Posts Tagged 'Helen Fielding'

January is the New Christmas: Beating the Post-Christmas Blues (and New Year Instagram Guilt)


I feel immense pressure at this time of year.  The insistence of Social Media is that you must embrace the New Year New Me motivation, and make a brand new start on 1st January.  I have so much admiration for all of my friends who over the years have made powerful transitions at the start of the year, such as committing to a strict vegan lifestyle, embarking on a new gym regime, or yoga course.  They show incredible strength, and determination.  The OCD in me (I don’t say that in a light way) compels me to start with a fresh new page on 1st January; new shampoo, new pyjamas, new outfit for work, new diet, new exercise routine, everything fresh and sparking for the new year ahead.  I do always start reading a new book on New Year’s Day, and I always start a new diary, but that’s about all I manage.

Over the years, I’ve tried to find the enormous energy, and mental strength that it takes to make a new start, and have failed.  Last year was Ballet lessons.  This year, I am giving myself a pat on the back.  I truly admire all those people who are commendably starting Dry January, and making significant lifestyle changes.  It is a fantastic achievement to even begin.  However, I very rarely drink, and only ever a couple of glasses of wine.  I have smoked three cigarettes in my entire life (one for a Play on stage), and I have never touched drugs of any kind.  I have been a dedicated and strict vegetarian since I was 7, which will be 27 years this year, which is something I am passionate about, and incredibly proud of, because it has been a difficult road, and still is.  Instead of feeling Insta-Guilt and shame about all the changes that I really don’t have the emotional energy, or physical resources or strength to make, I am going to feel proud of the few things that I have actually done well.  We lose sight of the fact that we have already done things that other people are struggling and striving to achieve, and we should be grateful for that.  Instead of a new me, I want to love the me I already have.  Why does it have to be a new start, instead of building on what we have already struggled to achieve over the last year?  Knocking something down which was hard-won in order to start from scratch isn’t always better than building on what’s already there, because the strong foundations are important.

I am much more of the Bridget Jones school of thought, wonderfully articulated by Helen Fielding.  It isn’t fully explored in the films, but in the books, a great deal of time is given to Bridget’s belief that the New Year should not start on 1st January.  New Year’s Eve leaves most people feeling very hungover.  Even if you’re not lying in vomit, you are most likely very tired.  New Year’s Eve is a big night, for those that choose to go out and celebrate.  It also follows a very stressful December full of shopping, and parties, and writing cards, wrapping, cleaning, tidying, visiting relatives, eating, drinking, going to school plays, and church carol concerts, and then a period of almost two weeks of being cocooned on your sofa, in a warm, rosy glow of Christmas lights, and your Tree, eating mountains of food, living in pyjamas, drinking Snowballs, and being in a glorious bubble with your family and loved ones.  Then, all of that must end abruptly.  Instead of 1st January being a last lovely Bank Holiday to end the festive season with your family, it is filled with back-to-work terror.  Hangovers must be swallowed down, and we are thrust out into a bitterly cold January morning, bleary-eyed, disorientated, and exhausted at 7:00am.  After two weeks of not knowing or caring what day or time it is, and being blissfully unaware of the passage of time, or anything in the outside world, you suddenly have to remember how to get on a train again.  What time is your train? Where is the platform?  Where do you work?  What is your name?  You then go and join the queue of other Post-Christmas Shells in Starbucks or Costa, and can’t remember what to order on your way to work, because you spent November and December drinking Eggnog Lattes, and Caramelised Orange Hot Chocolates, and can’t remember what your usual pre-festive drink is.  2nd January is an extremely cruel day to go back to work.

As Bridget says, it is unreasonable to expect a person to start a new diet or lifestyle on 1st January when they have a house which is still crammed with cheese, and Christmas chocolates, and Advocat, and Pringles.  Unless you are one of those soulless people who tear the Christmas Tree down on Boxing Day, and post pictures of your tidy house while everyone else is still in a mince pie coma, surrounded by wrapper paper, the pressure to suddenly have an immaculate and sparking house, which is all spring-cleaned, and organised on 1st January, feels very monolithic.  I’ve only just done my Christmas Clean on 23rd, and my house is still full of Quality Street wrappers, and ribbon.  Still full of Christmas.  It’s exhausting to imagine having every last bauble swept away by 1st January, but Instagram makes me panic, and feel very inadequate that I haven’t done that.

