Welcome to Musings on the Mundane! The world as depicted in the media can often seem dark and overwhelming. So join me and my blog posts to marvel in the mundane and laugh at the little things in life.

Finding the balance

Little Angel is immensely proud of herself. She’s sitting up all on her own. Who knew that balancing took so much effort? She wobbles to her left but counteracts this with a panicky wave of her right hand. She sways backwards slightly but a well-placed cushion realigns her. She beams in delight at her newfound skill then suddenly nose-dives into the carpet. For a moment it’s all tears until equilibrium is restored and this strange new world becomes manageable once more.

That’s also the reason I’m babysitting today so that Darling Daughter can re-surface from the seabed of responsibility and float once more on the ocean of carefreeness. Because parenthood is the biggest balancing act of all, with mums and dads walking the tightrope of insanity between euphoria and despair. And sometimes we all need a break and a helping hand.

Or sometimes we need to find the right balance. Grunting Teen has just learnt this lesson the hard way. It turns out that too much socialising and hanging out with friends on the PS4 does not equate to high marks on your homework. Apparently, all play and no work, also makes Jack an educationally dull boy.

Still at least he’s now back on track, unlike his father, whose injured knee has plunged him into an abyss of self-pity. The Nearly-Beloved’s grumpometer is off the scale as he can no longer release the stresses of the day through playing tennis. Chain-eating Hobnobs is not the answer and tips the weighing scales even less in his favour. So, it’s just as well that the sun has been shining and that salad and short strolls have been on the menu.

If only our planet as a whole could find that balance. When the world’s wealthiest 20% account for 75% of total private consumption and the poorest fifth just 1.5%, the figures don’t add up. And with an Oxfam report showing that the richest 1% of the world’s population is worth more than the other 99%, then something is surely wrong? We see this need for levelling up on a national level too. Our north-south divide has grown to Grand Canyon proportions and it’s hard for us Yorkshire folk to comprehend. It might even make us look unkindly on our luckier southern countrymen because the reality is that some people will always be more equal than others. But when more of us become less unequal, then we will finally be heading in the right direction. And if a baby can learn to find a point of balance, then surely, we supposed grown-ups can too?

As for me, I’ve been juggling too many plates recently – work, family and a new writing project.  So, it’s time for me to retire from this blog for a while to find that balance in my own life. I hope that you all can find it too.

Hairy tales

Hair! Or lack of it. It’s got a lot to answer for. One person’s idea of a joke can quickly turn into an Oscar winning slapping offence. The Nearly-Beloved, who himself is follicly-challenged, generally pre-empts comments on his appearance by announcing, ‘I’ve got wavy hair… It waved goodbye.’ In fact, it vanished from his scalp whilst he was still a youngster, in the days when balding pates were associated with middle-aged darts players, rather than handsome X-men. So, he took the ribbing with good-humour, was forced to grow a thick skin and discovered that inner confidence is even more attractive than a shiny mane.

Our elder son thought he’d escaped this hair loss heritage. In his teens, too lazy to visit the barber’s, he sported a massive ‘Wafro’.  Marge Simpson would’ve been proud of it. He got invited to a lot of parties since his parlour trick was hiding pencils and miscellaneous objects inside his giant birds’ nest. But then common sense, age and genetics kicked in. Thankfully, he’d mastered his father’s self-assurance, so no need for expensive toupees or footballer’s hair transplants. And luckily, close-shaven heads are now in fashion.

Grunting Teen, however, is not convinced. As the one remaining male in the family with hair, he’s decided to embrace the shaggy dog look. Unfortunately, his beauty routine is less high fashion model and more grunge down and out. A comb or brush have never touched his barnet, so his tresses are of the tangled variety. Only time will tell whether he too has the ‘wavy’ gene.

And it’s not only men who have issues. Darling Daughter, whose crowning glory glistened and gleamed throughout her pregnancy, now finds her hair falling out in clumps and its lusciousness rapidly dulling. She at least though does have a reward for this fall from heady glory. Creating a brand-new human being is surely worth a tumble down the charts in the hairdresser’s style book?

But neither has Little Angel remained unscathed. Born with an impressive head of hair, sadly, several months of lying on her back have worn patches where curls used to be. She’s currently sporting a monk’s tonsure, which society no longer deems acceptable. Hence the sharp rise in the accessory market, with bows and baby scarves being this season’s must-haves.

I, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. For years I cultivated a short hair-style that was quick to wash, easy to manage and required no styling skills. Then lockdown happened and my locks grew down, until one day I realised I now had shoulder length-hair. Oh, the novelty of swishing and flicking. And the realisation that I actually had the ‘wavy’ type, with the added benefit of it being still attached to my head.

It’s been a subject of many comments, the vast majority favourable. I’ve even gone unrecognised by some, more used to my GI Jane look. But every silver lining has a cloud.  It now takes forever to blow-dry my coiffure. Grips, slides and bobbles have become part of my vocabulary. What’s more, the Nearly-Beloved has bequeathed me the task of unclogging the shower.  He hands me some tweezers and the baking soda. ‘Just keep my wife’s hair out of your drain,’ he jokes. And for a moment I feel like slapping him…

Challenging times

Life is full of challenges. It’s natural to want to stay within our comfort zone. However, in my opinion, challenges make our world more interesting and are an opportunity for growth.

Few things are more challenging than parenthood. Those of us who’ve seen our children overcome their upbringing to emerge as relatively unscathed adults might look back on the whole experience through rose-tinted glasses. But watching my own daughter become a mother reminds me of all the obstacles that need to be negotiated. The very act of leaving the house with a squalling infant is an achievement in itself. It’s a full-scale military operation. Unfortunately, the commander-in-chief has been subjected to sleep deprivation torture and is no longer capable of rationale thought or coherent speech. The temptation then is simply to stay within the safety of the familiar four walls. So, it is with no hint of irony that I cheer Darling Daughter on when she tells me she’s survived a pram-trip into town on the tram.

Little Angel also has to deal with more than her fair share of trials and tribulations. After all, a human body takes some getting used to. That head is so heavy it’s impossible for a baby to hold up all on her own. And the concept of rolling over seems totally impossible. Until one day, there she is, sitting up straight or performing acrobatics on her playmat. This ‘baby-mindset’ of never giving up is useful to adopt at all ages. For them, there’s none of ‘this transferring food from hand to mouth is far too complicated, I’ll just have a servant feed me for the rest of my life’, or ‘This walking malarkey is beyond me, I’ve decided to remain seated forever’. No, they get stuck in, smearing banana in their eyes and hair. They fall down and then get up again ad infinitum. All accompanied with equal amounts of tears and laughter.

Then suddenly, before you know it, they’ve reached anguished adolescence. This is the no-man’s land where the challenge is to escape the trench of childhood and scale the barbed wire into adulthood. There are so many decisions to be made and paths to choose. What subjects to study? Whose party to go to? Which PS4 game to play? Our own Grunting Teen is doing alright at the moment. He’s keeping up with his school work, has a part-time job and a social life. What a long way he’s travelled from the anxiety and isolation of lockdown life.

And yet the challenges keep coming, as the Nearly-Beloved has recently discovered. That lean, mean body machine of his youth is now in need of a full service. His rugby days have taken their toll on his knees, the Aikido did his back in and the tennis has finally reached his elbow. He could so easily call it a day, sit back on the couch and become a potato. Instead, he adapts to the situation. Competition is part of his nature, so if he can’t be king pin of the bowling alley, he’ll make sure he beats you at tiddly winks.

As for me, my current challenge is to run the Manchester marathon on April 3rd. The training has been long and arduous. The weather mainly inclement and unkind. The pain both physical and psychological. I’m still unsure if I’ll be able to reach the finishing line in one piece.  But I’m running to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity. I’ve been inspired by a fellow runner who kept on racing until the end, and a friend who never gives up, despite the daily difficulties she faces. You see, everyone’s circumstances are different, as are everyone’s battles. The main thing is not to limit your challenges but challenge your limits .

You can support Judith in raising money for The Brain Tumour Charity at Judith Watkins is fundraising for The Brain Tumour Charity (justgiving.com)

Snappy dressers

I have an interesting relationship with clothes. Whilst I appreciate looking half-way decent, I’ve never enjoyed the process of shopping. It’s far too stressful. Crowds, changing rooms, the concept of an ‘outfit’. My wardrobe used to consist of multiple ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ none of which ever seemed to match. So, imagine my delight when I discovered the ‘personal shopper’ experience. Once every two years, I’d turn up at my designated safe space, complete with comfy armchair, coffee machine and magazines and wait whilst the fashion fairy worked her magic. Not only was it a free service but I’d come away with a capsule wardrobe and strict instructions about what went with what.

