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Walking the Tightrope: The Worst Day

Tell people why they should be miserable and they will delight in telling you why they shouldn't be, says Sally Codman.

I started writing this column on the worst day of the year, Monday, January 24th 2005 - at least if we're to believe the atest 'findings' of a Cardiff University Professor.

Dr Cliff Arnall, whom I suspect is one of those media-mad academics that delight in applying their finely-honed minds to the mysteries of the mundane, has come up with a formula that's supposed to 'prove' that January 24th is the day we should all hibernate.

His formula? Apparently its [W + (D-d)]xTQMxNA where W = weather; D-d = the gap (usually enormous) between your Christmas spending spree credit-card debts and your next pay cheque; T= for the time since you last enjoyed a good party and Q = the time that's passed since broke your New Year Resolutions to get a new job, lose weight, quit smoking or change the world.

Which brings us to M= motivational level (probably around minus-zero) as you staggered out of your nice warm bed this morning and NA= 'need to take action' - that nagging, desperate feeling that you need to do something to cheer yourself up, if you could only raise your depleted 'motivational level' high enough to work out what.

At first I was inclined to dismiss Dr Arnall's 'formula' as about as effective as the sort of 'spell' the Three Witches might have cooked-up in the Scottish Play, you know the sort of thing:-

'Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,-
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.'

Sounds as if it ought to do the business but is really just the product of an overactive imagination (although a brilliant and inventive one in Shakespeare's case). Still, before dismissing Dr A's 'Formula' immediately I decided to take a quick look at 'Black Monday' to see if that 'Worst Day of the Year' title could be justified.

As the Formula demanded I started with the Weather. It was, if you recall, one of those boring grey days, although the threatened snow never materialized - to the disappointment of children everywhere - but it could have been worse. It could have been raining cats and dogs or blowing fit to do serious damage, or even doing both at once.

Next came the gap between Christmas debts and the next pay cheque, which I must admit is quite depressing if you're one of those people who go mad with the credit cards in November and December whilst still trying to pay off what's owed on your August hols. Fortunately I don't have to tick that box - at least not this year.

T = 'Time elapsed since the last good party' - also N/A as we were out at one last Saturday night! I was also able to dismiss the next bit, namely Q = 'time passed since New Year Resolutions were broken', as this year I didn't bother making any!

However I have to admit that my 'M' or 'Motivational Level' was pretty low as I dragged myself out of bed. These dark mornings always remind me of the line; 'In Winter I get up at night and dress by yellow candlelight' although the poet's name escapes me.

Which brings me to NA = the 'Need to Act' to improve things. Dr A does have a point but I must point out that the feeling of a 'need to act to improve things' is part of the human condition. It's something most of us feel we should be doing on most days and not just 'Black
Monday January 24th.'

A quick trawl of the papers revealed that many writers felt compelled to denounce 'Black Monday' and list why this is NOT the worst time of the Year. Reasons included; 'The days are getting longer' - which gets my vote; 'The snowdrops are out' or 'If you think the weather's bad here, try Canada where it's recently 'warmed-up' to -9c'.

I also liked; 'It's the time bosses pay bonuses' - which begged the question 'where do you work?', 'It's my Birthday' and an analysis by Times Weatherman Paul Simons, who looked back at records that revealed little dramatic weather on this date, although he did admit that it sometimes marked the start of a spell of cold weather. Hardly surprising since we are in the midst of winter.

I came to the conclusion that Dr Arnall's Formula was, as I first suspected, a load of old rubbish, albeit a load of successful old rubbish. How so? - well as an example of reverse psychology it's a runaway success. Tell people why they should be miserable and they'll
delight in telling you why they shouldn't be.

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