THE WORST AND THE WARMEST
It’s official: the third week of January is the worst week of the year, in Britain. We are poorer, more fed up and less optimistic during this week than in any other week of the year. You feel overweight and unhealthy (remember what Jo said); Christmas credit card bills have to be paid; the sun isn’t shining; it seems to rain every day; you can’t quite believe it will ever be hot and sunny again.
But I heard another official statistic on the radio this morning: last night was the warmest January night ever recorded in London. And I can vouch for that. In the morning I went for a short run in the park wearing just T-shirt and shorts (normally, at this time of the year, I have to wear a track suit, a woolly hat and gloves when I go for a run). We had breakfast at a coffee shop in town – and sat outside! Then, in the evening we went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, on the south bank of the Thames in central London.
It was Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. If I ruled the world everyone would have to listen to the third movement of the Rachmaninov every day during the third week of January, every year. You’d have to have a box of tissues handy, of course – it’s so schmaltzy, but it is exquisitely beautiful, too. And you know how easily sentimental music makes the tears flow down my face.
In the interval we went out onto the terrace to recover, and looked across the river. It’s probably the best view in London, the River Thames from Waterloo Bridge at night – so energetic and colourful and romantic. Anyway, forget the romance for a minute: it was actually WARM – at nine in the evening in the middle of January, in London. Come to London in January, and leave your winter clothes at home!
My phone bill arrived yesterday. So did my gas bill. And the bill for Lucy’s new laptop. Aaaggh! Never mind, I won a small Premium Bond prize and got my annual Public Lending Right statement. It’s always nice to get a cheque in the post – however small it might be. Of course, I spent it straight away. On books (Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, and a travel guide to Vietnam), CDs (Polish Spirit by Nigel Kennedy, and a couple of Dvorak recordings) and a DVD (by the Leningrad Cowboys).
Lucy had an exam yesterday, so I called her to ask about it. She was pretty confident about the facts she’d had to learn, but was dissatisfied with the quality of the essay she wrote. Maybe it’s not such a good idea for the university to have exams in the worst week of the year. Or maybe, Lucy, it would be a good idea to do some work before an exam. Or am I just being too much like a dad? (Don’t answer that.) Anyway, it certainly wasn’t the warmest January night ever recorded in St Andrews. But next week it’s Burns’ Night, in Scotland, so no matter how cold it is outside there’ll be plenty of haggis and whisky and dancing to keep everyone warm.
As they say, in Scotland, ‘Slainte!’
And best wishes,
SOME USEFUL WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
fed up (with)
bored or annoyed [informal]
If you say that you can ‘vouch for’ something, you mean that you have evidence from your own personal experience that it is true or correct.
a loose, warm ‘suit’ consisting of a top and trousers, designed to be worn when exercising
section (of a piece of music such as a concerto or a symphony)
nearby; within easy reach
an expression of frustration and panic
Premium Bonds are numbered bonds sold by the (government) department of National Savings, in Britain. Each month a computer randomly selects a number of bonds and the people who own them win prize money. The smallest prizes are £50 and the largest is one monthly £1m prize. I didn’t win that one!
Public Lending Right
A system for paying authors of published books a small sum of money each year for the number of times their books are borrowed from public libraries, in Britain.
a short piece of writing on one particular subject written by a student
Robert Burns (1759-96) is Scotland’s national poet. He wrote, among many other well-known works, Auld Lang Syne – the song we sing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Scots at home and around the world celebrate Burns’ Night, on 25 January every year, with a haggis dinner, bagpipe music and recitations of some of Robert Burns’ poetry.
Scotland’s national dish, haggis is made from oatmeal and the internal organs of a sheep or a young cow, boiled in a bag made of skin – sounds disgusting; tastes heavenly especially with mashed potato and turnip and washed down with the finest single malt (unblended Scotch whisky).
A Gaelic (the native language of Scotland) word for ‘Cheers!’ – it is pronounced, more or less, like this: /slange/.
SOME BOOKS AND MUSIC FOR THE WORST WEEK OF THE YEAR
This week I bought and read, or listened to:
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (Penguin, 2006)
Delicate and brutal, gentle and savage, this novel reminds me a little of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is set on a remote South Pacific island which is threatened by civil war. Matilda and her classmates suddenly find their lives forever changed by a teacher and a great English novel. I think you could read and understand this if you English is from intermediate to upper-intermediate upwards.
Polish Spirit by Nigel Kennedy with the Polish Chamber Orchestra (EMI/Opendisc, 2007)
Nigel Kennedy is a British-born virtuoso violinist who now lives in Poland. On this CD he plays two violin concerti, by Emil Mlynarski and Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (who I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of) and two nocturnes by Chopin. Gorgeous music.
Leningrad Cowboys Collection (DVD) directed by Aki Kaurismäki (Artificial Eye, 2006)
If you’ve never heard of rock and roll band from Finland, called The Leningrad Cowboys, you really must do something about that. Their haircuts are worth buying the DVD for. Don’t expect fine music. Do expect energy and volume: something to blow away the January blues.
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