Human Condition: A naughy New Year ... or the most nightmarish evening you'll ever have? - Life and Style - The Independent

Human Condition: A naughy New Year ... or the most nightmarish evening you'll ever have?

Matthew Sweet's New Year's Eve revelries peaked when he was 15, sitting on the bench outside the chippy with his mates, a carrier bag of Diamond White and someone's mum's fags. It's been downhill ever since, so this year he's playing safe and staying in

According to my encyclopedia, the first recorded New Year's Eve party was in Mesopotamia in 2000BC. That's two millennia before that business with the myrrh and the luminous baby in a shed and 3,851 years before Prince Albert popularised both the Christmas tree and the cockring.

This means (if you want ammunition to bore away any persistent relations still parked on your sofa, grubbing under the cushions for the last green triangular Quality Street) that for a sobering 399.7 decades, humans have been doing something ritualistic - I forget what - with a piece of coal; for nearly 4,000 years they've been mumbling, "I really love you, you're my best friend, no I do, I really do..." to people who they've never met before; and for 3,987 years, revellers have been cheerfully choking on their own sick in the gutter outside the Firkin and Crap Innuendo.

Depressing, isn't it? While the Chinese celebrate the Year of the Aardvark with firecracker displays, and the Tamils go on pilgrimages and cook "young rice" (my encyclopedia says), all British culture can offer is Moira Anderson, rat-arsed urination in shop doorways and a tuneless assault on something called Auld Lang Syne - a hearty song in which you attempt to dislocate the shoulders of the people standing either side of you.

We've all been bashing out this song since before Geri Spice was born, and nobody has the vaguest idea what it means. Those who caught the Boxing Day screening of The Poseidon Adventure will have reasonably good phonetic recall of the words: the rest of us just mouth along as cluelessly as John Redwood trying to sing the Welsh national anthem. So, I'm sorry, but I don't believe anyone knows what an Auld Lang Syne actually is. A Restoration stomach-pump? Tanzanian couch grass? Gaelic for barnacles? I can see myself now on Call My Bluff. "I'm afraid Lindsey de Paul has got it all wrong, so come with me, if you will, to Cambridge University in 1861, where Professor James Clerk Maxwell is using the Auld Lang Syne (along with the Auld Lang Cosyne) to work out his ground-breaking Theory of Electromagnetic Waves..." They wouldn't have a clue.

I have to confess that there's personal trauma at the root of all this curmudgeonliness. It's not that I don't enjoy New Year's Eve. Far from it, there's nothing I like better than failing to find a taxi at 3am, staggering onto the nightbus and then earwigging on other couples' violent, drunken arguments. Quite frankly, that's my idea of an evening well spent, especially if the insults get really cruel and personal. It's just that recent December 31sts seem to have taken an intense personal exception to me - much in the manner that Shakespeare describes the attitude of wanton boys to their flies.

In 1993, my partner and I decided to spend New Year's Eve with my parents. But tonsillitis was visited upon her, and she spent four days throwing up into my mother's second-best washing-up bowl. The following year, I was felled by an ear infection so painful it could've put a horse into a coma: I shambled around like John Merrick on a bad acromegalic limb day, then switched to languishing on the futon and re-enacting the Death of Little Nell, so weak and ill that I couldn't even be arsed turning off Andy Stewart's Hogmanay Show. That's some measure of my terrible condition.

For the last day of 1995, we booked a cottage in Cornwall with a group of friends, but just before we were about to set off, news of a death in the family sent me back home. My partner went off to Cornwall - and narrowly avoided being crushed in a quaint rural three-vehicle collision at a crossroads just outside Padstow. So, last year, we just locked ourselves in with a veritable grove of Terry's Chocolate Oranges and hid out. Remarkably, nothing happened. No mortality, no pestilence, no typhoons or mudslides. Just Clive James's Review of the Year, which was bad enough.

It's a sad decline, because I used to be quite good at these things as a teenager, thanks to the social oiling that went on at the charming pub at the end of our road, which would serve you as long as you were tall enough to see over the bar. (if you put all your pocket money in the Give Us a Break machine and went discreetly out of the bog window before the police arrived, they'd even give you a curly straw in your Tequila Slammer).

Memories of New Years past come flooding back like vomit surging up the alimentary canal of an underage drinker. 1987 - Pub, then on to house of classmate whose parents were stupid enough to go away for New Year. Mark Jones stuck his arm through frosted-glass door and an ambulance was called. 1988 - Pub and subsequently unconscious in Ormskirk. 1989 - Pub and later threading celebratory streamers through the fishnet stockings of my music teacher's daughter. Since she was the nearest Cheadle Hulme had to an It Girl, this seemed like a terrifically grown-up thing to be doing. 1990 - Pub, then medical students fancy-dress party in Levenshulme. Three of them came as Marietta Higgs, I remember, and spent the evening trying to insert a teaspoon into the plastic rectum of a Teeny Tiny Tears.

Well, these things are so much fun when you're a teenager, aren't they? It's the one night of the year when your parents don't insist you're back before midnight. Arm yourself with a carrier bag full of Diamond White and a pack of stolen filter-tips and that bench outside the chippy is your oyster. You don't feel bad about not knowing what Auld Lang Syne means because you're completely ignorant about everything else and, of course, too pissed to care.

This year, if I don't got a better offer, I might pop down my local beer-off shop (suppliers of Tennents Super to the Underclass), seek out a benchload of 15 year olds and welcome the new year in with an Embassy Regal nicked off someone's mum. Otherwise, I'll just hide in the cupboard under the stairs. Cheers!

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