Tuesday, 21 January 2014

In which we're truly blue, but not because it's Monday

I’m writing this on Blue Monday - everyone’s favourite pseudoscientific PR stunt of a holiday! Next to Black Friday, Mauve Monday and Hide in a Wendy House Wednesday, that is.

Billed as the most depressing day of the year, it falls on the third Monday in January as a result of a made-up maths equation taking into account weather, debt, time since Christmas, likelihood one will have failed one’s new year’s resolutions and low motivational levels. Which all sounds pretty credible, if you don’t include people who like cold weather, don’t enjoy/celebrate Christmas, and are never happier than when they’re seeing off their resolutions with a bucket of fried chicken and another of gin.

What it also fails to explain is what happens on the third Tuesday in January to suddenly raise everybody’s spirits again. Maybe it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy, the Emperor’s New Clothes of mood elevators – tell people that fictional Blue Monday is over and they’re immediately more inclined to go out and dance a merry jig?

But ultimately, the thing about Blue Monday is that it becomes even more so when everyone harps on about how the whole thing is rubbish, and you’re left confused because actually, you do feel quite sad.

I felt sad this morning when I discovered payday isn’t this Friday, as I had cheerfully convinced myself, but next Friday - meaning there’s a whole 10 days before I see the little chink of light from the bottom of my cavernous overdraft. Having spent the weekend thinking I was being paid this week, I also spent as though I was being paid this week. Oysters for everybody!

I felt sad when I discovered just now that we don’t have any loo roll. Or biscuits. And I felt sad when I realised that I’ve watched the last episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Netflix and have to wait five weeks for the new series to start (if you’ve not watched it, by the way, do – like America’s Next Top Model but with drag queens, it is everything you’ve ever wanted from television).

I also felt sad listening to commentators on the case of Lord Rennard, who seem mistakenly to believe that harassment isn’t harassment as long as you claim not to have “meant to upset anyone.” Upset, you see – not anger, or objectify, or violate a basic human right. The men on the radio hoping nobody got “upset” is a little too close to a “calm down, dear” to do my Monday blues any good.

And if it’s weather that holds the key to banishing the gloom, we can’t be too optimistic there either – Ukip’s special brand of homophobic weather forecast predicts floods, ice, fire and brimstone for as long as gay marriage is legal. Still, at least that’s something to laugh about. Valentine’s Day might bring an avalanche and we can all go sledging.

In which January's all about frock and lol

Naturally, as a woman with functioning faculties and a passing interest in gauzy fabric, I love awards season. What more does one need to brighten the bleak, bitter mornings of January and February than the excuse to sit at one’s computer with a frothy coffee typing, “Amy Adams sideboob” into the internet for an hour? The hits, the misses, the turns and the tumbles. The opportunity to find out, once and for all, what the purpose of Taylor Swift is. It’s all such a jolly promise.

But the truth is that like karaoke parties, sashimi or movies starring Katherine Heigl, awards season is one of those slightly disappointing things you’ve always forgotten your disappointment at by the time the next one rolls around.

No sooner had I woken up, opened half an eye, reached for my laptop and groggily googled, ‘Gplden gLobes reD carpt’ than I remembered why I always finish the winter feeling vaguely dissatisfied by the world (it is definitely awards season, not all the refined carbohydrates and slipper socks).

Hollywood just doesn’t know how to choose a nice frock anymore. It’s as though sheer affluence has overwhelmed our stars to the point where they can’t tell, ‘pretty’ from ‘looks like something I once did with tin foil to punish my Barbie’. Armies of stylists and hoards of designers toil for months to achieve what any of the rest of us could manage with two hours, a Debenhams giftcard and some double-sided tape.

They tend to fall largely into three categories. Predictable but dull, which means anything Reese Witherspoon wears; original but odd, which involves a lot of peplums, high necklines and hair that has been woven into its own weather-proof hat; and half-dressed, which means the sort of kidney-chilling flesh exposure that might lead normal folk to assume your outfit was half stolen by tinkers on the way to the ceremony.

It’s a good job then, if we don’t have the frocks, that we do have the funnies. If you’ve not watched Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening duologue from the Golden Globes, do it now. From quipping that Gravity was “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age,” to August: Osage County "proving that there are still great parts in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60," the whole thing was a perfectly-pitched delight.

Here’s a plan, perhaps: while the comedy giantesses take the stage by storm, we could leave the red carpet to the men – who with the occasional exception of a jazzy bowtie or lumberjack beard, have been consistently letting the side down for decades. “What were they THINKING?” the magazines can scream, over photos of Matt Damon and Colin Firth in aquamarine lamé with daring necklines. That would see me through until March just nicely.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

In which I keep on running. Just not very far.

I have made two resolutions for 2014.

The first is to learn to say ‘no’ more. Specifically to say no to the kind of strictly unnecessary social events that clog up my weeknights and make me tired and poor. The ones that take me to far-flung bits of London to see a friend of a friend’s auntie’s hairdresser playing accordion in the back room of a pub, while all the dinner ingredients I’d bought the week before fester into dismal mush at the bottom of my crisper drawer. Quality, not quantity, that is the key.

The second resolution, and I now realise this contradicts the first one a bit, is not to give up running. That’s it – no distances, no times, no big charity races or mud-covered feats of endurance. Just to not quit.

If by this time next year I haven’t managed to run a single inch farther than I can now, but still put on my trainers and had a good bash at it with some regularity, I’ll chalk it up as a triumph and buy myself a tiramisu. Quantity, not quality, that is the key.

And it has to be the key, because the truth is that I am terrible at running. Really awful. After doing it three or four times a week for the last four months, I’ve made so little progress that it’s almost scientifically fascinating. It’s very possible that I’m actually getting worse.

In the interests of transparency and to prove I’m not being all, “poor hopeless me... oh look, I’ve done the Iron Man!”, I will give you actual figures. When I started running in the first week of September, I could just about do 2km. It is now January and I can do 3km. The most I have ever, ever done is 4km, all downhill, and afterwards I lay on the bathroom floor for an hour and wept.

I wept even more when I remembered that miles are bigger than kilometres, and so in London Marathon terms I’ve just about conquered the bit between Buckingham Palace and the refreshment van.

It wouldn’t be so frustrating if everybody else in the world wasn’t also running, and with much more success. Friends who I’ve always fondly assumed were no fitter than me will casually drop in the fact they did 8km before breakfast, and I will gaze at them, wide-eyed, like the mate of the person who discovered fire. Then, worse, they try to give me tips.

“Never stop and walk!” they say. “Stop and walk every three minutes!” they say. “Eat first!” they say. “Don’t eat first!” They say. “Take water!” they say. “DON’T TAKE WATER!” they say, as I regress to year 11 PE mode and bow out of the conversation pleading lady problems and verrucas.

So yes, I’m aiming low. Just to keep on running, a bit, for as long as I can before I fall over. And if all else fails, I’ll fall back on the other resolution - when people ask if the running is going well, I will simply say ‘no’.