I would have clothes for my work life, leisure and socialising. And, ok, occasionally something would fit too tightly, something wouldn’t feel quite right, or my complexion would crave a particular colour. After all, who doesn’t have fat days, off days and positively anaemic days? But in general, this ‘dressing by numbers’ suited me well. Then the pandemic struck and comfy Zoom wear became the on-trend craze.

‘Are you wearing those trackie bottoms again?’ the Nearly-Beloved would ask, rolling his eyes, ‘It’s like living with a wannabee Olympian with no hope of a medal.’ No thanks from him for the fact that I was saving on washing and ironing by re-wearing the same comfort blanket garments. And certainly, it’s not as if his fashionista advice is ever helpful.  I mean, this is the man who never throws anything out. He just hangs onto his 1980s Hawaiian shirts and bomber jackets waiting for them to come back into vogue. In the meantime, double denim is his favoured retro image.

So, what a nightmare to emerge from lockdown to discover that my style miracle worker is no more and that department stores are a thing of the past, unless the perfidious John Lewis can tempt you to Leeds. I’ve tried online shopping but I find it too overwhelming. Too many websites, too much choice, too much time wasted. What’s more, my numbers never add up. On some sites 12 equals 10 and on others it increases value to 16. At any rate, nothing ever fits and the process of sending stuff back is beyond my mental capability. For now, I’m doomed to remain in 2019, pretending I’m rocking a vintage look and praying the moths stay away.

Grunting Teen, on the other hand, is turning into quite a shopaholic. He has his own signature style that the Nearly Beloved finds most confusing. ‘A pink T-shirt? Flowery trainers? Isn’t that rather girly?’

‘Dad! You’re so non-PC,’ replies our snappy dresser. ‘Besides, it’s sick, innit?’

‘Definitely,’ agrees his father, whose command of teenage slang is as good as his grasp of the latest couture.

But the family member with the most up-to-date outfits and the largest walk-in closet has to be our Little Angel. She is the best dressed of all of us and ready for any photo shoot or Instagram opportunity. Her wardrobe knows no bounds – one-pieces, two-pieces, jeans, dresses, casual wear and outfits for special occasions. All accessorised with headbands, hats and stylish bows. And yet she never spends a penny on herself. What a life she leads and one that I aspire to. Oh, to be five months old again and have an army of personal shoppers at your beck and call!

Nature versus nurture

‘How is it possible for anyone to make such a mess opening a box?’ mutters the Nearly-Beloved surveying the ripped and crumpled cardboard from which my breakfast is spilling out all over the table. He, in contrast, pours precise, concentric circles of muesli from a pristine packet into his bowl. I smile sympathetically at my poor perfectionist husband. He is outnumbered. Cue the teenager, who lollops into the kitchen, one eye on his phone. Reaching for his cereal, he shakes an explosion of cornflakes onto the floor. When he’s eaten enough to satisfy his hunger, he crunches the rest nonchalantly underfoot.

‘What?’ asks Grunting Teen in confusion, noticing the apoplectic expression on his father’s face.

‘Why can’t you and your mother do the right thing? You are so alike in your incompet…’ The Nearly Beloved’s voice falters under my steely glare. ‘Just – you are so alike.’

‘Genetics, innit?’  replies our son, unperturbed by the unfavourable comparison. ‘We’re doing it in Psychology. The nature versus nurture debate. You know – whether your physical and personality traits are determined by biological or environmental factors.’

‘You’ve certainly not inherited anything from me,’ snorts his dad, surveying the post-breakfast apocalypse. ‘And, regarding your body’s thermostatic genes, can I remind both you and your mum to put on extra layers. Now that the world is facing a gastastrophe, only Russian oligarchs can afford central heating. So, do the right thing and turn down the temperature.’

