I hate New Year. I loathe it. I can’t abide the auld long syne lardy nostalgia and the lists of the ten best films in the previous year, the ten worst, the ten best shows, the ten best festivals. Lists! How can the editor of any national newspaper allow his pages to be padded out with lists? Who reads ’em?
New Year to me is the tail end of a real celebration, the tree is shabby, the decorations are tired, we all just want to get back to normal.
I can’t stand the New Year telly offerings, full of old grainy footage and people you vaguely remember and whose ageing has done them no favours. …. I mean, look what’s on right now; as I write this, at half eight on 29th December the BBC is trotting out an evening of ‘sparkling conversation and theatrical anecdotes, with Dames of stage and film, including a sprinkling of archive footage .’ When I read that I knew without looking that they would be the BBC faithfuls, the old girl’s club – Dames Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Eileen Atkins. I was right, but I missed out another in the mix – Dame Joan Plowright. On the other main channel there’s a cobbled-together programme about theITV daytime studios, going back to 1972 when they were built. So on one side we see four rather posh and twinkly really old (but oh so game!) gals and on the other we see people we remember as fresh faced and energetic, now faded, wrinkled, grey, done.
Oh, dear. How depressing. Every year it’s the same. Every blinking year. I’ve done 70 of them so far. Or 69 or 71, however it works out. Isn’t it time I was called home? Spared this stuff?
George was a true Scot and to him Hogmanay was a fabulous night of fun and celebration. The Hogmanays of his youth consisted of wild first-footing, all over Glasgow, when he would leave the house just after midnight and first-foot all round his neighbours and friends, with a bottle of whisky (or two) a piece of coal and a piece of bread. When he came to England and discovered that no one down there knew the tradition, he was appalled! First footing, my friends, means that the first person who steps over your threshold in the New Year should carry coal to signify that you will be warm all winter, bread to signify that you’ll be fed all year, and whisky… well, whisky to drink there and then. Take a swig, pat each other on the back, laugh a bit and go on to the next house and the next party. Other ‘gifts’ to take might include silver (a two bob bit, back then), salt and maybe shortbread. Each New Year’s Eve Glasgow came alive with first footers and in Derby poor George was so very homesick!
The first New Year after he died, determined not to wallow in the grief of looking back or the fear of looking forward, I said brightly to Lou “We’ll do something completely different! We’ll go to the Caribbean for New Year and so escape the maudlin’ emotion of it all.” So we went to a very swish all-inclusive resort in Barbados and took a friend of Lou’s too, so that she wouldn’t have to stare at her sad Mum for the whole week. On New Year’s Eve we spent the day swimming and strolling and tasting cocktails (the girls were 15, so some of theirs may have been virgin) and in the evening we went to our rooms to get ready for dinner. When we came out, what a shock! We hadn’t realised but New Year’s Eve in Barbados is even more loved-up than our Valentines Day. There were hearts everywhere, roses, helium balloons, red satin, fat little cherub Cupids firing arrows……. think of every crass symbol of romance and multiply it by a hundred and there it was. We sat at our table, cringing. Or maybe the girls were stifling giggles, desperate to be cool in this ridiculous schmaltzy atmosphere. Just when we thought it was as bad as it could get, it got worse; the host took the microphone and in a deep velvet voice (think Barry White) he began to croon “Ladies and gentlemen, all you lovers… this is your night… look into each other’s eyes….gentlemen, share your heart with your lady-love…. ladies, tell your man that he is all you have ever dreamed of….” You can imagine the dumb dazed misery of two embarrassed teenagers and a really cheesed off 42 year old. George had never been so absent as he was at that moment. And then we saw sense, and rebelled. I grabbed the bottle of champagne (one on each table) and they grabbed their cocktails (complete with swizzle sticks) and we waded into the sea, fully dressed. We saw in the New Year swigging from the bottle, up to our waists in the ocean, behind us the orchestra playing ‘Begin the Beguine’, above us the glittering heavens. There we stood, shipwrecked and empty, laughing like maniacs, our grief and anger defiant. A broken hearted teenager, and her broken hearted Mum, getting pissed in the warm waters of the Caribbean. Bonkers.
So, in the end, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Better than 2019 in flaming Wales, anyway.
Oh, do get over yourself, Luce. Last year was OK – I had a houseful of friends, and the next day was busy with washing-up and clearing away. No time for self-pity. I should have done that this year but life got in the way.
Oh! But listen. Isaiah! Isaiah!! Forget all that New Year stuff – listen to this.
I can’t get enough of the book of Isaiah. I’ve spent two years on it so far, and I’ve read two commentaries, and I’m still getting great chunky juicy fabulous nuggets of amazing truth from its pages. It’s a dense and complicated book so there’s loads and loads that I don’t understand or understand only briefly, but can’t keep a hold of. I wasn’t going to spend this year on it in the same depth, planning to re-read just one of the commentaries and be done, but I’ve had to think again! A friend and I study together every week, just a meal and a chat and then a study, and today she bowled up with …. Isaiah! So, haha! Here I come again. Deja vu, all over again, again. But better than the artificial man-made New Year deja-vu, looking back in misery, this is a real deep fabulous feeling of recognition, a sense of exploration and discovery, a fabulous New Year gift.
I know that scripture is God inspired, and Isaiah was just the mouthpiece, but I still want to shake that man’s hand, and say ‘Hey – you brightened my New Year, and that takes some doing!’ I wonder what it was like to be Isaiah? He was great loyalist (not royalist) in a time of national trouble, and he had things to say that no one wanted to hear, and he was determined to say them. God had laid some heavy heavy stuff on his heart and he accepted the job. Great bloke. Great God enabling him. When I read Isaiah I’m filled to the brim with a sort of chortling, surging joy. There’s so much to understand, there’s so much to wonder at, our God is so magnificent, His words are so terrifying, so chastening, so loving and full of promise. Listen to this, in the very first chapter, before we’ve even ‘first-footed’ over the threshold
This is The Message version, which is a paraphrase rather than a straight translation, and I’m not the greatest fan of the message, but this I love. It’s God speaking to man, through Isaiah.
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
while you go right on sinning.
When you put on your next prayer-performance,
I’ll be looking the other way.
No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
I’ll not be listening.
And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing
people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
Go home and wash up.
Clean up your act.
Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.
Isn’t that wonderful? Don’t you think that’s marvellous? I do. I wonder at it. He doesn’t want religion, He wants our love, and our love for each other, justice, compassion. Maybe I’ll spend New Year’s Eve reading this. It will be the updated and improved 2019 version of standing in the Caribbean with a bottle of champagne and a broken heart.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4