I have never much liked New Year's Eve. I think this may stem from one year I spent New Year's Eve with my parents at their local pub.
This was usually a good event - a lock-in for regulars after the itinerant revellers had staggered off to somewhere hipper (if, indeed 'hip' can really be applied to anywhere in my home town). As kids, my sister and I were allowed to stay upstairs in the landlords' flat until the time it became a private party, at which point we were allowed down into the bar and my sister demonstrated a preternatural talent as a barmaid, with a speed and accuracy on the optics which belied her tender age and stood her in good stead in adult life. This, despite levels of cigarette smoke that would would today be declared a biohazard, seemed impossibly grown-up and we loved it.
As I got older, though, I would rather have been out with friends of my own age, although my parents would never have stood for that - their view (with which I now concur) is that getting used to social drinking in a safe environment was better than being allowed out god-knows-where unsupervised. As a result, I did the usual teenage thing of grumping my way through the whole night. Midnight came and a drunk I had never met grabbed me, attempted a slobbery snog and promptly threw up over my right shoulder. That rather settled my attitude to New Year's Eve and from that point on (somewhere in the late 1970s) I've always been decidedly 'ho-hum' about the whole thing.
That's not to say that I've never celebrated it - there have been some years where spending the evening with good friends has been a delight, but that's the key - it should always be with people you know and care about. The thought of dragging myself into a crowded city centre bar just to spend the evening with a bunch of drunks simply doesn't appeal.
In recent years, the demands of kids has meant that we both stay home and watch the glittering Novemberfest that is Jools' Hootenanny. Even this seems to be subject to a law of diminishing returns, with guests who are possibly the least interesting they could muster (with honourable exceptions, of course). Over the last couple of years, the girls have joined us at midnight (they were usually still awake anyway), which does at least mean that the family is together for the turn of the year. Sometimes we get a phone call from my octogenarian parents (if they haven't given up and got an early night) and my sister's fibromyalgia now prevents her from a) drinking very much b) going out revelling c) guaranteeing to be awake at midnight - although that's not to say she won't be awake at 3am, 4am or 5am, having been dropping with fatigue at 8.30pm. We get calls from a couple of our oldest friends, after which we head for bed, seldom drunk enough to worry about a hangover in the morning.
What bugs me about New Year, though, is the continual triumph of hope over experience that has us all saying things like "let's hope it's better than the last one!". I'm essentially a fairly optimistic and practical person, hard-headed enough to sort my problems out and fight my corner when needed. This year, though, I simply cannot remember a time when I've dreaded the thought of the following twelve months more. True, we can never know what the future will bring, but of the things I know are coming our way, none of them are good. Our family income will be hit by a double whammy; my partner's pay being downgraded (he doesn't deal directly with the public, you see, so he's one of those awful "back office" types we are all supposed to deride) and frozen (again). And then there's the financial penalty we'll pay on our tax credits for our selfish lifestyle choice of having a disabled child without the foresight to ensure that she was severely disabled. The utter cruelty of a government which chooses to reduce financial support for the "not disabled enough" while simultaneously removing all other support structures is utterly breathtaking. For this reason, I won't, if it's all the same to you, be wishing anyone empty platitudes about better times ahead. For the vast majority of us, 2012 is going to be dire, and my profound wish is that we all come through it as unscathed as possible. Those of you on my Facebook Friends List and my Twitter buddies are all wonderful people and I wish the best to all of you - just don't ask me to dance around any fountains spouting rubbish about next year being fab!
My dad's usual new year greeting is "Duck! Here comes another one!" This year, more than ever, he's captured the zeitgeist.