Rowan Pelling: Want to know what I did last night?

There comes a time when you have to turn your back on the most toxic date in the calendar
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The Independent Online

How's your head? Does this page look like print, or sinister weevils trying to burrow into your brain? It's a funny thing, really - you would have thought the right way to salute the virginal purity of New Year would be with a day's fasting, mineral water, votive candles, and a muscular session with the apricot face scrub.

Instead, New Year's Eve is just about the most spiritually and physically toxic date in the calendar. You gorge on crisps, dance the conga to novelty Christmas chart hits and assault your liver with cheap champagne, before passing out and waking to find your nose inches away from a putty-faced stranger. Often that desperate individual turns out to be your partner obscured by a miasma of cold sweat and kebab breath. And when you've started the year that vilely, you need a Bloody Mary for breakfast and hair-of-the-dog for lunch, and before you know it your New Year resolutions lie strangled in the cradle. Plus all this "welcome in the new" malarkey happens at the wrong time of year, when optimism, joy and a girl's ability to wear a string of sequins and call it a frock are hopelessly compromised by blizzards and Siberian winds.

A couple of years ago I was in Scotland for New Year when the weather was so unspeakably bitter that they had to cancel the revels in Edinburgh. That night I swear that the wind (chill factor: -20C) whistled through the bricks of my parents-in-laws' house and into my marrow as I lay fully clothed and shivering beneath two duvets and an electric blanket. January in Britain is more suited to a season of Ibsen than uproarious partying.

I would say New Year's Eve is crap, but that's soooo 2005. In 2006 I confidently predict that all we columnists will be saying: is it just me, or is New Year's Eve [substitute for topic of day] shite? Not obviously shite like Natasha Kaplinsky and tartan mobile phone cases, but slyly and insidiously shite, promising much and delivering virtually nothing. You think that you're going to experience the party of a lifetime, a brave new dawn and a revitalised persona. You end up with a massive overdraft, laddered stockings and a pile of cold sick. It's as if every Saturday night for which you mistakenly had high hopes was suddenly concentrated into one cosmically disappointing evening.

There's no sadder sight for a single woman than to wake alone on New Year's Day and see the party frock bought with such starry-eyed expectations hanging with limp, stained, fag-fumed resignation on the bedroom door. It takes long years to learn that the evenings with most magic are those we've least invested with the power to transform our lives - that chance invitation on a Wednesday night is the one that moulds the future.

One little-advertised benefit of marriage is knowing that you no longer have to travel halfway across the country in a backless, strapless, frontless fraud of a dress in the stupendously ill-founded hope of a snog at midnight. Before I met my husband, I can honestly say I never once experienced a truly enjoyable New Year's Eve. The least-crushing ones were those spent in my parents' pub in Kent serving pints to genial locals and trying to avoid beery kisses from an octogenarian ex-farmhand called Alf, who was still game enough to try and sneak his tongue in.

The worst were the parties held by a friend of a friend of a friend in an unheated barn down an unsigned three-mile track in the middle of Wiltshire, where you arrived to hostile stares and empty bottles of cider and ended up having to share a sleeping-bag with your mate in sub-zero temperatures in the back of her Volvo.

For all too many years it was a stark choice between being Nora-no-friends or having your heart ripped out without anaesthetic when no suitor came to claim you for the slow dance at midnight. As a teenager, I was unfortunate enough to have close female friends with the sort of precocious allure that left boys slack-jawed with lust.

I was left permanently scarred by an incident on New Year's Eve 1984 when a tall, dark, handsome youth sidled up to me as the bells tolled midnight and asked in tones of thrilling intensity if I thought my friend Sarah would dance with him. Sarah (buxom, lightly freckled, with a waterfall of thick honey-blonde hair) was wearing a faded Laura Ashley skirt and a Shetland V-neck with holes in it. I was wearing a tight, long black-lace evening dress with satin gloves. It was an early, painful lesson that there's no such thing as a pulling frock - there's only ever a pulling person.

One of the many appealing things about my husband when I met him was his suggestion that we spend New Year's Eve at home, alone with a fire and a bottle of Talisker watching Blade Runner: the Director's Cut. After years of thinking I would sell my kidney for a flash invitation, I finally realised it was the one day of the calendar I didn't want to go out. Subsequent years have seen the following combinations: Point Blank and Ardbeg; The Right Stuff and Glenfiddich; Das Boot and Famous Grouse (the austerity years).

It's a butch, brooding, gritty, wintry kind of New Year in my house. We know what January is all about. Suffering, misanthropy and grim reflection, tempered by hard liquor and ogling the likes of Jürgen Prochnow. And last night's programme of entertainment? Downfall with a bottle of Highland Park. Perfect.

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