I was having a few "deep" thoughts -- death, morality, war and such -- but mostly I was thinking about my melancholy task, the upcoming January birthday season, my complete inability to keep to my New Year's resolutions (already!) and the defensive driving class that I took last night.
For me, January is the cruellest month -- never mind what T.S. Eliot said.
My living room looks so spare and empty without the Christmas greenery and baubles -- and the landscape outside my windows is equally drab and uninviting. I know that the post-holiday letdown will eventually follow the burst bubble of seasonal anticipation, but my feelings about it are just as fresh every time. Equally predictable? The fact that my eager decorating helpers (ie, children) will be suspiciously scarce when it comes to the Christmas shakedown.
The next three weekends will be given over to birthdays - mine, then youngest daughter's, then Sigmund's. Interspersed between these are the birthdays of an extraordinary number of friends, other relatives and godchildren. You would think that we made some pact to only consort with January babies. It's like Christmas all over again, but I've already used up the good gift ideas.
I have pretty much the same feelings about my birthday as I do about New Year's Eve: I would prefer ignoring it, but on balance it makes me feel worse to do nothing about it than something. My birthday often falls on the first day back to school -- appropriate, as it always has something of that cold, achy and unwilling quality to it. One of my childhood birthday parties had to be cancelled because of snow -- statistically improbable in central Texas -- and I've been emotionally guarded about the day ever since. Sadly, my children's birthdays -- which I once did enjoy -- now have a similarly feet-dragging quality about them. I still like making the birthday cake, but other than that, they seem to be a complex negotiation involving How Much? and How Many? I find that mass sleepovers have little to offer the parent.
Honestly, I'm in a bad position regarding gift-receiving. We opened nearly all of our presents on December 13th, before we left for the Bahamas, and none of them have been formally thank-you noted. As with emails, I find it best to "strike" when the gift (and gratefulness) are still fresh. A tardy thank-you note just always feels stale -- both for the giver and the recipient.
And that reminds me: I haven't done a durn thing about catching up with my emails. I know that developing better correspondence habits is a long-haul kind of resolution, but my start has been so slow that it doesn't bode well for the mid-stretch. I've also broken my promise to Sigmund -- that we would go to bed at a decent (ie, before midnight) time. No matter how much I can acknowledge that going to bed earlier and waking earlier would contribute to better moods and greater productivity, my natural body rhythms are resistant. I could hardly be expected to go bed last night at 11 pm when I had only awakened at 11 am. Right? Also, the six hours lost to my defensive driving course meant that I had hardly experienced life that day.
What was I thinking when I signed up (in November) to take a defensive driving course on Sunday, January 4, from 5 pm to 9 pm? I had nearly forgotten about it altogether, because I still haven't flipped over to the new 2009 calendar. I was shopping in Waitrose, thinking about the nice roast dinner I was going to make for my grateful family (who had been living off of leftovers since January 1st), when it came to me in a blinding and sickening brain-flash. I barely had time to drive home, thrust an already roasted chicken in the general direction of my husband, and speed (well, not literally; this being the crime that I was "done" for) down the motorway to the appointed destination. I suppose that there never is a good time for this sort of thing, but a Sunday night coming off of a holiday seems like a particularly bad time. There was an upside, though. One of the participants, an amazingly chatty Australian, had obviously decided to have a post-holiday clearout -- and had brought boxes of biscuits and Quality Street to pass around. There was also a coffee machine which freely dispensed coffee and hot chocolate -- and all of the inmates took full advantage of this amenity. (The woman behind me drank six hot chocolates -- not that I noticed.) Yes, there was about one hour of information dragged out to fill four, but at least we had snacks.
Artificial group activities are always fascinating to me. Even in a crowd of middle-aged, white people -- yes, we were truly a bourgeois set of rule-breakers -- you could immediately tell who were going to be the talkers, the leaders, the clowns and the non-participants. Temporary bonds form (and antipathies rear up) no matter how limited the interaction. I did learn a few things, though.
- Only 4% of collisions occur on motorways. You really need to watch out for the intersections and rural roads.
- There are approximately 300 speed cameras in the Thames Valley, but only 30 or so will be actually working at any given time. They get moved around. Apparently, it costs about 30,000 pounds to install each one, but they can't afford to keep them all running at the same time as there would be too many offences to deal with.
- There were slightly less than 3000 fatalities in 2007 - the lowest number since 1934. A dubious sort of progress.
- You will be offered a defensive driving course if you don't have any points on your license, and if you were not going more than 10 miles over the speed limit. After completing your course, you get a "clean slate" again. My criminal record has now been expunged . . . I suppose that's some kind of January progress.