What must December 31st have been like two hundred and sixty years ago? Meaningless: it wasn’t the end of anything but December. The year didn’t end till March 24th (and I don’t know if this was marked by any excess). It must have been odd in 1752, when they had two New Year’s Eves, this being the year when they shortened the year by 11 days, and switched the dates of the calendar.
Ends of the year used to mean outbreaks of faux-Scots fever on television, with anyone called Jimmy (Stewart? Shand?) turning into the TV headline act, and with Kenneth McKellar in the mix somewhere. McKellar was a professional Scot, who toured the country and graced the nether regions of the charts with vaguely skirling songs – indeed, he was even the British entrant for the Eurovision Song Contest in the late 1950s, where his bold braw moonlicht voice succeeded in impressing hardly anyone at all. I did actually see him once, about fourth on the bill at the fag end of variety shows. It was 1982. (Top of the bill was Ray Alan and Ray Charles.) There was an odd sense that, just for a day, the Scots knew how to do what the English didn’t: step ye gaily. And drink everyone else under the carpet.
Now we have Jools Holland, and a crowd of pre-recorded celebrities. Is it just me, or does everyone think JH is a hopeless presenter? Everything he puts his hand to turns to schmaltz, except possibly boogie piano, and I am only able to say this because I can’t – much as I would like to – play boogie piano. It may be that there are boogie piano players out there who think he’s not much cop at that, either.
You can see where I’m coming from: fedupness. I find the ends of years profoundly unsettling: another year of under-achievement, even in those years when, as sometimes happens, I have actually achieved something. September is the month I like best, and it feels a long way off. But today, for me, is about tearing up calendars, and feeling time slip away.
My father used to enjoy New Year’s Eve. He used to mkake sure we were awake to watch him step outside the door with some fetishistic objects, which included a lump of coal, and – am I imagining this? – a bag of sugar. And perhaps a bottle. He would solemnly ring the bell, and be let in, and then off we’d go to bed, none the wiser. He was a tall man – over six feet – and one of my abiding images of him is that shadow outside the door. In fact, my father has almost completely passed into shadow now. It may be that New Year’s Eve reminds me a little too much of how little I knew him, which is absurd, because, if he had lived for decades more, I would have known him no better. Unlike my mother, he never adapted to any world other than the one he had constructed around himself. He was immune to small talk. He had passions he didn’t share with children, kind though I suspect he was.
I am beginning to sound like Eeyore, although in the real world, I am more of a Rabbit.