It’s hard to celebrate New Year’s Eve when, if like me, you don’t drink, you don’t do drugs, you don’t have sex with skanky strangers in sleazy toilets anymore — and you like to be in bed by 9 p.m.
My ex-wife used to complain that she was married to a man who wanted to go to bed at nine on New Year’s Eve. The bit she left out from this tale of woe was that I wanted to go to bed with her and celebrate with cold martinis (I still drank back then), hot sex and yummy food. Isn’t that a better way to see out the year than a party full of drunk strangers desperately trying to make whoopee?
The answer for most of my friends and most of London too is: no. They have this compulsion to celebrate and get very anxious about not having a party to go to on the big night. It’s seen as a sign of social failure not to have one or more invites. I know married couples who will spend huge amounts on cabs, Champagne and babysitters to travel right across London just to attend any party they can find rather than suffer the stigma of being all dressed up with nowhere to go.
They pity single men, like me, who are home alone on NYE. That’s cool. I pity them. They will never know that great feeling of liberation when you realize that you don’t need to go out and get wrecked to celebrate it. You can stay at home, potter about in your slippers, drink cocoa, listen to Coltrane, read Pascal, jerk off and go to sleep knowing that come the morning you will enjoy that warm, smug glow of waking up without regret or recrimination.
Of course, I haven’t always thought this way. When young and single, I was a NYE party animal. (On hearing that boast the ex-wife said, “Oh yeah? What animal was that: a gerbil?”) But over the years I realized that the reality never matched the romance.
Back then I always imagined that one day I would find my dream NYE party: that sophisticated assembly of the beautiful and the brilliant where Champagne and witty conversation would flow endlessly. Midnight would arrive and I would enter the new year lost in the lips of an elegant and mysterious woman whose name I never caught and whose kiss I would never forget.
In reality I was usually drunk in some scuzzy dive in South London in a room full of creepy crazed cokeheads talking gibberish all night long. Midnight would arrive and I’d be snogging the tattooed, heavily pierced woman whose hair I had just been holding back as she puked in the toilet. Ah yes, I remember looking at her red bloodshot eyes, the little snail trail of her coke snot, the warm breeze of her vomit breath. Thank heavens she didn’t accept my offer of marriage.
Or I’d schlep across London to find a half-empty living room where drab people made dull conversation while bad-tempered children and neurotic pets roamed free. The killer is when you get stuck on the sofa with somebody’s mom or dad and they spend the whole of New Year’s Eve telling you about their battle against bowel cancer.
This year’s NYE in London was invested with even more importance than usual because it was the first post-lockdown celebration. But the traditional big public display of fireworks along the Thames was canceled because of Covid-19 fears. Other essential ingredients were missing too, like hope and optimism about the year ahead. God knows, after the past year we all need something to look forward to — but what exactly did we have? Just more of the same or worries that things would get worse.
And NYE celebrations are meant to be the time when when we all come together. But with the culture wars still raging, we’ve become so abusive and angry at each other, how can we all suddenly link arms, sing “Auld Lang Syne” and wish each other a happy new year when we wish the “snowflake” or “transphobe” next to us would just shut up.
It’s the young who I feel sorry for. All the old pleasures have been pathologized. Fireworks are bad for the environment, booze is bad for your liver, kissing without consent is bad for your job prospects. I wonder if the party is over for the NYE party. And so to bed.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2022 World edition.