January is always the worst time of the year. A combination of the post-Xmas blues and the miserable weather combines to make it a depressing month. All your friends are too broke to go out or are on some sort of new year resolution to not drink. All the work that was put off until after Xmas is now due. Its weird how a January deadline seems so far away in December. Of course 2009 has the added bonus (or is that unbonus) of the so called credit crunch aka the new depression.
So its times like this that I think Julie Andrews had the right idea. You know what I'm talking about. 'Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens' and all that stuff. Basically for anybody who's never seen 'the Sound of Music' when the dog bites or the bee stings Julie simply thought of a few of her favourite things and she was ok again (of course if you really are bitten by a dog I suggest you consider anti rabies shots or at least a tetanus jab as well).
So taking a leaf out of her book here are a few of my favourite things:
I've got to start with food and really it could be a whole host of different things. The dustbin lid sized pizzas we had in Rome; that coriander sauce they do with the poppadums in Akbars or even Green & Black 70% cocoa chocolate. Ultimately though it has to be fish and chips. There are rules though:
The fish must be haddock
There must be no skin on the fish
The shop has to be based in West Yorkshire (Ossett, Wakefield or Leeds) even in Sheffield they have no idea how to cook this particular dish - although the exception that proves this particular rule is the beautiful haddock and chips I once had in Kirkwall.
The only condiments that should be required are salt and vinegar. Tomato ketchup, brown sauce & curry sauce all have their place but this isn't it. As for gravy - only a Lancastrian could consider this!
Optionally the food may be served with scraps (aka bits or batter or whatever your local name for this is).
My next favourite thing is a time of the week. That time is Friday evening. The working week is done and Monday is so far over the horizon you can't even see it. The weekend is alive with possibility. And that's just a bog standard Friday. The Friday when you are on holiday for the next week is even more special. In fact do you remember the feeling on that Friday where you were on the cusp of your Summer holidays? Of course every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In this case the converse of the Friday night feeling is that moment when you're slumped in front of the telly on Sunday evening and 'Songs of Praise' comes on. Even now at the age of 43 I have that primeval kid's panic - have I done my homework?
Anyway back to positive thoughts. My next thing is one of those things that often crops up in those newspaper articles listing twenty ways to improve your life (number one stop reading lists of ways to improve your life..). Its simply smiling at people. Of course as with all things there's an art to this. I can't really explain but you've not got to try too hard. There's nowt like a maniacal grin from a stranger for scaring the life out of people. Best to avoid winking and attempting small talk as well. Just simply attempt a bit of eye contact and a nice natural smile. More often than not your subject will return your smile which really gives you a warm glow. That feeling of something momentarily shared with a fellow human being. Please though pick your subject with care. I don't want any emails from people who've been followed home by their local alkie. Also boys just because they smile back it doesn't mean they want to marry you and have your babies!
Having done food I've got mention drink. On a cold crisp night after a bracing walk to the pub (possibly from the door of the taxi) there's nothing like that first pint. To most overseas people the idea of warm beer is anathema. But just as red wine should be served at room temperature the same is also true of a good British bitter. In the warmth of the cosy pub with your favourite people (or failing that the wife). I'll swiftly gloss over the next seven pints and the accompanying hangover the next day.
Finally my most contentious favourite. Anybody who is a parent will strongly disagree here but spending a short period of time (I can't emphasise enough that the key here is a short period of time) with my nephews and/or nieces can be quite life affirming. There's nowt like dealing with kids for taking you out of your rut and giving you a different perspective. Before you know it your breaking your back as you try to give support to a not quite walking toddler; singing nursery rhymes that you were sure you couldn't remember; or trying to make up a story on the spot. Obviously once the nappies need changing its time to hand 'em back over (and that's just the teenagers!).