It's the Year of the Rooster, and I'm somehow excessively aware of the fact. My corner shop has been flogging Chinese lanterns; I felt moved to buy the kids a beast-infested gold-on-red New Year's card; noodles were being boiled to glue at my son's school, and the offspring in question greeted me at home-time in a rooster mask. So rooster-happy did I feel that by the evening, meeting my old friend Maggie McKernan in London's Chinatown and admiring the illuminated floating streamers on Gerrard Street, I was surprised when she told me that it was also Ash Wednesday. Even after a half-hearted pancake-toss, I'd forgotten that it was Lent, or that Jesus got up to anything remotely Jesusy at this time of year.
This seems to me like a perfectly average response to today's religious climate. As a youngster at a mud-and-thickoes C of E primary school in the Somerset sticks, I was excitingly, shamefully out on a limb as the only member of my class not christened. Leap forward three decades, and I'm off visiting a monolithic barracks of a church to see a potential nursery for my daughter.
Passing a leaking and box-filled nave, I glimpsed the dark little side room with 1950s curtains and a bunch of plastic flowers where the congregation now worships. A row of chairs was lined up in front of a makeshift altar. It made me want to weep for the few faithful, huddling in their shady corner as though celebrating an outlawed religion. Who'd have guessed that Christianity would become an almost illicit practice, a bootleg faith?
I take a cheerfully pantheistic, mildly celebratory approach to it all, from the glittery Diwali candleholders that we grateful mothers accepted to the odd bit of Nativity activity. But we are not quite as inclusive as we like to think. What's the betting we'll never be marketed Eid cards?
So Charles and Camilla are going to do rude things to each other officially now. Big it up for the loved-up oldsters, I say. But we can be chuffed for them and still decry the lamb-to-the-slaughter tragedy that preceded it. Lady Di was a Sloane teen too young to realise that royalty and toffs shag when and whom they please. If I were Di, I'd give the royal couple a good old panda-eyed haunt as they bray their vows. Go on, Di, vibe some icy shivers down the aisle. On the other hand, a ghost isn't really required when there's that handsome rugger-bugger of an older son at large as a mini-me Di, haunting them with his beauty genes for ever.
I've spent most of the week sitting up in bed in my glasses and dressing gown in a tearful deadline panic as I comb the page proofs of my forthcoming novel. "How exciting!" the uninitiated squawk at the glamorous activity of scanning one's own typeset phrases for errors, but if they could see the true, speccy squalor of the writer at work, they would feel a satisfying surge of pity and horror.
This is a novel about disturbing secrets and infidelity. I used to worry that readers would imagine the desires it describes were inspired by my own darkly unfaithful ways, but if they could see my current unloved-swot-mid-nervous-breakdown look, they'd realise I wouldn't be in with a chance.
At the weekend, I wandered up to Hampstead Heath to the Kenwood Women's Pond, that slime-and-heron-filled haven where you can swim to the whisper of bulrushes, and then visit a West End gallery a half-hour Tube ride away. Its very existence fills me with lashings of joyful, neighbourly pride - its rural/ metropolitan setting (or "rus in urbe", in the local, somewhat educated, lingo) a true miracle. Now that the bastards are threatening to charge an entry fee for our stinky, oak-rimmed puddle of nature, I suddenly love it with a tiresomely shouty passion. Free mud, OK?
And even dipping a toe in the winter slime reminds me with an icy start of the achievements of Ellen MacArthur. I wish the press would leave off. She's either too media-savvy or she's media-shite; she's a technologically assisted automaton, or she's a dreary old whinger. And she's not half as good as that Francis Chichester. It's because she's a she and she's got a dyke's haircut, isn't it? That's the sum of her sins. Can it, landlubbers.
Joanna Briscoe's novel Sleep With Me will be out from Bloomsbury in July