A new year is always freighted with reproach as well as aspiration. It appears that this may have been intentional. 

January takes its name from the two faced Roman god, Janus …

January takes its name from the two faced Roman god, Janus, who was able to peer into the future while simultaneously being able to look back into the past. It’s the perfect inspiration for the month on the cusp of a stale year and a fresh one. Next up is February. February takes its name from Februa, the Roman festival of purification. This fun-filled bacchanal hinged on washing and cleaning in aid of self improvement.

The ancient Roman calendar upon which our current Gregorian calendar is based seems to come with a play book. We launch the new year with one god holding up the accounts book and the next one checking for dust. 

… the stars just seem to align perfectly for the annual Dry January campaign …

Yes, the stars just seem to align perfectly for the annual Dry January campaign, don’t they?

We’re now about halfway into Dry January, the month-long commitment to not drinking, and not, as some think, of only drinking wine that’s dry.  No, that is not the idea.  At all. 

The idea is that we all drink too much. Especially during the pandemic. Around 23 percent of Canadians have self-reported an increase in alcohol consumption while trying to manage the miseries associated with the pandemic. The effects of this are already evident: according to  researchers at the University of Calgary, liver disease-related hospitalization rates in Alberta have nearly doubled during the pandemic as more Albertans consume more alcohol.

According to doctors, there are tons of health benefits from laying off booze, even if only for a month. It’s also good to have some idea of your level of dependency. Alcoholism doesn’t announce itself; it comes as a surprise. 

You probably know of people who forego alcohol in the first month of the year. People who can go 31 days without a drink. And yes, that means 31 days in a row, not 31 days spread out over a year.  Apparently, one in five people who drink alcohol will be abstaining from booze this month in participation with Dry January challenges. The headcount on this, if statistics can be believed, is somewhere around 7.9 million people world-wide. 

Without trying, unwanted pounds melted away …

Photo from Hussle.com

As a formal campaign, Dry January is only about ten years old. The idea got its start in the U.K. when a  young woman named Emily Robinson decided she’d tackle a half marathon in February of 2012. Emily wasn’t much of a runner so, in order to improve her running performance, she decided to give up alcohol as part of her training. Emily claimed that she was surprised to see swift improvements in the quality of her sleep and her general energy levels. Without trying, unwanted pounds melted away, as well. Emily found that she felt and looked better. Another unexpected development? People were fascinated by the fact that she’d voluntarily given up booze. All she had done was to forego having alcoholic drinks for one month but people found it bizarre and brave.

The following year, Emily did the same thing. She gave up alcohol for all of January. 

Emily ended up getting a job with Alcohol Change UK, a rather wonderful organization that encourages responsibility where alcohol consumption is concerned. A simple challenge was created around Emily’s idea of abstinence for the month following the holidays. Today, there are apps, blogs, and mocktail recipes all in support of drying out. In Canada, Mothers Against Drunk Driving launched the Dry January Canada Challenge this past December 27th. The mandate of MADD is to keep drunks from getting behind the wheel, but they enumerate the many almost immediate benefits to cutting back on alcohol, which includes: ‘positive effects on blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver health and sexual function’. 

If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.

Apparently, you don’t have to be a heavy drinker to see an improvement in overall health within a month. A specialist in liver health from University College London Medical Centre states that, even for moderate drinkers, “stopping drinking for a month alters liver fat, cholesterol and blood sugar and helps them lose weight. If someone had a health product that did all that in one month, they would be raking it in.”

A Scottish friend is making an allowance for Robbie Burns Night on January 25th.  He’s in favour of the general idea of Dry January, but says, due to cultural observances, aye, he’ll be knocking back a dram or two. His January is Damp, not Dry … but it’s an improvement.

This week’s question for readers:


Now, in return, will you do something for me? Will you sign up for The Plain Jane, my newsletter? You can ignore it, if you want, when it shows up in your inbox every few weeks, but my rotten kids will think I’m a star if I have a decent subscriber list. 

Here’s further incentive to sign up: PRIZES!!!

Submissions to last week’s question:

What, in your youth, did you covet? How did it come to you? Is there something you still pine for?

