It's got so that my eldest son seems to have developed a mild obsession with Australia, whither some friends of his from nursery returned last year. At Christmas I overheard an older playmate of his ask him why he always went on about the place. He's still keen. It's become a fabled wonderland of sunshine and kangaroos, where shorts can be worn all year round. I can't say I blame him.
Comfort, like everything else this time of year, is thin on the ground. But, for what it's worth, you can almost always find a miserable echo of your feelings in Hardy's poetry. Unsurprisingly, feeling glum in February is one of his topics.
Of course, Hardy manages to outdo us in his glumness: by the end he's introduced to an already downbeat month the welcome subjects of death, loss and mortality. But it's art - if we can't be happy, let's be sublime.
AT MIDDLE-FIELD GATE IN FEBRUARY
The bars are thick with drops that show
As they gather themselves from the fog
Like silver buttons ranged in a row,
And as evenly spaced as if measured,
They fall at the feeblest jog.
They load the leafless hedge hard by,
And the blades of last year's grass
While the fallow ploughland turned up nigh
In raw rolls, clammy and clogging lie—
Too clogging for feet to pass.
How dry it was on a far-back day
When straws hung the hedge and around,
When amid the sheaves in amorous play
In curtained bonnets and light array
Bloomed a bevy now underground!
Almost makes you want to give Ray Gosling a call.