For me, of all the days of celebration at this time of year, today is the day to really go cock a hoop and celebrate; and by celebrate I don’t just mean I’ll go out and get rat-arsed and spend more than a year’s wages on cocktail sausages, things with feathers on them that go ‘bleerrrrrrrrrrr’ and make old ladies wee themselves when you blow down them, and the entire contents of the Argos catalogue. I have been looking forward to this day since 21st June so I will sit and reflect upon its meaning and I will truly revel in the day and the anticipation of what is to come.
At 17:11 today (UTC, which is a sort of GMT but more astronomically accurate) I shall celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice for it is at this time that the Earth reaches its maximum declination of 23.5° away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. At this point nowhere north of the Arctic Circle sees daylight for an entire twenty four hours and we have reached the darkest point of our northern year.
So this is the darkest that our days are going to be and what have we done? Another year over and a new one just begun. It thrills me to think though that from now on, although very gradually at first, the sun will begin to warm our bit of the Earth, buds will be budding, spring will be springing and birds will be either feathering their nests or packing their bikinis for a trip to Magaluf. The end is nigh! My motto at this time of year is tomorrow may rain so I’ll follow the sun.
There have been, of course, darker days than this that I can think of down the years, such as the day in 2007 when Leeds United were relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in history and simultaneously went into administration. It was a gloomy day for travellers, especially my dear friend Joan from Bath, who sadly passed away this year, when they introduced the one way traffic system in Darlington prompting her and her husband to pull in their horns and take all future holidays in Weston Super Mare. The day that I discovered that if you’re going to shove your cheeky bits into an item of office machinery at a work’s Christmas party it’s better to go for a photocopier than a shredder wasn’t exactly filled with sunshine. The day on which television presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was born was black rather than dark and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few words about the event in the Book of Revelation. And dark too was the day that they stopped putting the little cardboard sleeves in Bounty bars, especially dark chocolate Bounty bars which I happen to like best.
People think I’m just a miserable old twat at this time of year but they have no idea what goes on in my poor disturbed old head. I utterly detest the days when I have to wear socks and it’s too cold to leave the house wearing shorts and I set off for work in the morning before it gets light and I don’t get home again until after dark and pub beer gardens become such cold and lonely places.
‘All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey’, began the song by the Mamas and the Papas. Had I been a Mama or a Papa, the second line would have been ‘So I chucked myself into the canal’ and the song would have ended after fifteen seconds.
As soon as we reach the months that end with ‘ber’ a gloom gradually descends upon me, culminating in what is little short of abject misery once we get to mid-November. I try so very hard to disguise my feelings but it is an enormous struggle. I cling on desperately to summer by listening to African music, poring over my photographs and journals from bygone trips to warmer places, scouring websites to plan future adventures, downloading videos of lasses wearing next to nowt (presumably because they’re in a place where it’s very warm) and eating copious amounts of Bounty bars.
They came in search of paradise . . . and they found it . . . in Bounty.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world waltzes headlong into a winter wonderland of food and drink and extravagance way beyond its means. I detest Christmas too for different reasons but I suspect I might cope with it better if it wasn’t in December. No one really has a bloody clue when Christ was born (I would argue that he never was) so people who thought they were in the know a couple of millennia ago reckoned it would be a good plan to have his birthday bash at the same time as the Winter Solstice as folks would have already got the beer and party nibbles in anyway. I’m glad they got it wrong by four days as they would have really cocked up the happy little moments that I enjoy round about the 21st of this month each year.
Looking at it astronomically rather than gastronomically, today is also New Year’s day so I’m going to mark the event by making some changes to my life. With immediate effect I’m going to give up one or two things that I’m not all that proud of like Bounty bars, sobriety, celibacy, shovelling my faeces through George Osborne’s letterbox (so beware Nigel Farage, you're probably next) and my obsession with Etruscan pottery.
The best thing about the darkest point in our year is that the sun spends the vast majority of the day hiding below the yardarm so now, even though most people are not yet awake, I’m having a glass of something strong that will warm my mind and my body, just as the sun warms our planet.
So one day you’ll look to see me gone but in the meantime . . . athbhliain faoi mhaise dhuit.