I am a big investor in what Bridget calls Post-Christmas.  It has become part of my family’s culture.  Rather than a clean slate and fresh start on 1st January, it is more realistic to leave your Tree in-situ until the appropriate day (Epiphany on 6th January), finishing off all your Christmas food and drink, enjoying the last few days of the Christmas Decorations, and lights, catching up on all the Christmas TV Specials, and then making your fresh start in the second week of January.  Over time, this has become my own routine.  7th January feels a much more achievable fresh start.  Although, I am still painfully conflicted, and torn between wanting a shiny-fresh 1st January, and desperately clinging on to tinsel, and my Christmas pyjamas.  I have to slowly methadone myself down from pyjamas to socks, rather than go cold turkey, which is too harsh.

Every year I am always overcome by a terrible grief at the ending of Christmas; an actual physical pain.  It is a mourning for that particular period of two weeks, or even that particular December, and those special memories that I made with my family; the unique and particular way our house was decorated this year, and that specific individual Christmas Tree, which can never be replicated, or brought back from the grave once gone.  Every year, it feels as though Christmas actually dies, and each Christmas is an individual and tangible being that my family create together over the course of six weeks, and it can never be brought back, or felt again in the same way.  No matter how many photographs you take, you will never remember the specific way those lights caught that piece of tinsel over the fireplace at just that angle to make them sparkle, and fill your heart with joy.  Specific joy.

The World looks overwhelmingly, unbearably beautiful; the lights on the houses, the trees in the windows, the shop window displays, and the glorious, emotive packaging of everything in the shops which makes you compelled to buy every single exquisite package, and a year feels like such a long time until it all comes back again, and everything will be dark until then.  Glittering gold is replaced with sludgy grey reality for a whole year.  Well, 11 months.  To try and combat this grief at its passing, and to beat the January Blues, every year I try to make the best of January, and sometimes it can be just as festive and special as Christmas itself.

December is inevitably stressful.  An endless mountain of lists; shopping, wrapping, writing cards, buying stamps, making the last post, juggling parties, and social occasions, and commitments to schools, and clubs, and office functions; visiting relatives, and spending quality time with all the people you either want to, or have to see.  Lists on lists on lists.  On top of all that is also everyday reality; caring for elderly family members, looking after children, household jobs, putting the bins out, and then your actual daily work.  It is exhausting.  Plus, in between all of that, you want to fit in some enjoyable experiences as well; pantomimes, ice skating, and walks in the forest.  Christmas shopping.  There is enough time to do about a third of everything on your list, and it’s things that you can’t just leave.  You can’t decide to just miss somebody off your list, and leave a family member without a present on Christmas morning.   You can’t skip putting your Christmas Tree up.  You can’t skip the massive food shop to buy enough food to keep an army going for a month, when you have three shelves in your fridge, and one of them is taken up by the Turkey.  These things are non-negotiable.  Plus, aside from time constraints, there is also the massive financial strain of making your small amount of money stretch to buy everything you absolutely need, and then you start whittling the list down and down to what you can manage.

After all of that, January can feel like a cool breeze of relief (once you’ve stopped crying that your Mother has taken your Christmas Tree down.)  I try to arrange a few lovely trips out in January to do things which are still festive, and keep that golden glow alive, but in a culturally acceptable way; pantomimes are so special in January, or going to the Ballet, or Theatre, when you can still get dressed up and wear velvet dresses, sparkly shoes, and red lipstick, or lovely winter walks in the forest, or seaside, when you can still wear jumpers.  Sales shopping always feels like a treat after a month of spending every penny you have on presents for everybody else, and you can finally go rogue and treat yourself to something lovely and special; a Post-Christmas present to yourself, and the shops still feel festive and glittering with Christmas remnants.  Perk yourself up with some new perfume, or a pair of shoes.  It brings back that excitement of being a teenager and having Christmas money or gift vouchers to spend, and feeling like a millionaire in Topshop.

Every year, I remind myself that there will still be lights.  You can still have fairy lights around your house, and the crackling Fireplace in Your Home playing on Netflix well into February (March if it snows). You can still curl up under a blanket and read a beautiful book, and this is one of my favourite things in January.  I always have a massive pile of books for December; usually Charles Dickens, Noel Streatfield, and lots of other festive and seasonal reading, but I never get time to read them.  I am always so busy over December and Christmas itself that I always reach 1st January with panic and guilt that I have failed to even break the surface of my Christmas reading mountain.  However, in January I don’t go out anywhere, and I don’t have any presents to wrap, or jobs to do, so I have all the time in the world to curl up and read.  I always get most of my reading done in the first few months of the year.  It’s glorious.

