I’ve never been very good at New Year’s Eve, at least not since it stopped being a blur of drugs, alcohol and implausibly themed entertainment (the North Pole funfair under the Westway in 1989 was a particular high point. I insist there were polar bears. Certainly icebergs. What innocent times those were).
When the children were small they would keep us up anyhow and in that degree of exhaustion the distinction between one day and the next, or indeed one year and the next, is way less significant than the one between vertical and horizontal.
After that, it quickly degenerated into a choice between spending just a bit longer than you have conversational stamina for in the company of people you think are your best friends until you’ve been there for four hours and it’s still nowhere near midnight, or staying home until one of you whispers, “It’s midnight in Lubljana – can we go to bed?”
This year both UnChildren were off with their pals and no other invitations had forthcome, so I thought rather than infect Mr Fixit with my psychic toxins, I’d go on a New Year’s Retreat in the beautiful Isle of Wight.
There is something chilling in the sight of twenty-two people from the Home Counties playing after-supper ice-breaker games as the realisation dawns that it’s going to be like this for three days and nights, with no remission for good conduct.
So next morning, after a breakfast mercifully taken at random times, we all gathered for the first group session, billed as T’ai Qi and Performance. The T’ai Qi was accomplished with relatively little pain, beyond some skirmishing in the corner over how much fresh air was too much.
Then, judging us to be sufficiently softened up, or broken down, our eerily calm instructor told us to get into groups of three, and write down something that had happened this year. “What happens to what we write?” “Oh, nothing much, you’ll just share it in your groups.” “Is that it?” “Yes”. So we stared out at the clouds over the twiggy garden, sucked our pens and wrote.
Then we shared. I’ve never been great at sharing, despite its constant presence in the life of a youngest child, but I managed to share what I’d written with Jan and Moira. That went okay.
“Now!” commanded the calm dictator, “Now you perform what you’ve written to everybody else”.
To my amazement, Jan and Moira seemed perfectly sanguine about this idea. “I’ll do some mime”, said Moira, who had, until that point, appeared almost sane. “Oh goodee, then I can do my Interpretive Dance”, chimed in Jan.
Given a choice between interpretive dance and mime, I’d probably choose a double eyelid amputation. But as this wasn’t on offer, and there were nineteen fully signed-up pensioners between me and the only door, I said I’d do the words.
And this is what I read.
“This year, I decided to give up flying except when it’s absolutely necessary for work. My family thinks I’m mad. My son says, “Things are going to be bad enough for my generation without volunteering for more punishment.” My daughter says, “You had a great time flying all over the world when you were my age; why should I go without?” and my husband says, “It’s a meaningless gesture that will make you miserable and do no good. I’m off to pick up some litter.” I can’t argue with any of them. But I also don’t see how I can campaign to help the planet unless I do what I think is the right thing.”
By now the interpretive dance had become a dervish frenzy of swoops and dives, astonishingly like a 737Max just after the autopilot melts down. I noticed that the mime artist to my left had begun her digging gestures, so I hurried on:
“It makes me really sad. It feels like burying something, some big part of my life. There are good friends I’ll never see again, places I’ll never go to. And family holidays that won’t happen, or not like they used to.” I paused at this point, thinking of our half term trip to Barcelona a few years back, when I elected to travel by train only to arrive, several hundred pounds poorer, just at the point the rest of them were ready to leave.
But the 737Max was running low on fuel and the mime, who had dug as far as my toes, was glaring at me to get on with it. So I hurried on:
“It feels as though I need to plant something in its place; some other element that might grow into a different future life. I’m not sure what that will be. But I’ll try.”
Jan and Moira’s respective interpretations whirled to a glorious finale and the audience went wild. I was left, fully exposed, wondering what exactly I was planting in the grave of my cosy family life. Possibly an IED. Happy 2020, y’all.