Austerity January: How was it for you?

A Winter Dawn

January is never many people’s favourite month and this year, at the onset of  of Austerity 2012, it was forecasted to be even worse than normal for most people.  Indeed, each year we are reminded that the middle Monday in January (this year the experts couldn’t quite agree if Blue Monday would be the 16th or 23rd) is the most depressing day of the year.  So,on this, the last Monday of January, how was the most miserable month for you?

When wishing the days of this, or any other month, away as quickly as possible, I am always reminded of my grandmother’s repeated maxim: “Life isn’t a rehearsal girl; make the most of every day you can because you’re a long time dead.” But, for as long as I can remember, the short, bleak days after New Year, when the decorations come down and the weather usually worsens, have always been a time to endure, not enjoy.

However, this year, having given up the day job and now in a position to determine my own days, I was actually relieved to leave the artificiality of the festive period behind and looked forward to the new year as a new beginning. And I have not been disappointed.

Dawn and Dusk: having foregone the daily commute, I have been able to appreciate the two best periods of a winter day; sunrise and sunset. Most of us miss sunrise in the spring and summer because we are not up and about early enough, but in January, the sun rises around 8am and maybe it’s because of the sun’s low trajectory in the sky, or the lingering morning mists, but there is always a mystical wonder to a winter sunrise. And at the end of the afternoon, the pink pastiche in the south western sky can transform even a Midlands gravel pit into a Turneresque landscape.

Sunset's Pink Pastiche

The Weather: for the traditionally worst month of the year, it actually hasn’t been that bad. Although the mild temperatures have tricked some wildlife into believing it’s spring and the rain has turned fields into quagmires, at least heating bills should benefit.  And the short cold snap towards the middle of the month provided some ideal walking conditions, along with stunning frosty vistas.

January at the Movies: cold, short days provide a great excuse to escape to the cinema and the last three weeks have seen the release of some estimable movies. Warhorse defied the hype, a pocketful of hankies and my misgivings about surviving a sad animal film to at least remind us of the heroic sacrifices of animals in warfare and the enduring relationship between man and beast. The Artist is a gem that only the most miserable curmudgeon could dislike (Uggie the dog for the oscar) and, much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed The Descendants, where George Clooney gives his best performance yet – and despite the greying hair, Hawaiian shirts and flip flops, he’s still worth looking at.

Living on a Budget: yes, even that has had upsides! Having to think about, and justify, what I spend for the first time in over a decade has certainly made me much more financially disciplined. But, it has also encouraged me to be much more inventive. And January is the ideal month to experiment with new recipes for comfort food and more efficient ways to cook them. Waitrose, for example, has introduced a range of ‘forgotten cuts’ of meat like brisket and silverside that can be cooked slowly and more economically, as in this delicious pot roast recipe from Delia: And, as a strange Scot who doesn’t like traditional haggis (or whisky either!) this tasty (and cheap) recipe for vegetarian haggis resulted in a memorable Burns’ Night.

Misty Shadows on a Frosty Dawn

Ditching the Car: no more commuting and not as much money = thinking very carefully about when and if I need to drive. During January my total car mileage was 90 miles and that included one trip to a medical appointment at a location far off a bus route and one journey to transport friends to the cinema. Now the wrist has mended and I’m back on the bike, I can cycle to the market and do the bulk of my food shopping online.

One important task for the next few months is to assess whether I can get rid of the car altogether – not easy living seven miles from a station and without a decent bus service. Maintaining a car is going to be the biggest drain on my resources, and that’s not just because of petrol costs. Pedestrians’ charity Living Streets has highlighted research from the Department of Transport  showing the fixed costs of car ownership are now around £40 per week – about £10 per trip if you only use the car two or three times a week.

Assignments for February and beyond then, now include helping Sustrans maintain and improve the local cycle routes and lobbying for car clubs and neighbourhood car rental schemes in my locality

So, at the end of January, the cold, rosy-fingered dawn of 2012 has opened up some new, exciting possibilities. How has it been for you?

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