Every status update since the dawn of Thomas


Wednesday, 31 December 2014


I kind of love New Year, but this year I'm doing virtually nothing for it, and I love that too.

It divides people every bit as much as Christmas, but not as obviously. The reasons people love or hate or Christmas are well documented and understood: childhood magic, cosy gift-giving, holidays, feasting, family time – versus – commercialisation, stress and hassle, expectations, consumerist hordes, loneliness (if you’re alone).

But New Year (or as many annoyingly insist on calling it, New Year's) is a stranger beast. Some people really, really hate it, though often for idiosyncratic reasons. Certainly for those averse to big crowds and bigger parties full of forced jollity, it won't be their favourite night of the calendar - but people’s attitudes to New Year are all over the map, and I suspect very much tied up with good or bad experiences in previous years.

You are kind of expected to enjoy it – you’d be a party pooper if you didn’t – but at the same time nobody calls you a Grinch or a Scrooge if you don’t, and few people gush about how much they love the occasion itself in general. But I, perhaps surprisingly, do love New Year, or at least the idea. I have had my share of anti-climactic ones (most, in fairness, given the huge expectation to have a huge time) and my share of awful ones (the combination of that expectation, alcohol into the early hours and an often off-piste mix of people and places can make for some quite spectacular emotional fireworks...)


But you see it’s not really about any single party or event, nor even if a good time is had for me – in fact I have had quite emotionally traumatic New Year’s Eves that I look back on fondly, because, y’know, they were eventful and stuff.

The reason I love New Year is the same reason Alain de Botton is always banging on about airports. It’s about the liminality. Alain loves airports, not because of any single destination or arrival, nor any one teary goodbye or hearty holiday hello, but because they’re places of transition and possibility where everyday life is suspended.

Liminal places include the likes of airports, stations, hotels, borders, even bridges – places which are neither one place nor another, but hover in a limbo in between. And while you’re there, however briefly, you hover with them. They make few demands on you other than the need to negotiate your way through them – everything that mattered in your previous home or routine is put on hold, and you can view it all at a distance, in a moment of calm, while you wait to make your way back to it, or to something new that will take its place. Liminal places can be incredibly liberating and perspective-providing if you have time to stop and appreciate them (well, that might be stretching it for bridges, but the view is often nice).

New Year is like that. A few years back (after an awful, emotional one the previous annum, I think) I joked, ha ha, that my ideal New Year would be spent sitting alone in a white room in a big leather chair with a small bottle of port so I could properly think about what I had done. Ha ha. I joked. It was mildly funny (especially said with a deadly straight face). I was less than half joking.

Memorable New Years's – staying in

My fondness for the celebration probably goes back to what will always be the ideal for me (no, not sitting in a white room in a big leather chair) – the cosy close-friends-only house party.

Unlike Christmas, New Year is not really for "the kids", so it’s probably not that common for it to factor large in many childhood memories, but it does in mine. It so happens that from about the age of seven, for a number of years, as a family we used to get in the car and drive down to Bristol to see old friends and neighbours in the week after Christmas, in the proper tradition of Auld Lang Syne. I had spent my halcyon early childhood years surrounded by these good people, including one of my best friends, and we now only got to see them a couple of times a year at most, so this was very special – at once a return to the familiar and an exciting trip away.

In later years us kids got to stay up past midnight with the adults and Clive James being acerbic on the TV, before going bed – and then of course continuing to chat and compare notes about our experiences of the past six months or so, as we heard the reassuring (and increasingly intoxicated) murmur of the adults doing the same downstairs. It was perfect for New Year – staying up late with plenty of catching up, sharing, revelations, putting the word to rights, and year-in-review chat, something special but also cosy – and no need whatsoever for any alcohol or other stimulants.

I mist me up. That has always been the bar for New Year, and one I’ve never quite met since, but it certainly informed some house parties of our own in later years. I particularly remember a lot of discussion over the use of “rooms” in hosting that one of my friends and I agreed upon – that it’s not enough to have one activity in one room, no matter how much food and booze you have on hand. People don’t like to feel penned in, they like to explore, do their own thing, find distractions away from the main throng. Multiple things going on in multiple rooms. That is key. What’s in the conservatory? – oh! – there’s an old skool PS1 with a selection of retro games; and now I’ll just go to the toilet and – oh! – there’s air hockey in the bath.

