January sure is a tough month to bear. The blisteringly cold, seemingly never-ending winter weather. The stream of post-Christmas credit card bills coming through the door. And yes, this year we even have President Trump’s inauguration to contend with.
In the midst of winter it can be hard to remain positive, and a quick glance at the daily headlines does little to improve one’s mood.
But it’s not all doom and gloom out there. I set myself the challenge to delve a bit deeper into the news and hunt out positive stories involving real people: tales of bravery, compassion, kindness and decency.
Here are my five favourites from this month…
1. A heroic rescue mission in Cornwall
The new year kicked off with a bang in the Cornish fishing port Looe, when the unlikely combination of Spider-Man, Superman, Robin and Bananaman were seen dashing through the streets together to tackle a real-life emergency.
The ‘superheroes’ were actually an RNLI team who had to unexpectedly leave a fancy dress party to launch their lifeboat at 1am, responding to reports of red flares being fired. It all ultimately proved to be a false-alarm, but the story highlights the unwavering commitment of these volunteers, who put their lives on the line to aid others at all hours of the day.
David Haines, operation manager of Looe Lifeboats, said: “Every shout out is very serious but on the way running up it was quite comical – not something you do every day.”
2. A warming revival in Saratoga Springs
A New York coffee house that gained notoriety for having a young Bob Dylan taking to its stage in the 1960s was reopened this month, following a mammoth revamp funded largely by a community of US folk singers.
A philanthropic partnership with a local developer combined with a fundraising campaign saw over $1.5 million being poured into the renovation project for the 120-year-old building, which includes the installation of an elevator to make Caffe Lena fully accessible to disabled visitors.
Dylan performed twice at the venue early in his career, and his appearances are still fondly recalled. “It’s a legendary place,” commented Jeff Place, archivist for Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution. “For singer-songwriters, playing there is like playing Carnegie Hall for classical musicians.”
3. Modern-day Good Samaritan digs deep for train fare
A kind-hearted commuter from Liverpool paid nearly £160 to purchase a replacement return ticket for a student after witnessing her distress at London Euston train station.
The stranger, since revealed as nurse Martin Gallagher, committed the random act of kindness after seeing 21-year-old student Grace Georgina break down in tears following the loss of the second part of her return ticket.
Explaining the motivation behind his generosity days afterwards, Mr Gallagher commented: “I have two daughters myself, 12 and 10, and if something like that were to happen to them, I would want someone to help them.”
4. Domestic violence victim set to marry rescuer
A former College student from Florida is set to marry the man the first responder who saved her life following a horrific attack from an ex-boyfriend.
Melissa Dohme was reportedly stabbed more than 30 times in her face and neck by her former partner; an assault that saw her flat-line four times and have 12 pints of blood transfused.
But, incredibly, she survived the ordeal, and later met the emergency services team who saved her life while at a speaking event. One of the firefighters, Cameron Hill, invited Melissa and her mother to dinner, which ultimately led the pair to dating. A couple of years later, when Melissa was asked to give the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in recognition of her work in schools talking about violent relationships, Cameron came out of the dugout and publicly proposed. The couple are now set to marry this spring.
Speaking to the BBC in preparation for her wedding day, Melissa comments: “All the people that saved me, from the first police officer on the scene to the trauma surgeon, are coming.Today I just feel very blessed to be here. I know that the attack was just one day in my life and it will never define me.”
5. Kurdish fashionistas looking for social change
An impassioned group of young fashion-conscious Kurds – calling itself Mr Erbil – is looking to project a brighter, more optimistic future and challenge perceptions.
Pictures of the 20 men posing in latest Western men’s hipsters fashion has become fiercely popular on Instagram, where the group now has more than 25,000 fans. Nicknamed “Iraq’s first gentleman’s fashion club”, the group stresses that what they are doing mixes “modernity” and cultural heritage, by harking back to the lifestyles of the traditional Kurdish landowning class, the effendis.
But look beyond the slick attire and the group has big social change at its heart: representing young Iraqi Kurds who are looking for a better life and challenge traditional attitudes, particularly on women’s rights. The group promotes a weekly “girl inspiration” post, in which they promote women working on behalf of the community.