I sigh. It’s alright for him with his lack of sensitivity to the cold. What the Nearly-Beloved deems to be an intolerable sauna, is merely an acceptable luke-warmth to us. But he’s right. We do need to watch the fuel bills now. So, that evening, my boy and I huddle together under several blankets to listen to the latest doomsday revelations on the news, whilst Mr Radiator, in his shorts and vest, rolls his eyes at our rough-sleeper look.

‘Can you make us a cup of tea, dad?’ asks Grunting Teen hopefully. The Nearly-Beloved is not impressed. ‘You should be able to do it yourself, at your age,’ he snorts. There’s a look of outrage from the adolescent as he makes excuses for his ineptitude. ‘But you’ve never taught me how to use the kettle. Or light the oven. Or work the microwave. That’s nurture, that is. Or lack of it! I can’t help it if the way you’ve dragged me up sucks.’ And he does have a point. He’s our youngest. We’ve babied him and let him get away with far too much. But at least we’ve nurtured his self-preservation. After all, he might not be able to cook a meal, but he does have Uber-Eats on speed dial.

‘You should count yourself lucky, sonny’ continues the Nearly-Beloved, pointing at the bleak pictures of current events on the TV. And although Grunting Teen doesn’t deny his privileged position, he scowls, and I hear a mumbled ‘Dad’s being proper mean to me’ from under cover of an extra rug.

The next day, however, our son is looking more cheerful. Unlike his father, he has no genetic predisposition towards hoarding possessions. So, when the Nearly-Beloved returns home, he is left speechless to discover half his clothes mountain has been donated to a refugee charity. As he opens his mouth to object, Grunting Teen butts in quickly. ‘Dad, I might not have inherited any personality traits from you. But you’re always telling me to do the right thing. And I have. That’s Nurture triumphing over Nature, innit?’

Despair versus optimism

Recent world events have sent my mood swinging between despair and optimism. Who would’ve thought I’d now be looking back to the pandemic with nostalgia? Oh, for those halcyon days when all we had to worry about was a virus. And at least we discovered a vaccination to counter it. Unfortunately, world leaders can’t be Pfizered out of the present psychosis…

I fall into deep gloom thinking of the younger generation already scarred by the effects of lockdown and currently facing the reality of escalating conflict. My own teenager has just emerged from his Covid chrysalis, trialling his fragile butterfly wings. But how will they fare in the winds of war? Ukrainians his age are already taking up arms to defend democracy, not in an exam question but in a street battle. Yet maybe the youth of Europe will be the ones to save us? They are often less entrenched in old-fashioned, nationalistic values. Many have a more global perspective, looking outwards to the bigger picture.

Whilst I harbour little hope of peace being brokered by the power-hungry who rule through fear, I find comfort in the fact that ordinary people still retain their sanity and compassion. At the height of the Cold War, I spent five months studying in what was then the Soviet Union. I had no idea what to expect and was initially apprehensive. But I soon learnt that, beneath the politics, our so-called enemies were just like us. I now have friends both in Ukraine and Russia. Some are fleeing for their lives; others face prison if they protest. No one wins. But they still remember they were once family and that this is not a war of the people but a consequence of ruthless ambition, greed, and broken diplomacy.

As for our politicians, some seem more interested in photo-shoot opportunities than cease fires. For them, post Brexit seasonal fruit picking work appears to be a handy solution to the refugee crisis. Thank goodness then for those who open their arms to their neighbours and those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Sheffield, like many other cities in the UK, welcomes the displaced, and has rallied in their support. Local residents have already started collecting food and clothes to be sent over to aid the relief effort.

Watching the news, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by despair. This conflict is on our doorstep, so for now it’s to the forefront of our minds, overshadowing the many others taking place around the world. When bullies are in charge of the global schoolyard then playtime stops being fun, unless you’re part of the mobster’s gang. And there’s no sign so far of Supernanny being enlisted to give us all a time-out on the naughty step.

So, what can we as individuals do? For a start we can refuse to let the darkness engulf us and give in to hatred of ‘the other’. The Dalai Lama tell us that ‘Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.’ So, let’s try to be more tolerant of different viewpoints. After all, if Blades and Owls fans can coexist, then there’s hope for all of us. Being kinder to each other is important too. But what does that really mean? All emotions carry an energy that affects those around. If we’re constantly surrounded by bad news, our spirits sink. But if the adolescent in the family does the washing up unbidden, a friend sends an unexpected sweet text or a stranger holds the shop door open for us, it can turn our day around.

