Friday 2 January 2009

been counting

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ...

Personally speaking, being a bit of a pagan, I tend to observe the winter solstice (if only from a distance) rather than Christmas, which strikes me as being the sort of thing that's a bit of a nuisance if you don't have a family to spend it with, and possibly a bigger nuisance if you do . Who was it who described Christmas as the only time that an Englishman would spend willingly with family rather than friends? -whoever it was, I know where he was coming from. Fortunately, I managed to lose my family somewhere along the way (all except for young K, of course), so I don’t have to do that stuff any more. Hence the ‘Christmas on top of a mountain’ option. It gets me away from the palpable air of overindulgence, regression and overwrought familiarity that seems to hang in the air.

Having already lighted a small flame against the darkness at the longest night of the year, it seems a bit redundant to do it again for New Year, which is only a bean-counting sort of event really. Or, in the case of the Spanish, a grape-counting event- I witnessed this custom on my last winter at sea, when, come midnight, the chimes of Big Ben were relayed around the ship followed by the captain rather solemnly and self-consciously wishing us all a Happy New Year: then, an hour later, the Madrileno equivalent of Big Ben (Benito el Grande?) did the same thing as the Spanish crew marked each chime with the swallowing of a grape. And all very cheery it was too.

However, despite myself and my sniffiness about new year resolutions and all that malarkey, I've clocked up a few memorable new years along the way. Like 93, when I was in Weymouth, working on the Channel Island ferry and my then partner travelled down from Bristol for the night. Weymouth does New Year big style, with the whole town thronged with revellers in fancy dress. So she and I swapped clothes for the evening and joined in. It was a bit of an eye-opener; the dragon in the room had come out into the open, and turned out not to be a dragon after all. The world didn't come to an end.

From where I am now, I can see it as the first step towards transitioning. At the time I felt that something momentous had happened, and wondered what to do about it. I'd recently been reading Seamus Heaney's Seeing Things, and a phrase he used came to mind: "I want to credit marvels". That phrase resonated with me. I walked on Weymouth beach the next morning before the town was awake, and found a scallop shell. I pocketed it as a keepsake and with a sense of pilgrimage yet to be made.

And then there was New Year's Eve 2001, when I first stepped out among friends as Dru. It was a very good evening, despite a small girl shouting "lady Dru!" at me rather too often as she thought it was too good a joke to use just once; and a rather dull lawyer type who got a bit alarmed at midnight, having conceived the fear that I might kiss him (fat chance!). "I....I don't think I'm quite ready for that," he stammered. Hopefully he's still not ready for it. Other than that, my friends did their best to get the hang of the new me, and it was all very positive.

It'd been a hell of a year, with my marriage falling to pieces and me wandering apparently endlessly picking up pieces in the trail of other people's doings... I'd made a start at the way ahead, having seen my GP and then a specialist in London, but I was still in the void between the collapse of what had gone before, and a new start for myself.

At dawn, I was up on the roof, admiring the sky. It was massively cold and clear, and the sun was glinting on the dense fog that hung over the Severn, to the north. It was the sort of morning, after such a night, to think bold and dramatic thoughts. So I did. "This is going to be the year it all happens," I thought. And, heck. I was quite right. And so were the following years too.

This New Year was very quiet. Young K had to wake me up, in fact, so that we could listen to the fireworks going off around Bristol. I like quiet. We'll do momentous sometime else, maybe.

Crikey. Seven years.


  1. Hi Dru - did you really post this on the 2nd of Jan - if so it wasn't showing up before!

    I observe the winter solstice too - sometimes with more energy than others. Its been a while since we had a Solstice party...

    Unfortunately we've developed the habit of getting colds at Christmas which not only stomps on the over indulgence but makes the relatives even less bearable....

    Grape swallowing? Hmm... I think I'll stick with more processed ones...

    Seems like your memorable New Years are sufficiently strong that they need a lower frequency than once a year... though 93 then '01 but not '09 makes it a less simple progression...

  2. Winter solstice has another meaning for me, too. Likewise, Christmas is to me a rather awkward non-event, but the 21st in particular is a special day for me. In 2000, I understand it fell on the 21st, and at 13.37, just as I was in theatre receiving the gift of a dead stranger's kidney. So, on the 21st, I spend the day giving my thoughts to that man and his family. My family don't seem able to grasp the significance to me. I 'phone them; "It's the 21st", I say, and they leave me with a blank silence. For me, though, it's as close to religious sentiment as I go.

  3. The 21st is my mum's birthday. As a child she thought it really unfair that she should have the shortest day and then everyone told her as it was so close to Christmas they'd give her a present on Christmas day (the war was on).

    Christmas is no fun without young children around. We have a very quiet time and just about manage to stay awake till midnight for new year.

    I hope I don't sound like Scrooge, I enjoy myself in a quiet way

  4. A beautiful post, Dru ... happy new year.

  5. Thanks for expressing it all so well, Dru.

    I, too, like it to be quiet. This year we had my eldest daughter and her fiancé with us for a few days for Christmas. That was the first time I'd been with any of my children for Christmas for over ten years. No real plans, no expectations. It worked.

    And New Year - something I never celebrated when younger - was spent in bed owing to a power cut and below zero temperatures outside.

    As you so rightly say, there's a time and place for the momentous stuff. But not every day or every year.

  6. No, Caroline; I started writing on 2 Jan, then saved as a draft and then took ages coming back to it. I had a very nice solstice, though the fire was indoors rather than in the garden; it was a bit nippy.
    I've got a vague theory that things go in cycles of seven years, but I get a headache trying to justify it.

    That would certainly make it memorable, R...

    Can't really blame her for thinking it was unfair, Anji. Winter birthdays generally are a bit limiting when it comes to doing stuff for children, never mind having one on the 21st. What were your grandparents thinking of? (Hmm, cancel that...)

    Thank you, Phil. And the same to you. And I just remembered I was going to drop the street names book round. Shall be in touch.

    And thank you, Chris. That sounds like a good Christmas you had.

  7. Glad to hear blogger hadn't broken - I update the posting date when I write drafts and don't get around to posting them...

    Is the 7 year cycle based on the 7 year itch? Though I've no idea what that's based on!

  8. aha... I didn't know you could adjust the posting date. I'll know better now.

    The seven year thing came up in conversation a few multiples of seven years ago, and, like so many theories-that-come-up-late-in-the-evening, if you think long enough about it you can mould your personal circumstances to fit it. My relationships have either under- or over-shot the seven year waypoint, though...

  9. Waves come in sevens too. Or is it elevens?

  10. that's tea and biccies, I think...

  11. 7 years are so powerful! That's a Saturn square, in astrology-speak, it's a quarter way round the zodiac, on it's 28 year cycle, and intent on restructuring. A good thing. Want to make any more adjustments this year?

    14 and 21 are also powerful. Happy 7th year Dru! :-)

  12. This year I am mostly getting mild vertigo, looking into a future without any landmarks other than those I think up for myself. I think I need to become organised and directed, which will be a challenge and a change.