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24 January 2024

It’s bright January days when I feel most myself

Summer is an endurance test; Christmas is claustrophobia – but the start of the calendar is a wide open space.

By Pippa Bailey

I love January – and not just because it’s my birthday month, and thus an excellent excuse to eat at restaurants whose prices I cannot usually justify. M— took me away for a surprise weekend in Bath, and we spent it drinking hot chocolate and looking at Roman things and catching up on Mr Bates vs The Post Office, and it all felt very comfortably my age (which is 32, since you asked. While I don’t yet mind growing older, it is terrifying that it has already been two years since I wrote in these pages about turning 30.)

As others spend January pulling their piled-on scarves even further up their faces, as if wishing to bury themselves, and chasing away Blue Monday by searching for hotels in Greece with infinity pools, a sense of ease descends over me. A colleague and I made ourselves laugh recently when we stepped out of the office together and, in the same moment that he exclaimed, “God, it’s freezing!” I sighed, “What a beautiful day.” Another suggested I should move to Sweden.

Summer is, for me, a test of endurance. I cannot abide the discomfort of being too hot, and as the mercury rises, so does my anxiety. I can never shake the feeling that I am doing it wrong; that somewhere I am not, other people are having the time of their life. I long for the bright, cold days of winter, when the sharp air wakes me from my stupor. I have never learned how to dress for the heat, never found my summer style – and, trivial as it may sound, when my clothes don’t feel like me, I don’t feel like me either. I long to pour myself into layers of texture and warmth, wool and leather, jumpers and coats. The perfect day for me involves wearing sunglasses and a beanie. I need nothing more from life.

Yet the early weeks of winter are rather spoiled by the threat of Christmas. Only in January, with the show behind us, can I truly enjoy it. Time seems to stretch, and rather than hastening the month’s end, I luxuriate in it. After the claustrophobia of December – the full diary, the expectations, the pressure – January is a wide open space. The days are longer, brighter, but, crucially, not yet warmer. This is weather you can appreciate from indoors, without ever feeling as though you really ought to be out in it. I stretch out a little, and remember to breathe.

My calendar has not yet filled with drinks and appointments and parties. I have done little to change that state of emptiness, and feel no sadness or compunction about it. Instead, I hibernate. As much as possible I leave the house only for essentials – office, supermarket, gym – spending the rest of my hours quietly pottering to a podcast, sorting and clearing, knitting in front of the television. I focus my time and my money on putting nourishing food into my body; on sleep and recovery. I no longer have to make excuses for why I do not much like alcohol any more – dry January provides cover. While others proclaim New Year, New Me, I reach for the old: rewatching, rereading, restoring. (This week: a DVD boxset of the Nineties drama This Life and a copy of Little Women with half the pages unstuck from the spine.)

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I recall reading a very interesting piece in the Atlantic a few years ago in which the writer explored whether it might be physiologically possible for humans to hibernate. The answer was no. Animals enter a state of torpor by dropping their internal temperature so low they burn almost no energy, whereas even small fluctuations in our trusty 37°C equal fever or hypothermia. Even if we could slow our metabolism sufficiently, hibernating animals apparently have guts that have evolved not to rupture and induce sepsis during periods of no, ahem, movement. Yuck.

But even if I could, I would not truly wish to hibernate, to pass unconscious these beautiful blue days. Rather than using the summer to store up energy for the winter, like a dormouse, in these sunglasses-and-beanie days I am fortifying myself for the heat to come. It is an introvert’s preparation for an extroverted life.  

[See also: I would never harm a spider, but a persistently miaowing cat…]

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This article appears in the 24 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Media Wars