We can show our kindness in practical ways too, donating money or useful items to those in need. We can lobby our governments to fast-track green energy solutions and sustainable farming so that wars arising from access to natural resources and food no longer occur. And when it all becomes too overwhelming, we can hang on to the knowledge that laughter is a powerful weapon, ‘always looking on the bright side of life’ is a viable antidote to fear and that the light always prevails.

Short and sweet

February is a short but sweet month. It’s over in a blink of an eye, yet manages to pack in a couple of celebrations and a hint of spring. For me, it starts on day one with a wedding anniversary. You see, the Nearly-Beloved was so enamoured of me in his youth that he didn’t realise he was getting hitched on a Welsh rugby international day. But now, many moons on, I’m never sure if the dreamy look on his face is due to marital bliss or the fact that the Six Nations Championship is about to kick off. Plus, he struck lucky. Not only is the 1st of the month hard to forget, it also functions as a ‘buy one get one free’ date as my annual bouquet of flowers never wilts until gone Valentine’s Day.

After so many years of marriage, we no longer succumb to the commercial pressure of February 14th. Not for us an overpriced restaurant or eye wateringly expensive chocolates. Grunting Teen, however, is new to this game. And it turns out he’s a closet romantic. He orders a red rose and a picnic hamper full of goodies to offer his dainty girlfriend. As I’m banished to my study, he and Polly Pocket breakfast on strawberries, pink waffles and heart-shaped brownies. For a moment I’m filled with nostalgia and a pang of jealousy, especially when my own Prince Not-So-Charming returns home to seal our love with a Tesco meal deal and a bag of Revels.

But he makes up for it the following weekend with a day out in the countryside and a pub lunch in front of a roaring fire. As we walk through the woods, it feels as if we’re finally coming out of hibernation. The days are getting longer and lighter. Bird song fills the air and snowdrops dance in the breeze. It’s time for looking forward and hatching plans.

It’s been nearly six months since we last saw our older son, lost to life in another country. Freedom Day has come and gone. We grabbed the window of opportunity whilst we could. Then Omicron closed the door once more. It’s our turn to visit him. But whilst tourist dependent countries welcomed the Brits back with open arms and shop tills, the Netherlands were more circumspect. ‘Keep your Covid-caked clogs’ to yourself was their message. All through the long, interminable days of January I kept checking their government web site. But to no avail.

It takes until February for the windmills of bureaucracy to turn in our favour. A city break abroad is a luxury when you factor in the extortionate PCR tests still needed to enter the country. But at least our return to the UK will be swab free. So, we’re jabbed up to our eyeballs and raring to go. A travel itinerary has been set. We just need to confirm the dates and click ‘pay’.

But, oh my Gouda! And Edamnation! Our best laid plans are put on hold. It’s been nearly two years since this pandemic started and it’s still causing chaos. We are one of the lucky families that have managed to avoid the virus… up until now. When the family WhatsApp pings with a photo of two red lines, there’s none of the joy of a positive pregnancy test. Just a sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach. Our Lost Boy has Covid!

Thankfully the symptoms are not severe. He’s young and healthy. He’ll survive. And thank goodness it’s happened before money and tickets change hands. February hasn’t turned out to be as sweet as expected, but at least it’s short. March is just around the corner. Spring beckons. Bulbs are ready to bloom. With any luck and a quick recovery, we’ll be celebrating soon amongst those tulips of Amsterdam.

Brain strain

‘Perhaps I should go to a paediatrician and ask about getting some dentures,’ I tell the Nearly-Beloved as I hobble over to the sofa on my bad ankle. Thankfully, being of a similar age to me, his brain understands how mine is currently malfunctioning. He nods encouragingly. ‘Podiatrist? Orthotics? Good idea.’

At times this inability to find the right words frustrates me and has me shunning the evening pub quiz for an online dementia test. I always panic when I find myself walking into a room, wondering why on earth I am there. Then I remember I am searching for the pair of glasses that are currently perched on top of my head. Is this a slow slide into senility or simply a mother’s headspace overflowing with surplus information about the whereabouts and activities of her offspring? It doesn’t help that the Nearly-Beloved uses me as his own Google Calendar, casually asking whether he’s due a dental check-up or when his sister’s birthday is. And also, my brain is having to deal with a reboot. During lockdown its bandwidth contracted. After all, nothing happened so there was nothing to forget!

