This weekend’s new moon ushered in the Chinese New Year. It is the year of the Rooster: the Fire Rooster no less. I knew I was born in the year of the Rooster but only now have I learned that I am a Fire Rooster. Fire Roosters are apparently trustworthy, with a strong sense of time-keeping and responsibility at work. I doubt there is anyone that knows me who would vouch for my strong sense of time-keeping but the other two attributes I’d like to think were applicable. I am in august company, it seems. In no particular order, more famous fellow Fire Roosters include Dawn French, Donny Osmond, Jools Holland, Stephen Fry, Hans Zimmer and Martin Luther King III. Who knew!
So far, so good. But I also learn that Rooster years are unlucky for Roosters. Fortunately, this can be mitigated by wearing red. A red belt, red shoes, red underwear – all would help to bring good luck. But the red items must be bought for me by someone else: it seems I must have someone else purchase my new red underwear. While I’m pondering on this I read further, and discover that for this year, Roosters should avoid the colour red! Red, I learn on another page of the website, is my unlucky colour in 2017. On this basis 2017 isn’t looking too great, though it is looking confusing. I think I need to go back to basics when it comes to Chinese astrology. But at least it solves the delicate problem of who to ask to buy those red knickers.
All of which is a preamble to a look back – before January leaves us for another year – to the beginning of the western calendar and to our first New Year’s Eve here in Cornwall.
It’s a sorry admission, but when I look back even further – at New Year’s Eves in the more distant past – I can only recall a series of disappointments or non-events. When I was first married and we were filled with the excitement of having our own home, we hosted a NYE party. We’d only been married a few months, and the party was always going to be small, but it turned out to be smaller than expected. A party of two in fact – just me and hubbie. There was a heavy snowfall and nobody arrived. Food, drink, music… and just the two of us. It was a bit of a damp squib. I had very high hopes for the Millennium, but sadly, that too was a non-starter. NYE just didn’t seem to be my thing.
Then there was the first New Year that Bernie and I shared, not long after we met. Undeterred by history, I suggested we drive up Box Hill – a well-known beauty spot – with blankets, cool box and flask. I suggested that we see in the year wrapped up warm, sipping champagne, gazing out into the darkness with its twinkling lights spread across the Surrey countryside below, with warming hot chocolate to follow.
What an old romantic I am! I should have known better.
We began with a meal in the pub where we’d first met – so far so good. But the place was almost empty; there was no atmosphere at all and the staff were clearly keen to get off to their own celebrations which were no doubt destined to be spectacular. So we left the pub earlier than planned. And came out into a downpour: it was raining hard. Bernie was not enamoured of the idea that we kill an hour or two waiting in the car, in order to drive up to the beauty spot where there would be no view, no moon, no stars and no possibility of sitting outside without getting very wet indeed.
Since then, we’ve played it safe. A nice meal sometimes, and a bottle of bubbly in front of the pyrotechnics on the tv. Apart from the years when we’ve not bothered at all and gone to bed. And the years when one or other of us has been ill…
But I digress. This New Year was to be different.
2017 happens to include several significant milestones and celebrations across our extended family. We had a few early discussions with various members of the family about how we might mark what will be such a memorable year. A big family gathering in the summer perhaps? Maybe a full family holiday – it happens to be ten years this year since the last time we did that, so a fitting time to repeat it. True to form, nothing was resolved: it’s hard to meet everyone’s needs and find mutually free time in everyone’s busy lives.
But Bernie made a suggestion. Why not kick off this notable year, and perhaps start a new tradition, with a NYE gathering? We invited everyone here for an extended weekend over New Year: the idea being we could see in 2017 together and use the time to talk further about what else we might do to celebrate over the coming twelve months.
In the end, it proved too difficult to get everyone here. But all my three came, with husbands, children, girlfriends. Bernie and I came home from celebrating Christmas in Kent and awaited the arrival of my boys and their girlfriends the next day. Ellie and family arrived a couple of days later and the New Year party was complete. It was a relaxed few days in that space between Christmas and New Year: getting up late, ambling slowly through the day, board games. Tank monopoly, anyone? Or 3-D snakes and ladders?
My boys made good use of our hilly terrain to tackle some arduous running. Steve and Ellie took their boys Pokémon hunting, which proved a disaster at the first attempt since GPS is not reliable in these parts and there are no public buildings where the elusive creatures might be lurking. Pokémon, I am told, cannot be found on private ground. A trip into Polperro fortunately proved more fertile and I did my best to sound impressed, and enthused appropriately as the boys showed me what they’d captured on their father’s phone.
And eventually December 31st arrived.
