You write your New Year resolutions: that takes all of 43 seconds. You wonder whether to go to Liberty's sale, but then remember that even at half price, you can't afford anything the great store has to offer. There's always the fair in Leicester Square,but a spinning waltzer may not be the best way to cure a hangover.
London and Boxing Day make sad playmates. Suddenly, the lights and decorations that thrilled you in the build-up to Christmas look unwanted and unloved. The few people in the streets throb with overindulgence and bring traffic to a halt. Their bags, emblazoned with the word SALE, troop wearily through the rain, their contents promising an extra crumb of post-festivity excitement. Either side of Oxford Street, the atmosphere is that of a euthanasia theme park.
The last Boxing Day I spent alone was the lowest point of the Christmas Day in Hades that preceded it. A man whose name and occupation I will not mention (a journalist called William) pushed me into so deep a depression I felt unable to see anyone. His idea of wishing me a happy Christmas was to criticise how I kept my place in a book (heaven forbid, I lay the book face down - "I once finished with a girl for doing that," he warned), where I wore my watch on my wrist (too high), how I talke d to strangers (too familiar), what I ate in restaurants (vegetables), the flowers I'd sent him (wilted), my hair (too short), my weight (too fat), my clothes (disappointing), my flat (strange smell), my writing (too rude), my friends (too quiet).
He took me to Alastair Little's restaurant on Christmas Eve. My tears plopped into the olive oil. He ordered two glasses of champagne. "Well, happy Christmas," he said, raising his glass.
On Boxing Day, he took me to the Ritz for a bottle of champagne. This time, it was only my weight, my clothes and my presents that caused him offence. My tears plopped into the ice bucket. He raised his glass. "Well, happy New Year," he said. Still, at least he had bought me a handbag from which I was able to pull a credit card, when it transpired I was expected to pay after all.
If you're not in the throes of a relationship trauma, Boxing Day is traditionally the day when distant members of one's family turn up with small children, all of whom have decided to bring their noisiest present with them.
One particularly villainous piece of design, for example, might be the Voice Changer: a loudspeaker that you talk into to produce the voice of an alien, a robot or a ghost. The only difference between these "voices" is the pitch of the sound - bloody awful in all three cases. I mention it only because I bought this once for my cousin's three-year-old, who arrived for the usual family get-together on the 26th. And I mention it with glee because I wasn't in the house when he unwrapped both it and the two extra batteries I included in the package.
The alternatives to Boxing Day family get-togethers, however, are not particularly appealing, either. If you don't hang around for the cold meats, fry-ups, hyperactive children and irritable adults ("Look, if you play that damned Voice Changer once more,I'll ram it down your throat!"), your most viable option is loneliness and self-absorption. All your friends are entertaining their own dreadful families, the few that aren't have gone skiing, and the only people in town are tourists whose idea of a good night out is a bottle of house red at the Angus Steak House (they're the ones with the green-and-red decor on street corners, full of Northerners saying, "I like a nice steak").
Decent restaurants on Boxing Day are to be avoided because they are filled with people who can't get a table the rest of the year; men in new, statement-making ties, and women in brown sweatshirts studded with gold sequins.
Pubs are another no-go area because they're filled with exactly the same people who are in there every day of the year. For them, Christmas Eve to Boxing Day is one long lager bath. They string tinsel around their necks and laugh about how they were too drunk for sex on Christmas Day, even though most of them will probably have to wait another year before trying again.
It's all very depressing and anti-climactic after the big Christmas build-up, but Boxing Day does mark a significant turning point. If you spend it alone, it's the first day you have to reflect on the year that's gone before and the one that's coming up;the melancholic half-filled streets and suddenly meaningless lights in a big city invite that kind of self-analysis.
Yet deep down, I know that 1995 will be no different from 1994: I will ring my accountant to ask why, if I earned so much money during the year, I never saw any of it. "Because you spend four times as much as you earn," he will patiently explain, yet again; I will become involved with at least three men who will make me cry, and I'll swear each time that it's the very last time I'll be a Woman Who Loves Too Much; and I will ring my agent to tell him that this year, my next novel really will be written ( actually, I've only written one, but "next" sounds as if I have an oeuvre, "second" implies laziness). Reflection is therefore a pointless and misery-inducing option that only makes you aware of how quickly the years are passing.
I could take the easy way out this year and just watch television. There's the Christmas You've Been Framed on ITV, but then loneliness and Jeremy Beadle might be just enough to push me over the edge; BBC 2 is showing the 28th Annual Country Music Awards, which will bring hundreds of suicidal singers together to celebrate the songs that pushed up the annual suicide rate in Tennessee in 1994. Very cheering.
This year was the first year I'd spent Boxing Day alone since my disastrous experience at the Ritz, and London was filled with the usual depressing, post-Christmas blues.
The options were again limited, but I cut my losses and ventured out after all. If you passed an Angus Steak House yesterday and looked in the corner, you'd have seen me. I was the one with the steak and house red. And the bottle of Prozac.