It's one of those throwaway questions you say at the start of a conversation. 'How are you doing?' and 99.9 percent of the time the answer will come back with a fairly positive, 'Fine, thanks'. No matter what's going on in your life, no matter how much you feel like curling up in a ball and crying or, alternatively, singing from the rooftops with glee, that nonchalant, somewhere in the middle answer is the one that falls most often from people's lips.
But over the last month, since the sequins and sparkles of Christmas were once again packed away and since we realised that our release from the restrictions of Covid-19 wasn't a done deal as we entered 2021, I can't help but notice a change in those responses. Pose the question now and you're more likely to hear a slightly more negative response, such as, 'As good as can be expected', or even, 'Uck, you know' and I think it's fair to say, we all do…
I don't mean to wish time away as I'm all too conscious that it's a precious commodity, but that feeling of being in the midst of an entire community caught in the grip of the January blues has left me delighted that we've finally reached the 30th today. Only one more day to go and then we're free of it for another year.
January is always a hard month to struggle through, with the dark nights, the cold, frosty days and the arrival of the credit card bills from Christmas looming on the horizon. Those big, stuffed envelopes are as welcome as a boot to the bottom and just as painful when they're posted through the letterbox, landing with a heavy thud on the mat. For these reasons and more I have always detested January, a month which, although the calendar says lasts for 31 days, usually feels as though it might actually be double that in duration.
With all that's been going on, or rather, not going on this year, it has felt interminably longer, as though the last 30 days have somehow stretched into years. It's also proved to be a month of extremes with everyone around me finding themselves either unable to eat or unable to stop eating. The same goes for sleep. Friends and family are either in hibernation mode, sleeping around the clock, or like myself, watching the hands on the clock face move slowly through the wee small hours as sleep eludes me. Thank goodness we're almost out the other end of this depressing month! Just tomorrow to go and then we're into February, to the promise of happier times, with (fingers crossed) an early spring just around the corner and flower buds beginning to pop up in the garden. We've also got Valentine's Day in the not too distant future, distracting those romantic souls who're in the grip of a new love, who'll spend days and weeks planning a grand show of their ardour and affection for their paramour. It'll also divert those of us who've been together with, or married to, our partners for a long time, though possibly not for quite the same duration. Exactly how long does it take to select a card in the supermarket on the way to the vegetable aisle?
The one redeeming feature January has for me every year, is that it's when I get to celebrate my son's birthday. He turns 13 this year, today in fact, though of course the party we had planned for him officially becoming a teenager has been thrown out the window.
Instead of a day out with his pals and a birthday tea with the extended family tonight, he's stuck in the house with just his sisters and parents for company. Easy going lad that he is, he's taking it all in his stride.
He may be a product of this most depressing month, but it certainly hasn't affected his personality. He's one of those permanently happy souls, with a smile as wide as a mile and a bear hug on offer for anyone who needs it.
I'm glad to say that as his mum, I get to reserve first position in the queue. Nothing can extinguish the January blues like a hug with my birthday boy!