Dry January - yet another month when we expect people to sponsor us just for abstaining

It is not enough to improve the lives of others; one must have the selfies to prove it

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New year’s resolutions, then. Get into Bikram yoga. Stop checking emails in bed. Watch more classic movies. I don’t know, some other worthwhile stuff that I promise to do for at least a month. That’ll be £10 please, more if you can spare it. I have a Just Giving page. All donations gratefully received!

I don’t have a Just Giving page. That would be absurd – to ask anyone to sponsor my individual quest for self-improvement, to pour their hard-won cash into helping me to feel a little better about myself after a month of festive excess. And yet this week I received an email from an acquaintance with a larky picture of some guys in pink sweatbands at the top. She was embarking upon a Dryathlon, or to give it its less athletic, less sponsorship-friendly title, “Dry January”.

For 31 gruelling days, she and thousands of Dryathletes will not drink alcohol, not a drop. Like all charitable efforts, it is fundamentally a good thing. But it is not Kilimanjaro. It is not even a 1km walk around Clapham Common.

“Dry January” has become quite a thing in the past three years, as unavoidable as a hangover after six pints of Stella, or festive news reports featuring fleshy revellers vomiting in town-centre gutters. According to Alcohol Concern, the main aim is to raise people’s awareness of their alcohol intake, with the added incentive that it is “a chance to lose weight, feel better, save money and make a difference”. Side effects include being a terrible bore about one’s 31-day sacrifice and, of course, the rigours of Binge February when recruits inevitably catch up on all of the units they missed in January.

Healthwise, while there are benefits to going teetotal for a month, an over-indulgent Christmas, followed by a period of strenuous denial, followed by a resumption of normal services for the next 10 months, cannot be the most effective way to break Britain’s bad binge habit.

As for the tin-rattling, one cannot resent Cancer Research for piggybacking the nation’s annual go at showy sobriety. Last year, 35,000 people signed up to its official Dryathlon and raised more than £4m in the process. They lost weight, got better skin and saved some cash; the charity raised some funds. Everyone’s a winner, which might just be missing the point of charitable work.

Then again, there is a whole self-involved charity calendar now. Dryathlon follows Stoptober and Movember: three months in which not doing something – whether smoking, shaving or drinking – is considered remarkable enough to solicit donations and post endless updates online about one’s quest. It is not enough to improve the lives of others or one’s self; one must have the selfies to prove it.

Perhaps a more useful new year’s resolution, and one that is a good deal more likely to stick, would be to make a private vow of moderation for the year ahead and set up a 12-month direct debit to a favoured charity. A good deed remains a good deed even if the world does not know that you have done it.

Shia LaBeouf turned an apology into a viral farce

When is an apology not an apology? When it is made to go viral. Last month Shia LaBeouf was accused of plagiarising the work of a graphic artist, Daniel Clowes, in his new short film. Having been rumbled, the Hollywood actor took to the internet to say sorry. Unfortunately, he stole the words of his apology from a Yahoo! post about plagiarism.

Down but not out, LaBeouf has since had fun teasing the online masses to further outrage. First he tried to pass off notorious past mea culpas – from Mark Zuckerberg and the Toronto mayor Rob Ford, among others –as his own. Then on Thursday, he hired a skywriter to say sorry to Clowes in aeroplane vapour trails above Los Angeles. Clowes lives in San Francisco Bay. No matter, both men are a little more famous now and it made for a good story. I might even make a short film about it.

Elementary outrage

Oh no, they’ve lost it. So the nation thought as one at around 9.03pm on New Year’s Day. After 24 tantalising months, Sherlock returned with an opening sequence which revealed how Holmes had managed to throw himself off a roof in the last episode and not even graze a cheekbone.

The problem was that the explanation was incredibly lame. It was a red herring, of course, as were further explanations. As Holmes said, “Everyone’s a critic.”

The detective series is one of the BBC’s undisputed triumphs, so the backlash was as inevitable as the scene in which Watson shaved off his moustache. True, the first episode was a bit of a mess, unnecessarily showy and self-regarding. Just like Sherlock himself. It dared viewers to dislike it and when they obliged, it smiled its inscrutable, smug smile. Better to sit back, accept that resistance is futile and remember that it is just a TV show.

A city divided

There were well-known faces at the inauguration of Bill de Blasio, the new Mayor of New York this week: the Clintons, Harry Belafonte, Miranda from Sex and the City. And sitting in the second row was Dasani Coates, a 12-year-old homeless girl who was profiled in The New York Times last month. De Blasio invited her, having been moved by the story of Coates and her seven siblings who live with their parents in a verminous Brooklyn shelter. As he took office, he vowed “to take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities”.

Almost half of New York’s inhabitants live near or below the poverty line; at 50,000, its homeless population is the highest it has ever been. To bridge the gap between rich and poor will be a huge task. In the meantime, “Invisible Child”, The New York Times’ exposé of the hidden lives of the city’s 22,000 homeless children, is required reading – not just for mayors but for unseeing urbanites everywhere.

Twitter: @alicevjones

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