We are just into the new year and it’s high time I returned to the blog. A very happy and peaceful new year to all of you. I hope 2018 brings you all you might need to be happy.
Although I love the good wishes and the sense of new starts, I dislike the new year period. I find it hard to feel hearty and celebratory as another year slips by, and as I get older, I realise more and more how sweet life is. I’m not miserable about it, it’s just that the noise, the false bonhomie and raucous entertainment simply don’t appeal. I haven’t stayed up to see the new year in for many years. I ring around family and friends during the evening and then take myself off to bed as usual, looking forward to a new year in the morning.
When I was a child new year was a very traditional affair. The whole family (including one and a half sets of grandparents) would gather at home during the evening. At a few minutes to midnight my father would discreetly exit the house by the back door and make his way to the front door, which would be ajar. He would sing the chorus of a mawkish old music hall song, I think called ‘The Miner’s Dream of Home’ (see below*) and then walk though the house, in through the front door and out through the back, carrying coal, bread and salt. There would be much sentimental weeping, hugging and kissing and shouts of ‘Happy New Year’ and we would all gather on the doorstep to listen to the local church bells ringing “…the old year out and the new year in…”. It was like something out of bloody Dickens. Dad would then go off to do the same at any neighbour’s house that didn’t possess their own tall, dark male. My parents had been brought up in working-class families with Edwardian, if not Victorian, values and this was just one manifestation of them. This was the nineteen sixties – it could have been the nineteen hundreds. It’s maudlin influence has seeped down the decades leaving me with a melancholy apprehension and a life-long dislike of New Year.
There is one part of those remembered evenings that I miss, however. Do the church bells still ring in towns and villages on New Year’s Eve? I haven’t heard any locally for many years, and I think the occasion is the worse for it. I’ve always loved a proper ringing of church bells – two of my uncles rang at our local church and I would sometimes get taken along to practice evenings. The rich, falling cadences of the quarter peals, the called changes like some arcane ritual. It was enthralling. Sadly, it seems to have been lost to shrieking and fireworks. I’d rather sleep through it all and have the year fresh and new, ready when I wake. And then the plans begin – there are seed catalogues to read, the latest Nigel Slater to cook my way through, theatre tickets to book for the whole season, the greenhouse to prepare, a book to properly start, garden shows…
Life is sweet, indeed.
*’I saw the old homestead and faces I love; I saw England’s valleys and dells. I listened with joy, as I did when a boy, to the sound of the old village bells. The fire was burning brightly – ’twas a night that should banish all sin. For the bells were ringing the old year out, and the new year in.’