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2 March 2022

I have discovered the hard way why Groundhog Day is set in February

At a rough estimate, I'd say the month goes on for six or seven weeks.

By Nicholas Lezard

I write this on 23 February. That’s the date on my laptop and my phone. If my watch with the date indicator on it was working, it would say “23”. If I went out to buy a paper, this information would be confirmed. The only problem is: I don’t believe it. This month has been going on for far more than 23 days. At a rough estimate I’d say it started not long after Christmas. I think it’s entering its sixth or seventh week now and, boy, am I getting sick of it.

I’m not the only person to have noticed this. My friend D— has as well, but then she’s in Leeds, where I imagine winter hangs on for longer than it does in the south. But from her account, the phenomenon is real. She has experienced far fewer Februaries than I have, but D— can still identify the signs of a recursive time loop when she sees one. Is that the term I’m looking for? Maybe the word “recursive” is redundant.

It is a bit, but not wholly, like the amusing film Groundhog Day which, and this is no coincidence, takes place in an eternal February. In the film, which as I write is beginning to look more like a documentary than an imaginative jeu d’esprit, Bill Murray learns how to play the piano, make ice sculptures, and become a decent human being. I have learned none of these things (I could play the piano once, but I’ve forgotten how to), though I suppose it’s never too late.

It’s not as if it’s been a particularly boring month. In fact, relatively speaking, it has been rich in incident. A couple of weeks ago (a couple? Ten? A thousand?), I was standing outside having a smoke and saw a man peering through the gates of houses and calling out what could only have been a cat’s name. (I wish I could remember it; it was rather a good one.) It turned out that his cat had been missing for a couple of days, but he thought he had heard it miaowing. Speaking as a former cat owner, I would say that two days is the stage of maximal panic when it comes to a missing feline. By day three the panic is replaced by a kind of sickening dread. At this point, I heard a miaow, and we tracked it down to the basement area of a house that looked spookily empty – a place of dead branches and overwhelming melancholy, like the house where the mystery happens in Scooby-Doo.

The owner and I had to climb over a couple of sets of railings before we spotted the animal – a rather fine-looking British shorthair. There seemed to be no means of access unless you were already a cat. We contemplated finding ladders (a tricky proposition at 11pm), or knotting sheets together. The owner went off to find someone while I crouched by the gate like a slip fielder in case the cat found a way out and tried to make a run for it.

“Hang on in there, fella,” I called to the cat.

“Miaow!” said the cat. You could hear the exclamation mark.

The owner returned with someone else from his household and together they found a way down to the area. I maintained my position at first slip just in case. Eventually they managed to rescue the cat, and we parted company. I was by this stage alive with adrenalin, but even so I found myself thinking the owner could have been a little more effusive in his thanks. These cats are not cheap: we’re talking the thick end of a thousand quid here. And that’s before you even get to the emotional claim they have on you. Oh well.

The other things that happened in February both happened on the same night. (Not the cat night.) Again, it was late, around midnight this time. I went outside for a smoke – sometimes I think that if I didn’t smoke, or didn’t have to go outside for a smoke, absolutely nothing would ever happen to me – and I spotted what looked like the largest meteor I had ever seen streaking across the sky, northwards, towards the Sussex Downs. It actually moved more slowly than the word “streaking” suggests. And it was a meteor, not the International Space Station, or a plane, or a functioning intercontinental ballistic missile.

But what made this remarkable is that prior to rolling the cigarette before going out, I had tossed a roll-up filter – an affair of sponge about a centimetre long and a quarter of a cm wide – on to my desk, and it landed on its end. And stayed there. I took a photograph, although a cynic and a naysayer would say that I had simply staged it. Let me swear on all that is good and holy that I did not. This was almost as good as the time I saw my toast pop up and land neatly into the other slot of the toaster. But nothing will top that.

So that’s three things that have happened this month. No, wait, there are four: I got taken to lunch at the Regency by an editor and had oysters. And yet this month still seems to have gone on forever. I am going to turn the radio on and will not be surprised if I start hearing “I Got You Babe” belting out from the speaker.

[See also: Laziness is not yet a crime, as far as I know, but when it is, I’ll be locked up for it]

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This article appears in the 02 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Hero of our Times