My first frisson of concern came when Amy & Char disappeared to get glammed up. They are quite glamourous enough already but they were preparing their party faces. I don’t possess a party face, but I thought I’d better make an effort. I popped off to the bedroom and got changed. Reappearing and looking gorgeous – Amy, that is, not me – she quickly got some music going on her phone. Steve passed through and rapidly rigged up her phone to his bluetooth speaker. The music was now loud and clear. And fast and rhythmic. And my knowledge of modern-day technology was coming on in leaps and bounds. But another little ripple of anxiety: it would seem they were expecting a party…
Bernie was slouched in his usual armchair, with his usual range of gadgets about him. Tablet, laptop, phone, second laptop. I kept my head down and concentrated on getting the food sorted.
The music was rather good. Amy had some old rock classics going. It occurred to me that we were heading towards creating an atmosphere – a party atmosphere. Things were looking up.
But no. Silly me.
In a break in Amy’s playlist, Bernie suggested he put his own playlist on for a while. Now I do like his musical taste; it’s eclectic and invariably upbeat even if most of it can’t be described as current. But Joni Mitchell does not do party music. And we had an extended taste of Joni’s melodies. The tiny flickering spark of atmosphere spluttered and died: snuffed out. It couldn’t survive Joni. The younger members of the group were very patient. Perhaps long-suffering is more accurate. I realised I was becoming painfully aware of the generation gap…
The witching hour drew close. Bernie had bought some fireworks and Char had some giant sparklers. We had pink fizz on ice. The night was cold and clear. The scene was set.
Bernie went out to set up the fireworks. We followed soon afterwards, bundling on boots and coats, carrying glasses, bottle, sparklers, matches. Fizz was poured; we fumbled with matches, got the sparklers going; Steve got some music going, the seconds were ticking away…
And suddenly it was midnight. Bernie set off the fireworks, we oohed and aahed appropriately. I fumbled with my phone, trying to capture the fireworks streaming into the darkness whilst juggling a glass and a sparkler. As a result, I didn’t really see said fireworks and I have no pictures to show for my efforts.
Steve’s music surrounded us.
‘The Final Countdown’ echoed into the darkness.
“Oh,” said Amy. “We didn’t actually count down to midnight.” And indeed, we hadn’t.
The view from here reverberated with firework displays from nearby villages, and our own modest display was very respectable for the cost (so I’m told, not having seen it myself). We waved our sparklers and drank our fizz but we did not count the old year out and the new year in. And despite the bright sparks and flashes, that damp squib from all those years ago was tugging at my memory and reminding me: I really do not do New Year.
Undaunted, slightly desperate, and determined to have some record of the great event – such as it was – I snapped some family photos which are dark and grainy but which I rather like because it suggests atmosphere.
“This would be a great house for a conga,” I ventured brightly.
“We should turn off the music now,” said Bernie. “It will be disturbing the neighbours.”
The younger generation were silent. It was too dark to be sure, but I imagined them smiling indulgently at us old cronies. The last sparkler was long gone, together with the bubbles. We dutifully turned off the music, trooped back inside and watched the London fireworks that we’d set to record. Only something went wrong with the recording. Just as the display was getting into its stride the recording stopped and we were left in a vacuum.
In rapidly escalating succession, people drifted off to bed. Bernie may have been the last to give up on the evening – happily settled once again with his laptop, his tablet, his phone and his second laptop…
Note to self in large letters: I DO NOT DO NEW YEAR.
But New Year’s Day is another matter entirely. I have always liked it. The slate wiped clean; the promise of beginnings. And in my mind at least, New Year’s Day is invariably clear and bright and sparkling. This time it dawned wet and grey. A bracing family walk was not to be. And despite some of the group being with us for 5 days, we never did get around to discussing ideas for the year ahead.
So New Year 2017 was not exactly a roaring success. But we did have fun and it was certainly different. And memories were created and filed away. I learned – in this my 60th year – that somewhere along the way, without my noticing it, we have very firmly slipped into the ‘older generation’ bracket. It would seem that parties are just not for us. Jailhouse Rock lost out to Joni Mitchell; congas to couches.
But I’m not ready for the bath chair yet. The year ahead still holds those various birthdays and anniversaries and much else besides. Perhaps we shall celebrate as a family, perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter. There’s bound to be some good times along the way.
I shall wholeheartedly embrace the Year of the Unlucky Chanticleer and I shall not be wearing red knickers!
Disclaimer: Bernie occasionally looks in on A Corner of Cornwall. Should his eye be caught by this particular account, he would undoubtedly disagree with it entirely. This is the view from where I stood. I’m sure his view is quite different…