 My Connelly Team slalom water-ski has a prominent place in my garage and heart. I worked as a lifeguard and saved for months to buy that ski in 1981, my teenage cool-o-meter instantly elevated. It still fills me with joy and represents speed, strength, and summer fun! Kicking up rooster tails at top speed has kept me young. At Cultus Lake, I vowed that a boat would be the only thing that I ever followed. I’ve skied on newer skis over the years but I am loyal to my Connelly and we are to be cremated together. 

Marg Geddes

As a child of the 60s, the toy I wanted more than anything was “Poodle Peteena”. The ads on TV were mesmerizing: a beautiful Barbie-like poodle, strolling along, wearing chic clothing. I mentioned this to my sister a few years ago, much to her hilarity! After two years of searching (and at great expense!), she found a Poodle Peteena on the internet – straight from Japan, and presented it to me on my birthday this year. Needless to say the reality does not live up to the memory! Google Poodle Peteena yourself to see this freakish toy for yourself. Her boyfriend, Poodle Pete, is even worse! I’m still laughing!

Rita Telford

An official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, air rifle. “You’ll shoot somebody’s eye out”, was my mother’s stock response. But then, on one of our annual treks from Montreal to Forest Hills Factory Outlet in upstate New York, I had all my savings, allowance and paper money, and slyly asked: “So, can I buy anything I want with my money, Mom?”. Eager to get to her own shopping, she off-handedly replied “Yes, just keep an eye on your brother.”. And Bam! Just like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, I had my very own Red Ryder carbine. Haven’t wanted anything so bad since – well except for, maybe, an original “butcher cover” Beatles album.

George Mosley

I grew up in the Yukon and we led a very practical existence. In 1975 I was in Grade 11 and I remember one of the girls in my class came back from a trip “Outside” (any trip outside of the Yukon was labelled going Outside). Anyway,  she came back with a Gucci watch – the one with the different coloured bezels. Every day when she came to class she changed the bezel to match the colour of her shirt! I never did get one but to this day I still remember coveting that watch.

Dianne Vanditmars 

I grew up in the late 50’s early 60’s. Father Knows Best and My Three Son’s where my favourite shows. I didn’t covet a specific thing, but I coveted an experience-I longed to be able to climb stairs up to my bedroom on the way to bed, dragging my teddy bear behind me. I had the bear, named Peter, but alas, we lived in a bungalow.

Michelle Mina

Roller skates! At age twelve, my dream was to have a pair of roller skates. I pestered my mother but to no avail. As one of twelve kids in our family, any idea of getting a pair of skates was totally out of the question.Being a devious child I did not give up on getting my roller skates. I had an aunt in Vancouver who was relatively wealthy, her daughters, my cousins, were about ten years older than me and I thought that perhaps they had roller skates stashed away somewhere. I wrote to my aunt, unknown to my parents, and told her how I would love to have a pair of skates but that we could not afford them. My parents would have been horrified if they had known. Several weeks later, much to my delight, a parcel arrived in the mail. I had  my roller skates! Years ago I met my husband on a roller skating date in Lynden Washington, and now, sixty eight years later, I still remember the thrill of skating hand in hand with him. What if I had never gotten those roller skates?

Marian McDowell

Sadly, what I coveted most at age 7 was a framed baby photo of me and bronzed baby shoes, none of which I had the good fortune to receive because they were never created.

When we, as refugees from Estonia, were finally settled on a small estate in Sweden where my parents worked as farm hands and I had to attend school, I was able to play with other children whose homes had framed baby photos and bronzed baby shoes, none of which I had.

There was no physical record of me until age six, only memories, which were now behind the Iron Curtain which was as high as the sky and as deep as the ocean.

 Enda Bardell

As a child, I used to frequent a drugstore for all-day suckers. High on a shelf in the store was a wind-up metal alligator. Oh how I wanted to buy that toy, but the owner wouldn’t sell it to me. One day, I brought my mother along to convince him to change his mind. He told her that he didn’t want to sell it because it was “just junk,” and wouldn’t last more than a day. He was right – it only lasted one day before the spring broke. I learned to value honesty and good judgement and yearn for those today.

