for this is that we set ourselves goals that are too difficult to achieve.

Resolving to lose two stones in a week and be rich and famous by February is probably a little unrealistic, and it certainly didn’t work for me. All I lost was my front door key, and by February even my family had stopped recognising me.
The best way to stick to your resolutions is to set yourself what are known as micro goals. If you decide to take the dog for a walk every evening after dinner, that’s something you should be able to achieve. Though personally I’d recommend inserting an exemption clause for when it’s raining, and you may have to purchase a dog.

My New Year’s resolution this year was never to make any more New Year’s resolutions, and so far I’ve stuck to it brilliantly. So you see, it can be done.

Tighten your belt
January and February can be a tough time after the profligacy of Christmas. Going out isn’t cheap, and neither is staying in if you happen to be providing Christmas dinner for 20. And then of course there are all those things that your kids will never play with and your friends will never use that you still had to pay for. Presents – that’s the word I was looking for.

In short, money can be an issue in the weeks following the festive season, so now is the time to cut back on your outgoings. One of the easiest ways is to reduce your weekly supermarket spend. Buy value basics instead of branded goods, and if the family don’t like it, make them do the shopping, and save even more money.

Don’t buy bread, buy flour and… stuff, and make it yourself. Don’t buy ready-made meals, buy cheap ingredients on the market and get the whole family involved in cooking from scratch. That way they can’t blame you if it turns out to be a disaster. Don’t buy bags of pre-chopped vegetables, invest in a knife and chop your own (but try not to cut the ends of your fingers off).

Another key rule is don’t be tempted by the winter sales, because you’ll only end up buying stuff you really don’t need. (Incidentally, is anyone interested in a glittery tee-shirt with ‘Norwich 2017’ on the front? It’s never been worn and I can let it go for a fiver).

Beggar the weather
For many people one of the hardest things to deal with at this time of year is the winter weather.

The best method I’ve come up with so far is to ignore it. It’s only trying to get your attention, and my theory is that if you act as if you don’t care, it might get bored and go away. This also works with that tedious person in the pub who wants to talk to you about insurance.

The fact is, most of us have had a fair bit of practice at surviving winters, so let’s put that experience to good use and get outside. There’s just as much pleasure to be had from a winter’s walk as a summer stroll. Unless it’s drizzling, of course, in which case hot chocolate by an open fire is a pretty good alternative.

If the weather gets really bad, you need to put your intrepid explorer’s hat on (or something that’ll keep your ears warm, anyway). If the fields are covered in snow, dig out the sledge or those skis you’ve had for 10 years and only used once, and get out there and play. There’s nothing quite like frolicking about in the snow like a big kid – apart from getting back inside, drying off and knocking back a warming whiskey.

Have things to look forward to
The key to surviving life, let alone winter, is to always have things to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be something big like a month in the Caribbean, (although if somebody offers you one don’t turn it down), it just has to be something you can anticipate with pleasure.

It could be a night in a cosy hotel, or a meal out with friends, or simply a film and a fish and chip supper on a Friday night. But never forget that with winter comes the greatest anticipation of all: the arrival of spring and summer.

So no matter how bad the weather gets or how gloomy it makes you feel, remember that in no time at all the daffodils will be pushing their little heads through and your shorts and t-shirts will be giggling excitedly in their drawers.

The seasons come and go, but life goes on, and just like Gloria Gaynor, we will survive.

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