We are ritualistic creatures of habit as humans, especially at Christmas more than any other time, and particularly in my family.  We are obsessive about traditions, and rituals that simply must be carried out every year.  There are particular trips we have to make; certain films we have to watch, special books we have to read, and specific foods that simply must be eaten, and all of this must be done at very particular times and moments.  Every September, I make an actual timetable.  It’s called The Planner, and it runs from September to December, covering Autumn and Christmas.  It’s in a calendar format, and it synchronises every member of the family and their commitments, and work timetables, with all of our activities, trips, and festivities, such as when our Tree will be put up, and the village lights being turned on.  It even schedules the annual viewing of favourite films, so that everybody knows when things are happening.  Everybody gets a printed version, printed double-sided, and stapled together, plus an e-mailed PDF, and a copy goes on the fridge for reference.  I’m not even making this up.  For the months of September to December, the entire family is organised and run according to The Planner, religiously, and uncompromisingly.  Any deviation becomes very stressful.  The Planner means that we have an enjoyable Christmas, and that we pack in all the things we love, maximising time to work around everybody’s commitments, and nothing gets missed or forgotten.  It makes us happy, but it also makes us very anxious, and tired.

Following all that ritual and rigour, and the panic that comes with feeling you may miss something, or run out of time, it does become a blessing that in January you can breathe a massive sigh of relief.  You have no timetable.  There are no particular books that you must read for this season, there are no rules about which films are viewed, or what you’re allowed to eat.  There is no requirement for which outfits you wear, songs you must listen to, or which places or people you simply must visit.  It is a feeling of freedom.  You can do what you want.   January becomes a time to look after yourself, and to indulge in what makes you personally happy.  I would use the phrase “self-care”, but I’d sound like a twat.  December is often referred to as a time of indulgence because of all the food we scoff, and presents we buy, and the sheer scale of expense, and consumption.  However, December is also an exhausting time of sacrifice.  We give up time, and energy, and money to make other people happy.  We look after those around us, or those who are in greater need.  We give every inch of ourselves to other people.  This is particularly true of women.  I really don’t want to be sexist, and this is of-course a wild generalisation, and there are many wonderful and hard-working fathers who make the magic, increasingly nowadays, but look at a mother at the end of Christmas.  Look back over December at everything she has done, and given, and achieved.  You may not see her wrapping presents at 1:00am, or basting a Turkey at 5:00am, or hoovering at midnight, but she did.  You may not see her crying in the kitchen, or struggling to breathe in the car, or counting the last of her money in the dark corner of a shop, but she did.  She fought off panic attacks, and made Christmas magical for her family with every ounce of strength, energy, and sweat she could find.

We give ourselves to other people in December by visiting people we don’t really want to, going to parties that we find boring, and spending all our time and money on finding the perfect presents for our loved ones.  So, in January, let’s indulge ourselves.  Eat your favourite food, wear your favourite pyjamas, light your favourite candle, and discover a new favourite book, or tv programme, or hobby.  Put whatever you want to in your bubble bath, because there is no anxiety about using the correct,  appropriate-for-the-moment Lush bath bomb.  There is new music to discover and fall in love with, now that the constraints of 24/7 Christmas music are lifted, although I never want to stop listening to Band Aid, and Greg Lake.  Go wild in January, and make yourself glow with happiness.  We may not have any money left, but we don’t need it!

* As I finish this very long Ode to January, I’ve made it to lunchtime on 2nd January, and it’s actually okay.  I’m back at my desk, and enjoying getting back into a familiar routine.  I can have whatever I feel like for tea, and watch whatever I want on TV.  There are no rules.  There are no queues in the shops.  The trains are quiet.  After six weeks of carrying so much shopping every day that my arms permanently felt like they were going to fall off, and making cheese and pineapple hedgehogs at 1:30am, I feel relaxed, and free.  It almost makes me forget how sad I am.

I also enjoyed at lunchtime two of the most important annual rituals of Bridget’s Post-Christmas, which have become my back-to-work stalwarts. 1. Spending 2nd January smiling at lingering streamers, and sequins, and party hats, and the still-strewn glittering detritus of New Year’s Eve parties which cling to lampposts, and pavements, and which I actually find beautiful.  2. Buying reduced Christmas chocolates and mince pies from the shops, and eating them at my desk with my sandwich and Diet Coke.

