At this time of the year, the sun rises high enough to shine into my office shed at about quarter past nine; 10 minutes later it disappears behind the house, and then, later still, it sets. Generally those 10 minutes in the morning are all I see of the sun, except on the days when it doesn’t appear at all, which is most of them.
I try to keep this moment of the day free in the event of a cloudless morning – it would be a shame to miss the only 10 minutes of sunshine in an entire working week because I got stuck on Wordle – but sometimes I’m not available for it.
Sometimes, for example, I will find that my presence is required in the kitchen at that time, so that my wife can debrief me regarding certain domestic matters.
I have adopted the UK attitude to January – seeing it as a bleak and pointless interval fit only to be waited out
“Just say that again,” she says.
“If your normal collection day is Wednesday, then this week it falls on Friday,” I say. “Next week Thursday, and back to normal the week after.”
“And you’re sure about that?” she says.
“This is the council’s website I’m looking at,” I say.
“I’m sure the neighbourhood WhatsApp said something different.”
I look across the garden to see the last of the sun reflecting off the back of my empty office chair and, honestly, I’m torn.
“Let’s just leave the rubbish out all week, and see what happens,” I say.
“That’s your idea of a solution, isn’t it?” my wife says.
“Are we done yet, please?” I say. “Because I …”
“You didn’t put the dishwasher on last night,” she says.
“I forgot,” I say.
“I didn’t think it was too much to ask,” she says. “But perhaps it was.”
“It’s too bad we can’t just put it on now,” I say. “Oh wait – we can!”
“Not yet,” she says. “There’s more stuff to go in it.”
“What luck!” I say. I glance across the garden, where my office is already shaded in gloom, and my heart sinks.
“I thought you were in a hurry,” my wife says.
“Not any more,” I say.
Over the 30 years I have lived in the UK, I have more or less adopted the local approach to January, regarding it as a bleak and pointless interval fit only to be waited out. But I’ve now reached an age when that attitude seems a little extravagant. I may well end my days begging for a few more crappy Januaries to live through.
My wife has also decided we need a weekly shared activity to avoid slipping into hibernation, something beyond a wet walk on nearby scrubland. This is how we come to find ourselves at a site of historical interest clear on the other side of London on a Sunday morning. My jaw has dropped at the sight of the entrance fee for two adults, and I’m just letting it hang there, hands in pockets, while my wife pays.
The woman behind the till explains that if we were to purchase a joint annual membership to English Heritage, the ticket price would be refunded, with many other discounts and benefits instantly accruing to us, including free parking.
“Actually that sounds like quite a good deal,” my wife says.
“This is a very, very slippery slope,” I say, leaning close to her ear.
Three hours later we are on our way back home.
“That was an interesting outing,” my wife says. “Where should we go next week?”
“This is just for January, right?” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “That’s why I didn’t get the membership. We might not do it again for a whole year.”
“And in two years we’ll be 60 and everything will be free anyway.”
“Don’t say that,” she says.
“Free buses and free cake. I can’t wait,” I say.
“I don’t think they give you free cake,” she says.
“Some kind of voucher,” I say. “That you exchange for cake.”
“I don’t want to talk about this,” she says.
At some point just after the close of the month the sun will rise above the roof of the house at midday, shining into my office for an extended period. By that time I will have started drinking again, and life will have regained some of its former lustre.
Until then I’ve got one more visit to an unnamed museum, gallery or historic property, followed by a further blighted two years in which I am forced to pay for my own cake.