Beating the January blues

It’s arrived. The credit card bill from hell and, along with it, the January blues. Apparently, the second Monday in January is officially the most depressing day of the year, but, frankly, most of January is a challenge for me.

Once the house has been de-Christmassed, which I start to look forward to after Boxing Day and is like a really good trip to the tip with a car full of crap (or, indeed, a crap full stop), it’s not long before I realise I have seriously overdone the credit card spending.

I could feel it coming, and the last few transactions just before Christmas sort of made me wince, but by that stage they were of a turkey nature rather than tartan place settings, if you know what I mean. Something, therefore, had to be done.

The first economy drive has involved hitting customer refunds in a big way. Obviously unwanted gifts have gone back, but this year I have been bolder.

Yes friends, I have taken clothes back I have worn and one of the huge advantages of being of a certain age (whatever the hell that means) is that you look respectable enough to get away with it. Either that or you look like you might go off like an unexploded WWII bomb if you don’t get what you want.

Consequently, people in the refunds department tend to give me the benefit of the doubt. I’ve got it down to a fine art. Fold it, iron it, save the label and distract them once they’ve got it out of the bag and are giving it a looking over. Don’t go overboard with excuses, in fact, no explanation at all is better than blurting out a short story since nobody gives a shit about why you are bringing it back, least of all the person manning the Front.

Better still, choose the assistant that looks the most gormless since gormlessness in some customer situations is a plus, unlike the normal weighing up of lanes in the supermarket to avoid someone who might be challenged to know the difference between a cauliflower and a mop head. This means it’s the one instance where it pays to dodge the older assistants since, in my experience, they are always called over to deal with tricky situations and are, by definition, more clever.

Then once the deal is done, try not to punch the air as you walk away and, more importantly, try not to immediately buy something else you don’t really need with the money saved.

“Yes friends, I have taken clothes back I have worn and one of the huge advantages of being of a certain age, whatever the hell that means, is that you look respectable enough to get away with it.”

Secondly, I have instigated the annual cost-cutting exercise on the food front. I’ve challenged myself to eat up the contents of the freezer since most of it is a jumble of furry white bags that could be either raspberries or mincemeat, and turn out to be liver. By the weekend we will be on to the two tins of Cullen skink, which the old man chose to buy unsupervised before we went decimal and have moved house with us twice. He might get a larger portion of that than I do.

I am even determined to make a dent in the pearl barley this year, although so far I have not found a recipe that uses more than a handful at a time and I seem to have bought a kilo of it. Ridiculous, since the size of the credit card bill amounts to about six months’ worth of shopping at Sainsbury’s, but somehow it makes me feel better.

Obviously, there is also a diet regime in place. Since it’s illegal not to be on a diet in January. I have chosen a no-sugar, no eating between meals and no-bread regime as my torture of choice this year, which means I am only able to eat cardboard on alternative Thursdays, but perhaps I will be in the petite section of John Lewis for the spring collection.

Yes, well we all know that is not going to happen but I might at least have a waist measurement that is no more than half my height, as apparently this is a much better way for older people to monitor whether they are likely to develop diabetes and dementia and losing two inches around the waist feels more achievable than a stone… but it’s early days…

The January gloom has not been helped by friends who are a couple of years older than me announcing that this is the year that they get their state pension. Yippee. Not me. I fall into the hideous tranche of women whose pensions have been ‘delayed’ by seven years. There is bugger all for me for ages, not even a bus pass.

I shall have to get myself a table at the end of the drive making lace edged hankies. And as for my own daughters, they might as well give up on the idea of a pension at all.

At least the snowdrops will be up soon.

This article first appeared on Standard Issue.

The beauty of silence

I recently booked myself in for a silent retreat at the local Carmelite Monastery. I say that like it’s something I go to often like my local Sainsburys. I needed a dose of inertia, stillness, recalibration or basically just a rest. A result of too much to do, too quickly with no time to do nothing. The silent bit of it intrigued me. How would I be without conversation for a weekend?

The itinerary was very precise. You arrive at 6.30 on Friday night and leave after lunch on Sunday with some talks and Mass to go to (not compulsory). My room reminded me of being a fresher at university but without the LPs and cheap wine. A single bed, a sink, and a chair and a Bible obviously. I had brought with me a heavy schedule of books to finish, to-do lists to polish up (old habits die hard) and some serious thinking about how my life should be going, and was not.

The food was much better than I had anticipated, sort of school dinners at their best, served I noticed at a hatch already plated up since having to pass the sprouts to one another would have involved speech or at the very least communication.  What was wonderful was not having to make small talk, to have to find out where people had driven from and what they to do (or did) for a living. Marvellously liberating leaving me free to day dream and eat in peace. Just eating in silence and going out for a walks in the winter sunshine was thoroughly good for me. The talks given by the monks were surprisingly thought-provoking, the silent prayer really also rather restorative although not something I normally do. But this wasn’t normally.

The evenings were a bit of a challenge .Once you had eaten your supper by 7pm there was nothing to do except read, ponder, or sleep. I was asleep by 9pm both nights and slept immeasurably better than normal. Perhaps I should have been a nun. I can see that as institutional life goes it is probably the best on offer, and I have a feeling that once I enter into my seriously senior years, institutional life might start to be a distinct possibility. I commend the retreat as a re-charging exercise, and next time I am going to take even less to do, which perhaps indicates it sort of worked.