Mervyn Lutes

My heart’s desire was a bike.  After  much begging and grovelling one Christmas I received a thrice painted, one speed red chariot. Freedom!! Saturdays my pals and I would cycle to the Capilano suspension bridge.  Since we weren’t allowed to go on Marine Dr., we crossed the river on a boxed in water pipe with  flimsy wires on both sides.  Over the years I continued to ride off and on.  Most memorable was in a medieval German town where I would peddle my young son to kindergarten and back every day over the cobblestones.  Now in my eighties, I have the Cadillac of bikes, an e-bike.  Just in time to save me from inactive madness during Covid.

Sandra (Therrien) Schemmer

The treasured item I coveted growing up in Toronto was my own mohair sweater. Not a hand-me-down from my older sister, not a homemade one from my mom, but a genuine store-bought mohair fashion sweater! A status symbol, of sorts, with the “in” crowd at high school. With earnings from my first summer job at the CNE, I purchased a beautiful melon colour cabled-fronted, mohair sweater coat.  I wore that sweater on the first day back to school and pretty well every day I could, even though we were experiencing high summer temperatures well into the fall that year. 

Maggie A. Taylor

I didn’t covet anything in particular until I fell in love with a pair of skis. I was seven, and I checked daily the Christmas displays in the window of the store which was right across the street from our house.  On a day close to Christmas, the snow fell heavily and, on my pilgrimage to the store, I saw them!  The skis were yellow, and the ski poles were purple. I had to have them!  But we children were not usually indulged with such luxuries. Nonetheless, I described in detail the glories of the yellow skis to my father.  He was noncommittal and went about his work.  An hour later, he reappeared carrying the skis!  I am a senior, but I still remember the wild excitement and gratitude I felt.  Best present ever!

Ann Larsen

Dear Jane, when I was young in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there were a lot of Western/Cowboy movies. I used to love these movies and pleaded with my mother to buy me toy guns with holsters to imitate the cowboys. Good thing these obsessions passed when I became a teenager, and I never got interested in real guns – thank God!

As an aside I’d like to tell you about an obsession which is little known except among guitar players. Some like to collect guitars obsessively. This is so prevalent among guitar players (mostly middle aged and older) that this obsession is called GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) and there is an actual book written about it. The most obsessed person I know has 60 guitars, and I have two other friends with 35 guitars each. My own GAS is relatively mild, in that I only have 10 guitars and three  bass guitars. Don’t ask me why this obsession is even a thing, ‘cos most other musicians do not collect so many instruments. 

Edward K.W. Chan

While perusing through a department store with a parent one day, when that type of store was commonplace, there was an array of shiny new bikes. I spotted a sporty little red model and dreamed of the freedom I could experience with that beauty beneath me. I was at an age when a bicycle was a normal part of a young boy’s life. In a moment of courage and carefree abandonment I asked if I could get a bike. Well, short of remembering the details, I got the bike!

It was a time of banana seats and jay bars. Shortly after getting my new set of wheels home we approached our next door neighbours teenager boy about adding those accessories and a new paint colour. Within a couple of days I was the very proud owner of a flashy yellow “roadster “ equipped with jay bars and a banana seat. Having my first bike changed everything.

Bruce Shaw

I also coveted fashionable snow boots to compete in the playground!  I always had to wear the practical rubber over-shoe boots with the buckle at the top.  So practical, but not fashionable.  I finally got the black pull-on boots that I wished were knee-high … but ankle height was what I got!

Patty Phillips

I have a photo of my kindergarten graduating class in 1945 documenting my embarrassment. All the girls had white patent strappy party shoes to go with our pastel smocked dresses – except me,  in my brown oxfords, as my parents couldn’t afford frivolities. This was one of many times I had to accept realities, but my parents never stinted for what they thought important – a private school education and McGill. Not to mention the year in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

Lesley Bohm

Just before Xmas 1947 my parents took me to Woodwards downtown via the inter-urban tram from Cedar Cottage. The toy department had a pair of Roy Rogers gloves for sale (last pair). I was devastated when my parents said they didn’t fit. I was thrilled Xmas morning to open a gift containing the gloves. l slept with those gloves.

At 5, I Xmas shopped at the corner store for my mom dad brother and sister with $.25 allowance. My mother a toothpick holder my father a cigar and my  brother and sister chocolate bars. I still have the toothpick holder.

Len Shannon

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