Belfast Telegraph

Why we need a face-to-face conversation about coping with January

By Jane Graham

Cold, unfriendly, soulless, financially vengeful - January is the Devil's month. Actually no, because although long-term chumming up to him is a bad idea if you're not into eternal damnation, at least the Devil knows how to throw a party and, in fact, according to his self-appointed representatives on Earth, has all the best tunes.

He certainly has a few Stones classics on his jukebox. January has no tunes. No disco balls. No fun. It has no redeeming features other than its habit of finally giving way to the plucky snowdrops and emerging afternoon light of February.

There are ways to combat January's curse, beyond a roaring fire, thermal pyjamas and whisky. Many of us find our instinct is to hibernate in a melancholy fug for four-and-a-half weeks, but as is usual, the answer is to do the opposite of what is easiest. In order to turn the January frown upside down (yes, I did just use that phrase; yes, I retain the right to be heard), we must make January the month of face-to-face conversation. What better way for a frostbitten nation of smartphone-addicted eye-avoiders to make a positive out of a month during which we are forced to stay indoors with other people?

We already know that face-to-face conversation is dying a death. A quick glance around the pub tells you that. Coffee house collections of buggy-bound new mums - once a buzzy hub of scatalogical anecdote exchange and salacious salty gossip - can now be observed operating in silence, as heads bob over regularly pinging mobile devices.

Even politicians, once masters of bon mot-adorned one-to-one verbal combat, are at it. David Cameron had to chastise his old friend, spectacle-wearing MP of the year Michael Gove this week, for bringing his mobile phone into a Cabinet meeting and then appearing not to know how to shut it up when it interrupted Dave's golden drops of wisdom with a hearty trumpeting of what has been described as 'Jazz FM style' merriment. Teacher's pet Danny Alexander then told Mr Cameron that he'd seen other Cabinet members looking at their phones while the important PM was speaking, and the let-down leader had to reiterate his rule banning all such devices from the room.

Ironic really, as Dave himself is currently rejecting invitations to take part in TV debates with his peers before the General Election. Perhaps he fears he's lost the art of talking to other people and sounding anything other than vacuous. His struggles with the bowed heads of covert phone smugglers in cabinet meetings can't have helped.

I imagine it was with all this in mind that Mel (Giedroyc) 'n' Sue (Perkins) launched their brand new live afternoon TV chat-show this week. From a warm and cosy January-battling Ikea-style studio - big sofa, brightly patterned cushions, smell of coffee and Victoria sponge - the two old friends invited other nice people like Jennifer Saunders and Gareth Malone to pop in for a Great British Chinwag.

There were no tweets scrolling across the bottom of the screen, no requests for the home viewers to text their thoughts. It was not, surprisingly, a revival of the Parky-style penetrating two-way - there were no awkward pauses after difficult questions, no personal revelations. It was just four garrulous jolly people talking at speed; a kind of Graham Norton-lite, but more girly and less potty-mouthed. Twee or not, it brought a little chat-based sparkle to the gloomy twilight blues of this cruel month. Maybe we should all, from the PM down, resolve to do the same.

All men would love to be Jack the Lad

There must have been many women in two minds hearing Jack Nicholson say this week he “yearns” for “one last romance”, but fears his playboy reputation won’t allow it.

He’s a wobbly 77 now, but the image of the hellraising lothario who broke hearts like they were matchsticks persists, he says, making potential partners unwilling to trust him.

Part of me feels sad hearing an elderly man confess his loneliness and longing for a love affair he thinks is out of reach.

But part of me knows there aren’t many men under 40 who wouldn’t swap places with the young Jack for the price of a quiet old age.

Give us cures not crass comments

Nothing sums up the weak, rudderless, PR-led approach of today’s politicians better than the observations of Royal Society president and Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Dr/Sir Paul Nurse this week.

Nurse, a level-headed and fair-minded kind of genius, says MPs are “cowardly” in their refusal to acknowledge scientific evidence around touchy subjects like drugs because they don’t think the public, blissfully ignorant of the facts, can handle the truth. He also says anti-immigration rhetoric is putting eminent scientists off coming to the UK, affecting crucial medical research. But hey, who cares about cancer breakthroughs when there are gullible, ill-informed voters to seduce?

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