For now, I am going to wallow in my Post-Christmas, and make my new start on 7th January.

Happy January.


Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

There’s no question, if Charles were still married to Diana, and she were still alive, they would make the perfect King and Queen.  Diana was everything a Princess should be, and everything Camilla is not; beautiful, elegant, stylish, down-to-earth, funny, and compassionate.

As is explained absolutely perfectly in Helen Fielding’s The Diary of Bridget Jones, Diana was the embodiment of the 90’s woman.  The normal woman could identify with her; in love and totally screwed over by a man and another woman, left to bring up the children as a single mother (Okay, so I know she wasn’t exactly on the dole and scraping end’s meat, she had a lot of help, but she was still a single mother), battling with insecurity and eating disorders, trying to hold her head up high while the man she loved flaunted his relationship with the woman he had always been seeing behind her back.  Every woman in Britain could see some part of themselves in her, and could respect her as a woman, not just a princess.

The situation is complicated, I know.  Charles was in love with Camilla long before he knew Diana.  He married Diana because he was told to; she was a better prospect to be mother of the future King of England than Camilla, who already had a reputation as sullied goods.  If left to his own devices, Charles would have married Camilla and lived happily ever after.  Perhaps it’s unfair to condemn Charles as the villain, simply because he couldn’t help who he was in love with.  Well, no, but what is fair is to condemn someone as an adulterer when that’s what they are.  Charles should have respected his marriage, his wife, and his children.

As a child of adultery, I know all too well that nothing is worse than parents staying together for the sake of the children.  Unhappy parents are not good parents, and no child wants their mother and father to sacrifice their own life and happiness because they think it’s what’s best for kids.  However, if someone is unfulfilled in a marriage then they should end it for the sake of the other person, and the children, rather than just going off and bedding someone else while they’re pretending to be happily married.  What any decent man should do, if he’s fallen out of love with his wife, is tell her honestly that the marriage is over, move out of the house, and then they can both find someone new in due course.  Perhaps Charles is as much a victim in this as anyone, after all he was just doing his duty by marrying who he was told, and couldn’t help being in love with Camilla.  Well, he could have told her to sod off and never seen her again, couldn’t he?  He did, however, do the selfish thing and kept seeing her.

Frankly, Diana was the best thing ever to happen to the Royal Family.  She made them glamorous, colorful and attractive, she made people interested in them.  She also gave them two wonderful young men.  William and Harry are such fantastic testaments to their mother, who brought them up to be grounded and normal.  We all remember those pictures of them on the log flume at Alton Towers, and the stories of them eating McDonalds.  She said she wanted them to be normal boys, and they are.  They are a credit to no-one but her.  When you hear them speak, they are connected to the real people in the way that she was.  In the way that she astounded us by hugging people with aids and people dying of unpleasant diseases when she was expected just to give them a polite royal nod, William and Harry make us smile by their normal, brotherly banter and down to earth values and manners, all the things Diana taught them.  When she walked through mine fields she shocked the world.  A princess, who had no need to risk her own life, and could quite happily live her life in complete protection, was walking through fields of mines which could potentially kill her.

What’s more, it didn’t feel like a publicity stunt.  Lots of celebrities and people in the public eye do great acts of altruism, but they often feel staged and like they are designed to make us feel positively towards them.  With Diana, it felt genuine.  You never felt Diana was duping you or being publicity-smart.  It always felt totally honest and genuine.  I think, actually, she was.

So, after all this, she died in a car crash in Paris.  The tragedy and injustice of that accident is subject for another blog altogether, and my feelings on that incident run deep.  Whatever we think or believe, Diana died.  Then, some years later, Charles announced his engagement to Camillia.

To be honest, from a personal point of view, I can’t understand how William and Harry can be in the same room as her.  I am always dumbfounded and confused when I see pictures in the paper of the boys laughing and joking with Camilla, perhaps affectionately touching her arm.  They probably have to, to be fair.  When one is a prince, one can’t really make too many decisions when it comes to these things.  I really don’t know whether it would be within their power to refuse a relationship with Camilla.  Part of me hopes it is, because they should have the power to do whatever they like, but then part of me is disappointed, because if I were Diana’s son, I wouldn’t give Camilla the time of day.  They obviously adored their mother and it’s important to them to protect and cherish her memory, so why allow themselves  to be forced into this situation?  Personally, I find the pictures of Harry laughing with Camilla and Kate Middleton at William’s RAF graduation ceremony a blatant and ugly dishonor to Diana’s memory, and an insult to her as a mother.  I only think of how my own mother would feel if she were to see pictures of me behaving so amiably and intimately with the woman who had torn apart her marriage.  The relationship you can see in those pictures isn’t just duty, or doesn’t appear to be.