Memorable New Years's's – going out

It’s got to be said, generally New Year's' spent in pubs and clubs have been less memorable for some reason (well, it's just yet another drunken night out, isn't it?) – but I have had a couple of particularly enjoyable ones down what was once my local, largely due the warm bonhomie of the lock-in, after the horrible jostling crowds thinned out to a more manageable but still diverse band of regulars hunkered down to the small hours.

Ironically, the New Years that really stick in the head are often the ones which really do not go at all to plan. My Millenium in The Smoke ended up much more surreal and memorable than it would have been because we never got to the fabled club we had tickets for. The tube shut down shortly after midnight due to a bomb threat and we ended up wandering the streets with vast throngs of people all in the same situation – aimlessly roaming, hoping desperately for taxi deliverance that would not come for hours, uncertain how to get home. We walked miles and miles across central London, faced police blockades at Westminster Bridge, saw shops open up at 3am to capitalise on the stranded masses... I can’t even remember if we found the club. I think we did, but by then it was something like 5am and they didn’t let us in.

Another New Year sticks in the mind because we insisted on marching a Christmas tree home about four miles through Stoke and Hanley for reasons that now escape all who were present. We had ended up in a rather dead bar with one of my friends livid that he had missed the chimes because at the time he was having a poo, and on the way home from this slightly damp squib of a New Year's, somehow managed to purchase this tree for 50p from some people who had in turn purchased it from a kebab house we were passing. I mostly remember the righteous sense of injustice (of the kind Russell Brand and George Monbiot would be all over today, no doubt) that the police stopped us three times and demanded we put it down - but we still got it home, dammit. And then threw it out again a couple of days later.

This year #1

This year, due to work constraints, my New Year festivities will be quite severely curtailed, which I’m strangely content with. I didn’t have any plans anyway, and even feel slightly relieved at being able to shrug off any nagging feeling that I must be having the best time with a simple “oh well”. I feel reasonably at peace with the turning of the year this time round, happy just that it's happening, and really feel no need to make a fuss and noise about it. After all, there will (I hope) be plenty more.

Last New Year wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great either. For various personal reasons you don’t want me to go into, it didn't feel like a fresh new beginning or hopeful clean page, it felt like things were coming to an end, ships sailing, people disappearing from my life and conditions getting tougher - I looked into 2014 with not much more than a deflated numbness. It all looked a bit flat and grey, like it would just be a lot of hard work with little on offer in the way of warmth, joy, intrigue or excitement to look forward to.

I was very, very wrong.

What my horoscope for 2014 should have said

2014 was a tough year, there is no doubt about that – there has been much stress and exhaustion, to the point of a record number of critical near-meltdowns, it seems, rather worryingly; there has been loss, guilt, heartbreak, bereavement, and some very heavy, serious shocks and concerns; not to mention a few-too-many alarming bits when the money just ran out – but one thing it hasn’t been, is boring.

There are years when you raise a glass on NYE and say “Thank the Moses we’ve seen the back of that f***er” (2008, if I recall correctly was a weapons-grade c***) but 2014 wasn’t one of them.

It was a year of two halves. The first was pretty bonkers, up and down and all over the shop in ways I could never have foreseen, but things certainly happened – and while some were awful, some were quite wonderful too.

By comparison it seems as if almost nothing happened in the second half, which also seemed to shoot by in a flash – but it was kind of like a recovery from the first half. The changes and bonkers events all seemed shudder to a halt, leaving me in a fug and a doldrums by the end of the summer. Almost without realising it the rest of the year, it turned out, was an exercise in slow building, getting back some fun, confidence, stability and control into my shit. To coin a phrase. Coming home and rediscovering oneself, if you want to get all touchy feely about it (and who doesn't?)

That’s what my 2014 horoscope should have said. It didn’t. I checked.

This year #2

So, as I gaze upon the unsown undulations of 2015 (and who doesn't?) I feel a quiet hopefulness – I have no high expectations of astonishing imminent successes, and I have no urgent action to take or resolutions to make, but this time it feels for once like I ended the year in a better position than when I started it, and there are real and genuine possibilities that things could continue to move and improve. There are options and I am open.

So no house party or lock-in, or roaming city streets (well, maybe just a bit), but neither is it the white room and big leather chair. I’ll simply be having a quiet spot of something and getting liminal with an old friend or two.