Friday, December 31, 2010
Well, I made it through Christmas and, a couple of interminable car journeys aside, very enjoyable it was too. Now it's New Year's Eve. In years gone by, this would have been an excuse for staying up extremely late, drinking way more than is good for me, and an opportunity to kiss and embrace complete strangers. Now, with all these kids and all these car journeys, it will be an achievement for me and my wife to still be awake at midnight, though we plan on being. Last year, with a new born, I fell asleep in the armchair and woke to find the New Year had already begun. Come to think of it, it pretty much summed up the year that followed - me asleep in a chair. I hope to find a bit more energy this year.
Other than the carousing, there are a few other aspects New Year's past that I miss. First footing, for example, which I mentioned in a response to Yrsa's blog last year, which involved me leaving whichever party I was at just after midnight to be the first person to cross the threshold of my Grandmother's house in the New Year, which she believed brought her luck (and brought me a crisp five pound note for my troubles.) The practice traditionally involved opening the back door to let out the old year, then the front to let in the new, accompanied by a tall, dark male. In the mining village where my other grandparents lived, groups of men left the pubs at midnight, well refreshed, and went door-to-door, a lump of coal in their hand, first footing for everyone who wanted, in return for a nip of scotch. As you can imagine, those at the far end of the street welcomed some fairly tired and emotional travellers after umpteen whiskeys, on top of a bellyful of beer. I remember being there as a young child, allowed to stay up, amazed by the festivity and bonhomie that erupted for the hours that followed midnight. Lots of food and laughter and optimistic talk of the year ahead. Unfortunately in London, if you turned up at a strangers house worse for wear with a lump of coal, you're more likely to get a blast of mace in the face than a glass of whisky.
My grandmother was a stickler about what constituted a good first-footer. You needed to be male - females were historically regarded with dread. You had to be dark; apparently those with a light complexion were not welcome as a hangover from the Viking invasions. Tall was good, though optional. Fair was the final qualification, as in handsome, but again exceptions were (and had to be) made. Other than coal (for warmth), first footers carried salt (for wealth), a cake or some shortbread (for food) and something to drink, usually whisky.
All my grandparents are long dead, and while the mining village is still there, it exists mainly as a ghost town, the mine having long since been shut, decimating the whole area. It is hard to imagine the festivity and joy of my youth still goes on - the last time I was there the only pub had been turned into an 'activity centre,' teaching people about good diet, holding aerobics classes, with a cafe selling fruit smoothies and energy shakes - but I hope so.
All the best to you all for 2011.
Dan - Friday
at 8:00 AM