All day yesterday, I did battle with the cockroach. I prefer the French term le cafard to the mundane winter blues, because it’s visual and value laden – the perfect name for an annoying, persistent, ugly, scuttling thing that is not welcome in my life.
I spent almost a whole day working on this post. I started, rejected and saved for another time half-a-dozen perfectly good ideas because somehow I didn’t have the juice to do them justice. I read back what I’d written and it wasn’t bad, it was just…meh. I hate meh almost as much as I loathe the cockroach.
If I have a problem, I make a plan, so I went searching to see if I could find any new news regarding strategies to banish the blues. Eureka! According to this week’s Daily Mail, a researcher from Stanford University spent ten months in the small Norwegian town of Tromsø, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, researching this problem. Although Tromsø is one of the coldest, darkest places on the planet (they experience two whole months of polar night each year), the inhabitants don’t experience typical levels of seasonal depression or winter blues. The research team devised a Wintertime Mindset Scale and tentatively concluded that many residents of Tromsø welcome and embrace the dark months, and this positive mindset enables them not just to manage but to thrive during the depths of the polar winter.
Click here to read the Daily Mail article.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but in many ways it’s quite radical. Try a quick online search and you’ll discover the traditional approach is to regard the winter blues as a problem. Suggested remedies include: spend as much time as you can outside, exercise, keep warm, eat healthily, take up a new hobby, spend time with your friends and family, and talk about your feelings.
Nothing wrong with any of that, but for the first time in my life, I decided to write a list of things about winter that I’d positively celebrate. Uplifting, life-enhancing things, not just convenient side-effects like I don’t have to spend time maintaining (or more likely feeling guilty about not maintaining) the garden.
Here’s what I came up with:
- My wedding anniversary is at the beginning of February. We’ve been married a long time (we met at university) and I hope we enjoy many more years together. My husband usually buys out most of the local flower shop, we go for a nice dinner together, and some years we’ll go away somewhere for a day or two. Perfect.
- Writing time. Around now, people go to ground. Nobody has the money or the inclination to go out, and generally people don’t start projects they need help with. It gets light later and dark earlier. What better time to stay home and put words on the page? And that’s a satisfying activity, which adds to the feel-good factor.
- Reading time. When not writing, the other great use of any and all free time is to snuggle up on the sofa with a good book, or two, or three, take a virtual trip and fill up the creative well.
- Winter recipes. I love hearty, warming winter food. Traditional English roasts. Soups and slow-cooked stews. Steamed puddings and custard. Possibly not compatible with the ‘eat well’ recommendation above 😉 .
- Red wine. I have a share in a small but perfectly formed wine importing business, and the depths of winter is an excellent time to drink their best, richest, most complex reds. Probably with a bowl of stew.
- Ice cream. Any time of year is good for ice cream, but there’s something decadent about eating an ice cream cone outside in midwinter. And it doesn’t melt, so you don’t have to rush.
- Cashmere. There’s also something utterly luxurious about the feeling of a super-soft , super-warm cashmere sweater or hat, gloves, scarf or socks. Luckily the supermarket chains manage to deliver the goods at a manageable price.
- Sheepskin slippers. I get mine from a small English company called Celtic Sheepskin. No need to wear socks, just pull on and wriggle your toes till they’re toasty.
- A winter-weight duvet. We have a Siberian goose down duvet which is as light as air but deliciously warm. Snuggling down for a good night’s sleep feels so good it should be illegal.
- A roaring fire. We don’t have one at home, but lots of pubs do. Sitting in a comfortable armchair, watching the flames and sharing a cosy hour or two with friends and family…priceless.
- Clear, moonlit skies. A full moon on a cloudless winter night – wow! There’s a window on the upstairs landing at our house that always seems to catch the light just right. Sometimes I hear an owl hooting outside for bonus atmosphere.
- Cold, dark nights. I’ve visited countries near the equator where the hours of daylight and darkness are more or less the same all year round. I love the fact that here the mixture is constantly in flux and the seasons are so varied. It’s exciting.
- Inching toward the equinox. After the winter solstice, the days get a tiny bit lighter every day. It feels like a promise of hope, and growth, and new life.
- Winter flowers are some of the most beautifully scented. Plus, snowdrops!
I keep finding things to add to my list, and I can honestly report that compiling it has put a smile on my face. Adieu, cafard!
What would you celebrate?