Politics

Hugh MacDonald: Mugdock reservoir was as busy as Sauchiehall Street but with more shops open

THERE is, one suspects, a department in some newspapers that specialises in the creation of crises. These are invariably, but not exclusively, of the manufactured variety.

The most risible of this category occurred recently when a London newspaper pointed out the crisis of the shortage of nannies in the capital. Those taking their paseo in Saracen Street could talk of little else.

There is always the traditional crisis staple in education, too. “How to survive the summer holidays”, the papers scream, as parents face the unthinkable: having their children at home for the day.

This regularly produced some bemusement in the MacDonald household. Summer holidays were the biz. We would head down to Beechwood Park in Stirling and play mini golf or have a shot on the wee bikes. The kids came, too.

The only downside was the expense. I chucked ten-bob bits (50p coins, m’lud) at the guvnor of the council shed with an unrelenting regularity. His takings were so astonishing he was investigated by police for laundering money for the Medellin cartel.

The latest is the crisis over going back to the office. It’s hell out there, some commentators shout. There are no trains, traffic jams, roadworks and mayhem awaits. This is said most forcibly by those who were telling us last week that shouldn’t be working from home anyway.

The perennial is the How to Survive January Crisis. If you are reading this, you have survived. If you are reading this, you might feel this survival is not without its downside.

But the dark month has passed. It has, of course, been a crisis for some. Mental health (or just health, as I prefer to call it) is under siege in a time when we start our day in darkness and end our working sessions similarly.

There are those who have found January to be a veritable crisis, marked with ongoing illness and anxiety. The 31 days of January have the same capacity to wound and weaken as any other period, albeit its blows are inflicted in the dark and cold.

There is, too, the capricious cruelty of nature that has had a fatal touch this month, indeed only last weekend. This is true crisis. The loss of a loved one, the desperate worry of keeping the vulnerable warm and fed is the very acme of crisis.

Where does one turn? What does one do?

Many of us are blessed, though. January, in truth, amounted for many of us as just a mildly trying month when to mutter the word crisis would be a blasphemy to those who truly suffer.

However, as one who has more than a nodding acquaintance with low mood, I have found it beneficial not just to set about surviving January – an increasingly dicey proportion at my age – but to set about enjoying it, or at least making it as palatable as possible.

This was once achieved by the simple expedient of flying to Tenerife. It was warm, the hotels were filled with pensioners and motability scooters and I could strut around the pool with the insouciance of the only man in the resort that still had his own hips.

The Covid crisis – and, by Jove, it deserves the moniker – put a brake on my plans and I holed up in my garret.

I made preparations. I saved up some pleasures and simply indulged in others. The former category included reading books I had put aside for hard times. Thanks, therefore, go to John Preston for writing The Fall, a brilliant biography of Robert Maxwell, Kevin Barry for just writing, Laura Cumming for her take on Velasquez and her meditation on the missing and Andrew O’Hagan and Elizabeth Strout for the considerable achievement of being Andrew O’Hagan and Elizabeth Strout.

My newly acquired skill of lying in bed was also complemented by music seeping from a new system blagged from a mate. Thus Beethoven, Nick Cave, Roddy Frame, Hank Williams and Louis Armstrong allowed my mind to drift from the rain that was battering my windows with all the force of Buddy Rich in a foul mood.

There were occasions, too, when I ventured into the living-room and sampled the delights of good telly: Ken Burns’ series on jazz, called ,inexplicably, Jazz; Better Call Saul which is better than almost everything; and a host of series that people watched years ago and I now can’t talk to them about because they no longer want to talk about them.

There was also the fitba’ when I ventured outdoors. I now go to the “wee” games so it was Dumbarton, Glasgow City, Banks O’Dee and Annan for me. Real fitba with real fitba people.

There was also the dauner around Mugdock reservoir which is as busy as Sauchiehall Street but seems to have more shops open.

There was also soup. That’s it, just soup. And the grandweans. That’s it, just the grandweans.

Blessedly and wonderfully, there was also the hint that the grip of Covid might ease, if only for the moment.

All of the above were the accompaniments to a January that passed without self-pity (a personal best for me) and with more than occasional outbreaks of joy.

But the essential ingredient was trying to foster a sense of thankfulness. As Rabbie did not say, I nursed my gratitude to keep it warm. It kept January at bay. Now for February.

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