Joanna Briscoe: The Sharp End

If there's one thing worse than New Year's Eve, it's having your birthday three days later
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The Independent Online

For those of us not on breast milk or Zimmers, an obstacle race beckons. One in which we are strongarmed to partake in a merriment marathon that makes us all feel simultaneously Scarlett O'Hara-ish and completely shit.

Once the Christmas mwah-mwah-ing is over, there's the whole business of grubbing round for a good New Year's party while implying one is a bristling hedgehog of invitations. Expectations are always so intense that on Millennium eve, eight months pregnant, I dithered for hours about whether or not to waddle down to the Thames to be jostled by hysterical crowds just so that I could reassure myself that I'd marked the occasion by looking at fireworks.

Why this absurd pressure, we ask ourselves primly? Why do we all culturally collude? Because if we're not whooping it up and dodging strangers' saliva in someone's nasty flat as Big Ben bongs, we feel consigned to the socio-economic sector that picks its spots in its anorak in front of Jools Holland's Hootenanny - which I recently found out, to my naive disappointment, is filmed much earlier in the day, even though they've got a great big clock and all the celebrities cheer at pretend-midnight. Not that I've ever seen it, of course.

Partied out

For those of you born in normal, temperate months, your only problem is a double water-jump of Christmas and new year. I, however, as an Epiphany baby, almost Jesus - well, possibly a shepherd, mayhap a mule - have a triple, bastardy Beecher's Brook of a social life to organise.

A mere week after New Year's Eve comes my birthday and with it an obligation to summon my bankrupt and partied-out friends to a group dinner in a restaurant of my choice. They have to shell out for a babysitter, organise transport, cough up for their own food, and then take it in turns to give me presents. It seems like a shameful swindle for all concerned except me. Guilt therefore compels me to lug in a birthday cake, shave the drinks off the bill, and become manic and tiresomely garrulous, peppering my conversation with rude words delivered at a shout in my desire to show them all a good time. I experience an urge to give them party bags. I then shoulder my booty home, often throw up, and spend the night fixating on fluctuating objects of paranoia in a drunken conviction that I've caused someone offence.

With a January birthday, there's also the extra annual pressure to reinvent yourself. After all, you may have lapsed on 3 January but now, with a whole new age to hide, you have a shiny second chance to be good. While none of us grown-ups really believes in the new-year-new-you trilling and simply snigger at self-deceiving idiots who take out Jan-first gym membership, there's still a subliminal, virtually mystical belief in seasonal self-transformation.

The new you

Reinvention has reinvented itself over the years. As a child, I would pledge to learn 1,000 new French words a week and grow my hair to my bum. I was also set on finding a Borrower. This descended from a frenzy of excitement about spotting a miniature person skedaddling into a wainscot to a determination to get those little gits. I prodded with an old car aerial, laid food for traps, used torches as search lights, and by June, the eccentric fairy folk had taken on the status of vermin. As the years passed, I focused on looking like a Charlie's Angel, starving myself, becoming bezzies, if not lezzies, with Debbie Harry, and writing a novel that would be designated an A-level set text while I was still at school so I could watch friends being maddened with jealousy.

Nowadays, the resolutions entail seeing a financial adviser, squeezing in another baby if at all possible, thinking about saving non-existent money for school fees, and at least planning to swim in an Icelandic geyser after sorting out insurance policies and council tax to demonstrate that one's spirit of adventure is still intact.

As ever, this culture of self-improvement is particularly female. Men, even screaming metrosexuals, are simply not subject to the same obligation to paralyse their corrugator muscles with botulinum or feed their children healthier food in the name of new year's reinvention. So hey, sisters, we should all resolve to celebrate our own magical selves, sit at home calmly nurturing our young on 31 December, and worship our own really really beautiful post-Christmas bodies. The problem is that I find a system of sticks and carrots the only way I ever get anything done. Life is a constant attempt to match up to the idea one had of one's glorious future self, formulated in extreme youth, but perpetually looming large, glittery yet disappointed.


As I write, I still haven't got a good New Year's party to go to. This is a hint to anyone who wants to invite me. There are still a couple of days of insouciant enquiring left to do followed by a whole list of stringent resolutions to bang into my PC. It's exhausting, this seasonal break. I need a great big fat holiday.

'Sleep with Me', a novel by Joanna Briscoe, is published by Bloomsbury (£9.99)

Bridget Jones will be back next week