Call me superficial, but I love a party. Give me a canapé, a glass or ten of something chilled and a nice chat with somebody interesting, and I'm happy. I like the combination of freedom and captivity: enough pressure to jolt you out of the broken record of banalities in your head and into engagement with another human being, but enough freedom to move away from them if they're boring.
I like the combination of the familiar and the new: the rush of affection for someone you're fond of, the picking up where you (maybe months ago) left off, and the little tingle of interest when you discover a shared passion (Chekhov, Kettle Chips) with a stranger. I like the fact that when you've had enough, you can leave.
But I don't like New Year's Eve. I would, in fact, be hard pressed to name you more than a handful that you could call half decent. Millennium Eve was, of course, a disaster – a disaster which, like so much in life, started quite well. A friend was having a dinner party. Nice mix of friends and strangers, tasty nosh, brisk walk to watch best fireworks in the history of the world. Perfect. Or, at least fine. But at six o'clock the host phoned with a migraine. Oh my God. Not just a new year, but the dawn of a whole new era for mankind etc and I've got no one to spend it with.
Salvation of a kind arrived in the form of a friend of a friend's party. We drank, we ate, we exchanged sheepish kisses at midnight. We survived. And had a nice time? Let's just say that the "river of fire" which wasn't and The Queen's unlinked arms during Auld Lang Syne in the Dome sort of said it all.
There have been New Year's Eves waiting by bus-stops and shivering by clocks, evenings of enforced jollity and polite smiles with semi-strangers, evenings of miscellaneous waifs and strays, where the small talk feels as though it has gone on for ever and it has, it has, because you can't leave. You can't leave until the clock strikes and people sing, or don't sing, a song of which everyone knows only the first line, and you've had that mortifying moment of fixed smiles, puckered lips aiming at cheeks and missing, puckered lips aiming (even worse) at lips.
And if you spend New Year's Eve on your own, then you are officially the saddest person in the world. Which is why the fear of this fate, symbol of your utter failure as a human being, has become such a widespread theme of the rom-com, from An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle to this year's super-hip (and rather touching) equivalent, In Search of a Midnight Kiss. In Hollywood, of course, you always get the midnight kiss. In real life, however, sometimes you don't, and you don't even get the party. No one has New Year's Eve parties any more. Or at least, no one I know has New Year's Eve parties any more. Or at least, they haven't invited me.
We are, it's true, no longer all spring chickens, but neither are we all Smug Marrieds hunkering down with our nuclear families in the suburban equivalent of a nuclear bunker. As far as I can tell, no one's having parties not because they're depressed, or broke, or despairing of the future, but because they've all given up on New Year's Eve. They just can't be bothered, and nor can I.
A book, a bottle of wine and a bowl of Kettle Chips and I'll be happy. Well, OK, maybe I won't be happy, but I won't be miserable. And then we can start the new year. And then we can start the parties.