From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2013
You survive the winter. If there was snow, it has melted. If there were New Year resolutions, you have broken them. The days have started to lengthen: you see daylight while you commute, rather than only through the office window. Yet spring seems like a broken promise. March is dismal: you would prefer a crisp, blue January day to this drizzle and mulch. April is showery and cruel: you yearn for a month whose literary associations are less obvious and depressing.
Then, one day in May, it is warm. You sweat into the coat you mistrustingly put on in the morning, and you don’t mind. Trees blossom. Birds chirp. Buds darling. Instantaneously it feels not only that the worst is over, but somehow as if it never really happened at all.
In Moscow, where I lived for a few years, on this golden day in May there is an almost audible crackle in the atmosphere and on the streets, as all the pent-up energy of the long winter bursts free. The summer cafés unfurl their awnings. Long, amiable queues form outside the beer kiosks. Guitarists strum in the boulevards. The riot police look twitchy.
London has its own version of this liberation-day ritual, tamer but still edged with anarchy and lust. Crowds gather outside pubs, the women in their retrieved summer wardrobes, the men loosening their ties, thrusting out their hips and reminding themselves that they are married. (An early 18th-century marchioness vowed to be chaste for the whole year, but couldn’t swear to May.) It isn’t only sex that is in the air. For a few weeks, while the warmth lasts, every-thing is possible. This year will be better than last. You will be a better you.
It won’t, of course, and neither will you. If you live in Britain, summer may well be a wash-out. On the rare occasions that the sun shines, you will over-excitedly wear shorts and an embarrassing shirt and get burned. Your holiday will be a disappointment—with so much riding on it, how could it not be?—beginning with the sharp buyer’s remorse of your no-frills air flight, and going downhill from there. August will be a let-down, but the reimmersion of autumn will still be demoralising. In December you will be haunted by everything you haven’t accomplished that year, and every other.
Then another cold, sullen slog—until next May, when everything seems possible again, the world is new again, and a naive, hopeful, better you emerges from the chrysalis of winter for another brief flutter.
Which month do you think is the best? Have your say by voting in our online poll. Read Charles Nevin on December, James Lasdun on April, John Burnside on July, Kathleen Jamie on October and Ann Wroe on Brumaire.
A.D. Miller wrote "Snowdrops", which made the Booker shortlist, and is writer-at-large for The Economist