One of the best of the many surprises that awaited me many years ago when I moved, without real rhyme or reason and no plan at all, to southern Spain was January.
First of all I couldn't believe the brightness and blueness of the sky and the warmth of the days. I took endless photos of my flip-flopped feet in the sand while I enjoyed a cold beer by the sea. In winter! Then I wondered what the lovely clouds of creamy white and pink petals drifting in the breeze were. I'd never seen almond blossom before. And just as the new year began so the season of saints' days started. First was San Hilario in Comares, where the patron saint is carried down some of the steepest streets in Andalucía followed by San Sebastián in Benamargosa - perhaps my favourite fiesta of all, with the heady scent of local oranges and the neighbours rushing out of their houses carrying trays laden with sweets and the alarmingly rickety Catherine wheels shooting out fiery sparks at every junction. Wayhay, the first month of the year seemed to loudly declare - C'mon. Let's go.
In what feels like a different world altogether, January in England is cold and dull and very very very long. It's hard - and believe me, we are desperately trying - to think of anything good about it. The trees are bare, the fields and flowerbeds are bare, the high streets and shops and bars are bare. Even the news, bad at the best of times, seems to have become bleaker in sympathy with the general mood of apathy and gloom. Our local paper is filled this week with a litany of woe - ram-raiders ripping out cash machines in normally crime-free villages, post offices and pubs continuing to close, rail strikes, road closures and traffic accidents happening all round us and new housing developments marching roughshod on in spite of vociferous community opposition. It is no surprise that this is cited as the most popular time of year for Brits to book a holiday abroad, to start divorce proceedings and on Monday 15 January, known as Blue Monday, to endure the “single glummest day of the year”, as The Sun rather quaintly puts it.
Still, in the year which celebrates the centenary of the end of the First World War and which also - I can't say why - unveils a number of tributes to Winston Churchill and his dogged spirit, we battle stoically on.
There are a few reasons to be cheerful here. Suffolk's own coffee shop chain now sells all its drinks in fully compostable cups. The smiley Sri Lankan brothers who have taken over the previously dire Post Office stores have risen to the challenge admirably by actually listening to what people in the village want. They might even make a success of it.
Our neighbour and smallholder, George, who I could listen to all day because of his wonderful Suffolk accent (sadly a rare thing now) and who pickles his own onions and red cabbage, told me today that he will start chitting his early potatoes this week. By mid January the days are getting lighter by two minutes a day. And in the garden the first snowdrop is flowering.