But now, life is back to near normal and standard ‘brain-band’ is no longer adequate. I need a fibre optic connection to help my poor overactive mind cope with all the extra information.  It tries its best, filing words together that belong in the same category or sound similar.  But sometimes they come out all wrong.  Grunting Teen is not impressed when I call him by every other family member’s name bar his own. Nor can he understand that his Nana’s ‘Cadillac operation’ refers to her eyesight not her driving ability.

He rolls his eyes when we forget who the actor is in the film we’re watching, totally unaware that his casual question leads to a night of broken sleep, counting leading men rather than sheep.  But when the Nearly-Beloved sits bolt upright at 4am shouting ‘Andy Garcia’, our sense of satisfaction triumphs over our insomnia. And now we need to triumph over age-related memory loss.

Is it just coincidence or have the children ganged up on us oldies to make sure we ‘use it so we don’t lose it’? Suddenly the family WhatsApp has us subscribing to Wordle, the latest online word puzzle taking the nation by storm. Can we all unpick the daily brainteaser in our allotted maximum six moves? For once the parents have the advantage – they know that certain consonants and vowels are more common in the English language and they take their time to plan their moves. No surprise then that our digital native adolescent, with his short attention span, is the first to opt out. Spelling and patience were never his strong points.

Instead, he challenges me to download an app to recognise the flags of all 195 countries in the world. It’s an impossible task. Whilst he, with his superspeed reactions and heightened visual-spatial skills, is already on level 9 of the game, I am still struggling at the first stage. How many variations of coloured stripes can there be? Look at it one way and it’s Ireland, yet reverse the order and you’ve got the Ivory Coast! Horizontal stripes can mean currywurst and beer will be on the menu. But make them vertical and you’ll be eating your ‘Moules et frites’ with mayonnaise. Then depending on whether the flag has got a sun or stars in the middle means you’re either in Argentina or Honduras. And don’t get me started on all those confusing crescent moons!

Gradually though the brain training pays off. I now have no time for conversations or watching films. My glasses no longer get misplaced. They are permanently glued to my nose as I peer at the screen, uncovering the word of the day and unfurling the flags of the world. It’s certainly more entertaining than going down the bakery for my pork chips. So, what if I can’t speak in coherent sentences? At least the old grey matter can solve a Wordle puzzle in three moves and differentiate between the dragons of Bhutan and Wales!

The Top Trumps of Life

When it comes down to it, life is just a game of Top Trumps. But not the fun Dinosaur version I used to play with Grunting Teen in the days when he actually enjoyed mummy’s company. Then, an affable Stegosaurus with a small brain had no chance against a T-Rex with a high score for intelligence and a killer rating of 9.

Now instead I play Ailments Top Trumps with the Nearly-Beloved for sympathy points. Does his bad knee out-trump my dodgy Achilles? No. But, throw in his tennis elbow and he’s suddenly the overall winner. It’s my least favourite edition but sadly every few months it’s the cards we are dealt. Perhaps we should give up exercising? After all, in the Health Top Trumps, whilst smoking and binge-drinking are obviously low-value items, the danger factor in a daily brisk walk is surprisingly far less than a weekly long-distance run.

But to be number one in the Grandparents Top Trump we have to forget our sporting injuries and rise to the occasion. Nemesis Nana is already on a winning streak, piling up the points with her bootie and bonnet knitting. As for Guerrilla Grandad, he’s storming ahead with his sneaky DIY ‘I’ll unblock the sink for you and take a look at the electrics whilst I’m here’ tactics. But I reckon we can beat them hands down with a spot of unsolicited babysitting.

Little Angel is not so sure. Bath time sees our Childcare Top Trumps plummet to a record low ranking. Grammy’s ankle can’t cope with a baby and the stairs. Poppa can’t bend down to reach the tub. And Gentle Body Wash, not old-fashioned soap, turns out to have the best stat for slippiness. The upside is that Little Angel’s ‘Swim Babies’ class has really paid off – our granddaughter is a natural at holding her breath underwater.