So, this week Camilla was visiting a children’s centre in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and a child asked her the question; will you ever been queen?  In an attempt to be coy but provocative, Camilla replied; “You never know.”   This comes shortly after Charles was interviewed on NBC in America and to the same question, replied; “That’s well..we’ll see, won’t we? That could be.”

It looks like the two of them are dropping serious hints.  The question is; SHOULD CAMILLA BE QUEEN?

Personally, I think not.  I also happen to think that Charles would make a pathetic monarch, and the role should go straight to William (King William and Queen Kate, yes!).  Should someone who has been so demonstrably pivotal in destroying a royal marriage, be given such an honour?  I, for one, don’t think either of them deserve it.  I think that certainly Camillia, and possibly Charles, forfeited any right to be put in that kind of position.

Adultery and home-wrecking aside, Camilla is divorced.  I realise that it’s an outdated and unrealistic view, in the 21st Century, to believe in such old-fashioned, religious values, and I don’t.  When it boils down to it, I don’t really care whether someone is divorced or not.  However, on December 10, 1936, King Edward VIII gave up the throne of England, abdicating so that he could marry the woman he loved, Mrs Wallis Simpson, a divorced American woman with no royal connections.  Edward made the choice between love of Mrs Simpson, and the power of being King, because it was unacceptable for the King to marry a divorced woman.  If Edward was given no choice but to make that sacrifice; throne or love, should Charles?  Is it fair, in 2011, to impose the same rules and views on our royal family, or indeed anyone?    (For more information, see the very popular The King’s Speech).

Perhaps, though, it isn’t about what’s religiously or morally right, or whether it’s acceptable in the eyes of God, to marry someone, or for a divorced woman to be Queen.  For me, it’s about right and wrong.  What I care about in life is the choices that people make.  I think it’s wrong to judge and condemn somebody for, say, being gay, because they have no control over that.  However, when someone chooses to act in a certain way, they should be liable to judgement and condemnation, if they choose something which is wrong, because they consciously made that decision.  Charles and Camilla carried on an affair behind Diana’s back.  They were intentionally and purposely deceitful and dishonest.  They betrayed a wife and two children.  Take away princes and princesses, thrones and monarchies; what you’re left with is a man who comes home to a woman, fresh from another woman’s bed.  He slept with his wife after he’d slept with his mistress.  He lied to his children.  In my opinion, this makes him a dishonest and dishonourable man.  Should this man be king?  As for her, I have absolutely no respect or time for a woman who would knowingly, over years and years, sleep with another woman’s husband.  Love or no, they committed adultery.  Should people like that be our ambassadors to the rest of the world?  Should they hold the most privileged position in the country, be our examples and heroes?  Our monarchy are supposed to represent us to the world, represent what it is to be British.  They are supposed to inspire, comfort and guide us.

How would the ordinary man and woman feel, taking a £10 note out of their pocket, and seeing the face of someone like Camilla?  I believe, in my humble opinion, that it would insult and disrespect not only Diana, but every woman or man in the country who has been betrayed by their partner, and deceived by an adulterous, dishonest villain.

It’s possible, just maybe, that the attack on Charles and Camilla’s car in December, during the student fee’s protests (which, incidentally, took place while I was having dinner just across the street), was a window into a future of discontent with the royal family.  Taking away the fact that it was Charles and Camilla, I did feel sorry for them.  A man and woman, in their sixties, were terrified, trapped in the back of a car, in the middle of an enraged and violent crowd.  That, whatever the circumstances, and who’s right or wrong, is unfair and terrible.  However, perhaps  not all of the anger directed at that car was connected to the student fees.  Maybe it was an indication of how the country feels about the people who betrayed ‘The People’s Princess’.

What we need, and want, is a Queen we can love.  A woman wearing a black dress, dancing with John Travolta, or walking through land mines, risking her life.  It seems the only people we can lay our hope in is Kate Middleton and Prince William.

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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up ( with your thoughts.

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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Pete Doherty,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Will it ever be alright for Blighty to have a Queen Camilla?

One less tree from our window each day

Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road

Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

Share book reviews and ratings with Vikki, and even join a book club on Goodreads.


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