January isn’t my favourite month of the year. It’s cold and bleak, Christmas bills are flooding in and it’s tax return time too. To make matters worse, I’m doing Dry January. Actually, I do it every year – a habit dating back to my Evening Standard days, when most of the news room gave their livers a much-needed rest for four whole weeks.
But in amongst the January gloom there’s still some fun to be had. There’s Olivia Colman’s barnstorming performance as Queen Anne in The Favourite for a start. She’s outrageous and funny and touching and bawdy in equal measures and if she doesn’t win the BAFTA she was nominated for this week I’ll eat my hat. Co-stars Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone are top notch too, although I reckon Rachel Weisz just edges it with her bewitching role as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. The duchess is ruthless, wicked and beguiling by turns – no wonder poor old Queen Anne, her childhood friend, was utterly mesmerised.
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Four days after Christmas, we drove into the depths of rural Dorset to have tea with an old schoolfriend of mine. She’s rented a house up a long country track and as we neared the turning we suddenly noticed a nervous looking dog in the middle of the road. The traffic shuddered to a halt as the dog skittered in one direction and then another. Unsure what to do, we spotted an elegant blonde getting out of her car and trying to coax the dog off the road. She produced a pack of cheese from her carboot and proceeded to tempt it to safety. The dog was having none of it, quickly chomping the cheese and then running off again.
I got out of the car to see if I could help. I didn’t have a clue what to do but it seemed churlish not to try. As I marched up to the woman she looked at me quizzically and said “Emma”. I couldn’t place her for a second and then I realised who she was; Lelia, a friend I knew in London in my early 20s and who I hadn’t seen since.
The chances of us meeting on a country road in the middle of nowhere must be a million to one. It turned out that Lelia lives in Kent and was staying with her family in a Dorset cottage over Christmas. If I’d driven faster and arrived at the turning five minutes earlier we’d never have met for the first time in years.
I flung my arms around Lelia – much to the astonishment of my family, who were all sitting in the car.
“We all thought you’d lost the plot,” said my son when I got back in. “Why were you hugging a complete stranger in the middle of the road, with the traffic backed up in both directions?”
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Grrr. Just to make January more annoying, the ferry is still grounded. As I mentioned in my last blog, it was out of action for more than seven weeks in November and December for its two-yearly refit. Then, a few days before Christmas, it was back. Hooray. Except a few hours later there was a hydraulic problem and it still hasn’t returned to service. In the meantime there’s been a woeful lack of information and we’re all really fed up.