Go away, January: self-improvement makes me think about death

’Tis the season to hurl our grubby cushions on the bonfire, to stand in front of the dusty mirror holding our midriffs in our capable hands

“I read it while wiping Yuletide entrails (squashed gnome, turkey carcass, orphaned pine needles) from the soles of my festive boots and wondering how soon I could decently incinerate the Christmas tree.” Photograph: Remko De Waal/EPA

“I read it while wiping Yuletide entrails (squashed gnome, turkey carcass, orphaned pine needles) from the soles of my festive boots and wondering how soon I could decently incinerate the Christmas tree.” Photograph: Remko De Waal/EPA

Fri, Jan 10, 2014, 01:00

I’m in two minds about buying a “No junk mail” sticker for my front door: sometimes the glossy flyers and crumpled missives that land on the mat are just too poetic to risk losing, like the leaflet that popped through the letter box on New Year’s Day, which read, “Cleaning, dusting, ironing, etc. Cheap, pedantically and reliably”.

I found it sitting on top of the sodden cardboard box of empties that had been filling up exponentially by the front door since about the middle of December. It was a timely missive: I read it while wiping Yuletide entrails (squashed gnome, turkey carcass, orphaned pine needles) from the soles of my festive boots and wondering how soon I could decently incinerate the Christmas tree.

“Cheap, pedantically and reliably.” While I was admiring this eloquently ungrammatical phrase, which conjured up images of some poor sod on less than the minimum wage having esoteric and unfathomable thoughts over the feather duster, my phone pinged with an offer for a cut-price colonic irrigation.

I read the small print: not only did the clinic concerned generously supply the client with a towel to “at all times protect one’s modesty”, it also advised prospective colonic candidates to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink at least eight glasses of water a day in the period leading up to the procedure. (I’d like to point out to the purveyors of the gleaming bowel that if we did all that – drank water and herbal tea instead of warm chardonnay and blue gin, ate pomegranates and loganberries rather than cold stuffing and other people’s leftovers – we wouldn’t need the shagging nozzle in the first place.)

I deleted the message. Having a couple of litres of washing-up liquid flushed around my innards to dislodge the reindeer ingested over Christmas is not my idea of good clean fun.

It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? January: home-improvement time, self-improvement time; time to buy a new sofa and then feel guilty about sitting on it.

’Tis the season to hurl our grubby cushions on the bonfire, to stand in front of the dusty mirror holding our midriffs in our capable hands and wonder how much that roll of flesh would weigh if we were casseroling it. (Don’t tell me you’ve never walked away from a butcher’s counter, a waxed package of pork pieces in your mitt, and thought about all the clothes you could button if that poundage was subtracted from your gut.)

I don’t like self-improvement, it makes me think about death. If I owned a gym I’d call it Limbo; all those bodies sweltering on the racks. One more sit-up, one more abdomen crunch, one more nauseating push-up, and the gates of paradise will open and you too will flock with the angels in Lycra. Forget it, it’s not going to happen.


Bin the leaflet
I deleted the colonic-irrigation offer and binned the leaflet for cut-price cleaning services, adding pedantic dusting to the list of skills I can’t be arsed to acquire (a list that also includes touch-typing, blow-drying, sugarcraft and grouting), and went back to bed to read my book.

I was finishing Richard Ford’s powerful novel Canada, a book featuring a vast landscape tattooed with the delicate ink of human frailty. It was someone else’s Christmas present, but I had nabbed it anyway.

Near the novel’s conclusion the narrator has a poignant meeting in a loud cafe with somebody he once lost, a person who says to him: “We all try. You try. I try. We all do. What else is there?”

Okay, maybe you need to have travelled the long journey with Ford to feel the resonance of those words. They have stayed with me though, as this New Year begins to ignite; once again it is term time and the alarm clock cracks open the night and catapults us into another day. And the kettle is cold in the dark kitchen, and the cat is mewling in indignation because it’s raining again, and she’s a bit shaken-up after Christmas anyway, what with all the long nights of talking around the smudged kitchen table and everyone rolling the past around on their tongues like bitter wine.

So, no resolutions this year, no assaults on the body, no steam-cleaning the nervy cat or bathing in spinach on a wet Tuesday or living on fresh air and rainwater or playing Sinatra to your chakras or whatever the latest fad for eternal youth and beneficence and peace of mind may happen to be for this stormy year.

I’m just going to try. As the man said, what else is there?

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