Blue, blue, blue, very blue ... What’s that you’re saying? Speak up. Remove the blankets from your head. Look at me. Engage. What? So you don’t feel like doing anything? Nonsense…. Rise and shine, a new week looms, I mean, beckons… life is good “ish”… it is January, first month of the year and the sun is shining.
Well, no, it’s not. It’s raining, the sky is grey, severe weather warnings continue, abandoned Christmas trees are still being towed away, ice, hailstones, the car won’t start and you’ve no gloves. Is your nose always that red? The next payday is still a long way off and the last payday is a forgotten memory. January is not really a month, it’s an eternity and stuck right in the middle of this grim expanse is today, Monday 19th, Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year, or so the psychiatrists have decided.
Only we already knew that, the blanket, pull it down, back off your head. Today is a major test of character. You can stay in bed or crawl to the nearest TV, and seek comfort from your box set of Homeland (it's even more cheerful than Blue Monday) or you can dream about having a blind date with Kermit the Frog, or any willing amphibian who happens to be available.
Dreaming about romance with cartoon characters can, however, prove frustrating. There is also of, course, some limited satisfaction to be derived from leaping about singing that song from Frozen, Let it Go, but can you actually sing? Remember the movie version of Les Mis? Considering the difficulties of confronting January at the best of times, and today, the worst of times….on Blue, Blue Monday, a suggestion comes, appropriately from Spain, which can't possibly be as depressing as in the more northerly regions of Europe.
Seek out a copy of The Adventures of Shola by the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga who wrote it in Euskera before translating the four individual stories into Spanish. Mikel Valverde's illustrations are most expressive and the English translation comes courtesy of the great Margaret Jull Costa. If anything can succeed in hauling us through this most blue day of dark days, it is this book with its suitably bright yellow cover – remember the sun?
Why this book? I hear your muffled query come from under the blankets. That is too easy to explain. Shola is one of the most impressive heroines of the modern world. She is small, opinionated, slightly delusional – no matter – and forthright. Above all, she possesses imagination. She is a city dog, with city ways, and she controls her master, an easygoing fellow by the name of Grogo who does the cooking and manages the house while Shola watches television and engages on wonderful fantasies. Her approach to life appears to have been influenced by Walter Mitty.
Anyhow, when Grogo is visited by a friend who has been travelling in Africa, where he saw lions, the visitor speaks about the daring of the King of the Jungle. Although dozing in the best armchair, Shola overhears this and of course, immediately identifies with the lion. She even convinces herself that she too had once been golden, like the lion. This goes on for a while. “Yes”, she thought at last, “it’s all coming back to me. I used to be golden and then, with the passing of time, I’ve become what I am now, a white lion.” (She is a white terrier, never mind) “The same thing happened with one of our neighbours; his hair used to be blond and now it’s white.”
In another of the stories she becomes very excited when her master is invited to a boar hunt. She thinks boars are sheep and, of course, she knows that the wild boars will be terrified of her. Her first trip to a cheese maker in which she attempts to intimidate a country mutt, is no less memorable.
Atxaga is a major writer whose novels include The Lone Man (1993; English translation 1996), The Lone Woman (1996; 1999), The Accordionist's Son (2003; 2007), and Seven Houses in France (2009; 2011). His grasp of the complexities underpinning Shola's lively intellect is most impressive.
While walking through the local park our heroine is approached by an interviewer. The exchange is broadcast causing the long-suffering Grogo to clutch at what is left of his hair as he watches his pet informing the interviewer that she is free. The interviewer presses her; “And in what way are you free?” Shola gazes directly into the camera (she has true presence) and replies: “I do whatever I feel like doing. I eat what I like when I like. I watch television whenever I like. I say what I like. And I go out when I like.”
Such candour! Workers everywhere should listen to Shola, a female of attitude and personal conviction. All-knowing and all-powerful, she is a role model; a little dog sustained by a bewildering and, somewhat, righteous logic who sees herself as a modern day warrior.
Interested in deflecting Blue Monday? The Adventures of Shola could help. You have only your gloom to lose.
The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde and translated by Margarte Jull Costa, is published by Pushkin Children’s Books