What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

A couple of days before Christmas, I met my friend Nipun for brunch at Dishoom. He had booked in advance, as one must do in these times.

A member of staff met us outside and briefed us on the Covid regulations. As we left her and made for the door, I overheard her speaking into her radio.

“Nipun is coming inside.”

After the obligatory hand-sanitising inside the door another acolyte explained that we would be dining downstairs today and presented us with our individual pre-sanitised menus.

We moved on.

“Nipun is on his way downstairs” I heard from behind me.

I felt like I was brunching with POTUS. An entirely appropriate level of deference to be shown to a former skipper of the Holy Cross Second Eleven, I’d say.

Christmas Day I spent with my mum, making occasional Zoom contact with London. It was a quieter Christmas than usual. Mum and I watched the original 1969 version of The Italian Job in the afternoon.

We then watched a “making of” documentary on YouTube. Among the many interesting things I learned was that BMC (manufacturers of the Mini at the time) were less than helpful to the filmmakers, despite the picture turning out to be a feature-length advert for their car, whereas Fiat in Turin bent over backwards to assist them. 

Perhaps the most startling discovery was to do with a scene set in a prison towards the end. As news of the success of the job filters back to the Guv’nor, the inmates started repeatedly chanting “England!” as he regally descended a stairway. The documentary revealed that the prison used was Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, which was used as a place of incarceration (and execution) for Irish Revolutionaries, by order of the UK Government. And all these ‘inmates’ in the film were Irish extras, and here they were chanting “England!” in a place where the Irish were historically oppressed by the English.

Quite remarkable.

I stayed over at mum’s Christmas Night, in order to make best use of the Bailey’s which I’d brought with me specially.

Woke up Boxing Day to the realisation that – despite remembering to pack many of the essentials, namely Bailey’s and marmalade (I was unsure of the Marmalade Situation in mum’s house) – I had forgotten clean pants.

By cutting down on the laundry in this way I like to think I was doing my bit for the environment, although perhaps not my immediate environment.

When I got home I watched the 2003 version of The Italian Job. I cannot honestly remember if I changed my pants first or not. I do remember noticing that the beautiful Passo Fedaia was featured in the film, which is a spot in the Dolomites that we skied earlier this year. Seems like a long time ago now.

So, what are you doing New Year’s Eve? 

Literally every year, I hear people declaring that the outgoing year has been the worst ever, and they’ll be glad to see the back of it. It always mystifies me, as if the calendar year has somehow been responsible for their difficulties – that their problems started on 1 January that year, and will assuredly end on 31 December.

Without even getting to Hogmanay itself, I have already read a version of this multiple times in the media, which is no surprise in this strange year, but it might be worth remembering, before we curse 2020 and write it off as a “terrible year”, that 2020 – in and of itself – didn’t produce Covid-19. The virus is not tied to a specific timeframe, and will, I imagine, continue to cause problems for us well into 2021.

Also, January and February 2020 were good to us. I skied the Passo Fedaia (quite badly, if I recall correctly) in January. I saw some great films – JoJo Rabbit, 1917, Parasite, and Bad Boys For Life. Well, that last one is possibly not in the “all-time great” category. I got to celebrate a friend turning 50. 

And then, as March wore on and the sense of something serious happening ramped up, my jury service was gloriously cancelled.

2020 was a year when my daily routine and job were redefined. It’s been a year of deepened friendships, long walks, a rediscovery of the beauty of my adopted hometown, a chance to slow down a little, and breathe more. For others it has been much, much more traumatic than this. 

But even so, it strikes me as a strange thing in which to put your faith for change – the turning over of the calendar year.

I like the way that a new year starting presents us with what feels like a fresh start, a chance to begin again. But really, nothing actually changes on New Year’s Day. Which might be at least part of the reason that so many feel so depressed in January – as the New Year celebrations fade and Hogmanay’s balloon is punctured by the sinking realisation that all the previous year’s troubles haven’t disappeared with the turning of a page. And January, in Scotland anyway, has more than its fair share of dark and dreary days.

This is one of the reasons that I love going skiing towards the end of January – something fun to look forward to during those days. Skiing is cancelled this year, of course. As are dinners out with friends, the way I traditionally like to bring in the New Year.

So what are you doing New Year’s Eve? Whatever you’re doing, let’s not blame all our woes on 2020. It had some good times too. Here’s to more of those in TwentyTwentyFun! (© Party Jen)

Hogmanay 2019

Christmas has come and gone. I am relieved on one score at least – no more Christmas music with its abundance of glockenspiel tricking me into thinking I’m getting a tonne of WhatsApp messages.

Around this time of year, during the inbetweeny-bit, a strange compulsion comes on me – to clean my living space, and tidy things. I suspect it’s a pagan tradition, but every year I succumb. 

Mon 30 Dec

I set about it with vigour. Bags for the charity shop, the Recycling Facility and the bin (quite a number of socks in the latter) were filled. Older clothes, even those with precious memories attached, were ruthlessly discarded.

I even changed the bed linen.

Two hours in, the scale of the task was becoming apparent, but with bulging sacks and a vacuum cleaner – taking momentary respite from its endeavours – littering the hallway… as Van said many a time, it was too late to stop now. Out with the old, in with the new.