Luckily, she’s not yet at the talking stage so this incident doesn’t make it into the Scandals Top Trumps, which is a very popular category at the moment. Rule-breaking events are racking up record wins. ‘Eye test at Barnard Castle’ looked as if it might do well with an impressive distance level of 263 miles. But despite a less-than-two-metre gap, ‘Canoodling in the Cabinet’ pipped it at the post because of its quicker resignation time. And whilst ‘Wallpapergate’ and ‘Partygate’ were both on equal points for location, a Lulu Lytle makeover meant that the £58,000 refurbishment was more expensive than sixteen ‘work meetings.’

As for Bad News Top Trumps, this is a pack we could all do without. I mean whether World War III earns more destruction points than Global Warming is largely irrelevant. Both are man-made and both are as bad news as you can get. And, when it’s a question of heating hikes versus food price rises, they are both evenly matched in national depression rates.

So, to counteract any family unfriendly versions, I’ve decided to play Silver Lining Top Trumps. Here, a Paleo, raw fruit and veg diet means you are not only up with the latest food fads but you also don’t have to use gas or electricity to cook any meals.  And let’s start a new trend in ‘layers’ so you can gain points for looking fashionable in thermal undies, seven jumpers and a sleeping bag. That way there will be no heating bills and maybe the chance for Ozone to make a come-back. In this new Utopian game, honesty beats spin doctoring, social care trumps corporate profit and kindness is the number one top scorer.

January – sick and tired of you!

I apologise for being ‘monthist’. But that 70’s song classic says it all – ‘January, sick and tired. You’ve been hanging on me.’  I mean, let’s face it, January is a bit of a ‘meh’ month, which goes on forever.

There’s nothing to look forward to unless you are a teetotal vegan who enjoys living on a shoestring until payday on the 98thof the month. Working days seem interminable. The weather is intolerable. And your credit card bill is inexcusable. It makes you question whether you really got your money’s worth out of the festive season and means ‘home entertainment’ is January’s buzz word.

In essence, for me, January is a ‘holding period’, where time stands still. Once the decorations come down, all household duties are suspended. After all, no one’s coming to visit in this Groundhog Day of a month. Besides, that’s the purpose of a ‘spring’ clean, isn’t it? So, cooking revolves around what’s left in the freezer. There are no hearty soups. Just gastronomic shocks when the Bolognese sauce turns out to be a defrosted vindaloo. And bad luck if you have a birthday in January – no one wants to go out. No party for you. You’ll have to make do with cake and wine at a work meeting. You see, this is a month that lacks leadership, although it promised so much. A new year. A new start. A new lie!

It turns out that the countless days of January reveal countless secrets. Illusions of the year gone by are shattered when you realise that all is not what it seemed. Some, too busy breaking rules and living it up, may have forgotten last year’s tribulations. But for others Omicron is still having an impact on their daily life. So, is freedom this year’s reality or simply a spin doctor’s wishful thinking? In the spirit of change, though, January has drawn a line under Covid. It’s swept it under the carpet, cheering us up instead with the threat of World War 3.

It’s claimed that January heralds the start of lighter nights. But, in reality, one endless dark day rolls into another. Post-pandemic liberation might beckon, but who can be bothered to make the effort? Far easier to save on the laundry, slip into those ever-tightening, wear-all-month jogging bottoms and veg out in front of the TV.

Traditionally it’s the time for New Year’s resolutions. But honestly, what’s the point? Those January gym bunnies rarely make it past the second week. And those that do, spend more time huddling together in the sauna than working out with the weights. And why make sacrifices if you are the only one doing it?

As the month drags on, dragging me down, I wonder why we even bother with January. But without the darkness there is no light. If I can survive January, then the coming months can only be an improvement. January shows me the shadow side of the year. It shows me how I don’t want to live my life. It pushes me towards brighter times ahead, making me long for transparency, integrity and optimism.

Then, just as January threatens to pull me under, there is a glimpse of hope on the horizon. Money is at last deposited in my bank account. The freezer, now empty, can be restocked. A lone crocus nods its purple head in my direction.

I wake up one morning and a shard of blue has broken through the oppressive grey skies. Thank goodness. February has finally arrived!