Hooray. The Christmas holiday is well and truly over. On Monday morning, joy of joys, I will throw open the curtains to a street filled with slow moving commuter traffic.
Dirty white vans will sound their dreary horns into the drizzle once again. Gone will be the empty, echoing streets of post holocaust – I mean, post Christmas – London. People will be off their backsides and back on their feet. The phone will ring, the email will bleep – real life will have started.
I know I sound like Scrooge, but doesn't it make for a happier life if you're not so keen on holidays – if you like "real life" better? There's certainly a lot more of it. I always liked that first day back at the grindstone – even when holidays actually existed (before becoming a parent, that is). I suppose I just like ordinary week days best – days when there's no pressure to be festive and enjoy yourself. Pressure being the operative word in that sentence. I've nothing against enjoying myself, of course, but I've never been very good at pleasure-seeking. It's stressful. There's a lot of room for disappointment. The best pleasure arrives naturally.
At some moment in the middle of December I had a bit of a strop. I realised my son's nursery wasn't starting again until 7 January. This delays my "real life" moment by three agonising days. Now, I'm not such an awful mother that I can't spend three happy days with my adorable three-year-old. But three days on top of 10 days equals 13 days – count them.
Of course my husband has been doing half the child care over Christmas – if not more – but, this is the thing – he'll be back at work on Monday sipping coffee and returning emails while I will be, seeing as I work from home, having to jump up every five minutes to re-enact the chimney sweeps' rooftop dance from Mary Poppins. Anyway, enough moaning, you might say – impersonating Dick Van Dyke is hardly a terrible fate, nor is being freelance. But I really think I'm going to go on moaning because, even after "real life" has begun, this is still the month for it. New year was ushered in on Thursday by a blue moon and January is traditionally a month for feeling blue. We've even got The Most Depressing Day of the Year to look forward to. This falls on the third Monday in January – or has done since it was invented, fairly recently, by a PR company.
The formula for The Most Depressing Day is based on a bogus calculation to do with weather and Christmas debt and abandoned new year's resolutions, but the basic idea resonates because we come stumbling out of the festivities with a great big hangover – or I do, at any rate, and I don't even drink alcohol. It's the post-Christmas comedown. It's the forlorn, dried out Christmas trees littering the streets. It's the bag of unwanted presents sitting in the hall, waiting to go to charity. But mainly it's the feeling when you get the credit card bill.
I can't believe I fall for it every year – Christmas. It's the nostalgia that draws me in. I like the preparations best. I like the twinkling street lights and the festive shop windows. I like anticipating carols, mince pies, Santa Claus. I like the idea of Christmas. It's the material side of it that does my head in. It's the addictive consumerism of Christmas – the compulsive spending of money in search of a feeling – that brings the inevitable comedown.
When my son was two years old he opened the first present that fell out of his stocking and was so delighted he wanted to play with it immediately. He thought it quite enough and had no thought for any more presents. Now he's three, he barely rips the present in his hand open before asking for the next. I don't blame him. I know how he feels – despite the fact that we've instituted a rule amongst my wider family circle that we spend only £5 a head on presents.
My stepmother doesn't even buy a tree anymore, she just decorates the indoor plants with baubles. And next year, apparently, we're not to have Christmas paper either – we'll wrap the presents in reusable scarves and shawls. That's fine. It doesn't matter – but the day will still rush by in an orgy of consumption of one sort or another, none of it quite hitting the Christmas spot, that elusive Christmas spot you sometimes glimpse for a moment by accident. I was once walking past a tiny country church when The Holly And the Ivy drifted out into the freezing night air. It really was "sweet singing in the choir" – just the unaccompanied voices. I wanted to grab the moment and bottle it.
The novel has not entered its Twilight years yet
There's a lot of anxiety around about the demise of the novel and the state of publishing – an idea that shops like Waterstones are full of nothing but vampire books and celebrity biographies by the likes of Andre Agassi and Chris Evans, this season's Christmas bestsellers. Will people read nothing but Stephanie Meyer (pictured), the author behind the vampire romance series Twilight, and Dan Brown? Is the mass market going to dumb down young people?
It doesn't seem to be the case – I was on a crowded Christmas train a couple of days ago seated amongst young people absorbed in novels of the most impressive kind. The woman beside me was reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World – and English wasn't even her first language. At the next table along, I spotted someone reading W G Sebald's The Rings of Saturn. To top it all the man opposite me was reading Trollope. (But I'm not sure if that counts – he was my husband.)
If you care about feminism, ditch the high heels
I'm glad to see that fashion predictions for the next year include lower heels. Heels have been skyscraper high for several season and this winter the fashion has been for the kinds of shoes that would normally be worn only by strippers and prostitutes.
These shoes are the kind that tilt a woman forward, make her bottom stick out and make her look like all she can think of is sex. In fact, these shoes are so vertiginous, so strappy and spiky and impossible, they seem to be made by designers who want to hobble us.
It reminds me of Chinese foot binding. In Imperial China tiny feet were considered beautiful in a woman, but it was really the symbolism that drove aesthetic perceptions. It's men saying about women – look at them, they're so decorative and frivolous, they don't need to do anything as prosaic as walking. In the 21st-century west, high heels are a fantasy that defies reality in the face of hard times and recession. Women become decadent objects – as well as objects of wishful thinking.
The other thing that's going on here is a cross pollination between the sex industry and popular culture (it's been going on for years in the world of pop videos) that's meant to be "fun" and "post-feminist". It's neither. And anyway, we are not post-feminist because there's nothing wrong with feminism and women are not yet equal. What's more, we will never be post-feminist if we keep on wearing six inch heels.
The many lives of David Mitchell
I was staggered to hear that David Mitchell was about to publish a historical novel set in a Japanese outpost of the Dutch empire. I can't even begin to imagine writing a novel set in a Japanese outpost of the Dutch empire – the strangeness of the world you would have to recreate, the amount of research. Such a daunting task and sounding so profoundly erudite in both execution and plan. How does he fit it in with all those TV and radio quiz shows, to say nothing of filming Peep Show as well as his own Mitchell and Webb sketches – and he's a newspaper columnist. The man's just a phenomenon, I thought to myself. Then I found out it was the other David Mitchell, the one who wrote Cloud Atlas. Phew. Then I found out that David Mitchell the actor is writing a novel – but not set in a Japanese outpost. Phew – sort of – again.