Hogmanay

The purge complete, I flicked through a ski brochure online, trying to decide if I have the time and money to fit in a second ski trip this winter. I don’t, but I’m figuring out if this is a non-negotiable situation.

My niece and nephew no.1 bought me the most elegant trilby hat I’ve ever known for Christmas. It’s yellow, and covered in gold sequins. It will make the perfect accessory for this evening’s Hogmanay celebrations. 

A thought occurred. I realised I hadn’t seen the trilby hat for a while.

Panic momentarily set in, before I located it in the laundry bin, where it had probably fallen during a particularly frenzied dusting episode.

Freshly showered and shaven, wearing a shirt not necessarily clean, but freshly-ironed, I closed the browser, clamped the trilby – smelling faintly of stale underpants – on my head, and set off to the party, clutching a few beers, a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels, and a packet of stripy doughnuts.

New Year’s Day

Sometime after 3pm I climbed into my car, after an evening, night and morning spent in the company of some truly great friends. The Jack D a little emptier than it was… the doughnuts, however, still intact.

When I plug my phone into the car stereo, sometimes the System remembers what I was last listening to and picks up where we left off.

Sometimes it chooses a random song instead. Today it pulled up the near-forgotten Natalie Merchant. 

Maybe it’s the time of year, the wispy melancholy that pervades a grey New Year’s Day, the contented tiredness from a Ligretto session that began before the bells and ended shortly before 3am, but Natalie Merchant’s liquid-silk vocals prove to be a serendipitous choice.

Farewell today // Travel on now // Be on your way

Go safely there // Never worry // Never care // Beyond this day

Raising a glass to you all, wishing you a year of hopes & dreams fulfilled. Here’s to great friends that make the world a great place to be.

Thank you for reading my random musings in 2019! 

<clink>

The January Blues

And, just like that, it was January. Christmas is all but forgotten, schools go back in two days’ time, routines are gradually rebooting.

I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in a variety of ways over the years.

I’ve been at other peoples’ house parties, I’ve hosted my own parties, been shut out of a Banbridge nightclub and had to bribe the doorman to get in. Been on Edinburgh’s Princes St, kissed a strange girl and then nearly crushed in the exit rush, the year before they made it a ticketed event.

I’ve watched Scottish fireworks from Calton Hill, Australian fireworks over Sydney Harbour, been behind a keyboard trying and failing to play ceilidh tunes as folk whirled in the new millennium, been in church watchnight services, in prayer meetings, sat with friends doing a jigsaw, watched Jools’ Hootenanny.

Over the years and across the experiences I’ve learned that my favourite way to bring in the new year is less to do with the activity, and even the environment, and more about the company. Just simply being in the company of friends is how I like to close out the old, and bring in the new, no matter what we’re doing. 

The older the friends, the better, I reckon, but it takes time to grow an old friend, as the fridge magnet says, and one’s friend-circle is an ever-evolving thing. So time with new friends is an investment worth making. This year’s new friend could be next year’s old friend. A year can be a long time in a friendship.

Maybe there’s a comforting reassurance, as something familiar ends, and something new begins, that we’re not alone, there are others on this journey with us.

And so the NYE festivities, 2018 edition, began with dinner out with friends.

My flatmate joined us for dinner. I put it to him that a worthy Flat Goal for 2019 would be to defrost the freezer, seeing as it’s currently quite hard to close the door without an application of one’s size 11s. He concurred. Much fruitful conversation was had with the gang on the best technique for defrosting our freezer. Hairdryers, hot knives and towels were recommended.

My flatmate and I are a little lacking in the hairdryer department, on account of not being overly endowed in the hair department. But hot knives sounded fun.

Most of the party retired in a southwesterly direction back along the canal to Ickle Bef’s flat for a heady late-night combination of quizzes, many rounds of Ligretto, and a smidgeon of Jack Daniels.

It was here that one of the party dropped the bombshell that Jools’ Hootenanny is not, in fact, filmed live, but pre-recorded early in December. She was, by her own admission, deep in Prosecco at this point, and thus I’m not sure her testimony can be considered valid. I remain in denial to this day.

At 23:59 it was suggested we put on the TV for the bells, which – it turned out – was cutting it a little fine. The TV had been disconnected from its box earlier in the evening for quiz purposes, and the New Year arrived, technically bang on schedule but slightly earlier than we were prepared for, with Ickle Bef wrestling manfully with HDMI cables underneath the TV.

Many, many of the NYE parties I’ve attended, and especially the ones I’ve organised, have neglected to remember that midnight – the climax of the evening – actually the whole point of the evening – was fast approaching, until it was fractionally too late even for the 10 second countdown, and someone hastily shouted HAPPY NEW YEAR! And then it doesn’t really matter that one missed the actual moment, because the round of glasses-chinking, hugging and well-wishing can be just as effectively enacted at one or two minutes past the hour.

And anyway, as Bono says, nothing changes on New Year’s Day.

I woke up New Year’s Day morning. Checked my phone. My flatmate had texted.

09:05

Happy New Year! Freezer Done!

There goes my solitary goal for 2019.

Bono’s right, and wrong. It may only be the calendar date that changes, but still, it somehow affords a fresh start, a reset of thinking and priorities. The days are getting longer, albeit not noticeably so just yet. 

No blues over here, just January.

Here’s to fresh adventures in 2019!