In a Word... Misery

January should not be the month of suffering

You can stop now. No point in pretending any more. It’s almost the middle of January and you know and I know, and I know that you know that I know, that those new year resolutions are, by now, one big fat (can I say that?), painful joke!

Look at you! You haven’t lost a gramme.

No drink, no sweet stuff, 10k a day (before breakfast!), really? As tennis ace John McEnroe used say: “you cannot be serious?” And don’t give me that Samuel Beckett guff about “failing better”. You’re not from Foxrock, where everything – even failure – is better.

Why do people do this to themselves? Why this overindulgence in masochism through the darkest, longest, most miserable month of the year? Is it that innate Puritanism evident in so many Irish people who believe that balance means suffering equal and opposite punishment for every pleasure enjoyed?

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Would it help If I reminded you that Cromwell was a Puritan? I’m not suggesting you slaughter the population of Drogheda, however tempting. I had in mind those grimly ascetic folk who shun even the simple pleasures in the belief this greatly enhances their chances of eternal life. Misery as investment.

So, you made a pig of yourself at Christmas and New Year. Don’t most people? And what else would you do in midwinter “when icicles hang by the wall and Dick the shepherd blows his nail ... and milk comes frozen home in pail ...” Not to forget “greasy Joan” keeling the pot. (Remind me never to eat there).

Lookit. Instead of punishing ourselves in these months of long nights and fey days we should do the opposite. Let us indulge. In this paper last Monday the gastronomic guide Gunter’s Oracle 1830 was quoted to heartening effect and easy approval in an article by Melanie McDonagh.

“January is perhaps of all the months of the year the most favourable to the enjoyments of the table” when “a householder must either give good and frequent dinners, or permit himself to be thrown without the pale of society,” it said.

It’s the time of year “when the appetite is both excellent and discriminating, the dinner must be abundant and admirable – anything short of these qualities ... in January is a moral assassination.”

A sanity clause. Yet here we are 193 years later thirsting, fasting, running. “Mad, Ted!”

Misery, from Latin ‘miseria’, for `wretched’, `pitiable’.

inaword@irishtimes.com