I’ve always hated New Year’s Eve. That’s not correct, actually; I’ve only truly hated the last evening of the year since 1990. That was the first in what was to become a long string of moribund nights out that I have had to endure come December 31st.
On that occasion, shortly following my eighteenth birthday, I got drunk with some friends whom I was already starting to fall out with. High school graduation was around the corner and our usefulness to each other as the only group of people in our class who could read words that contained more than six letters, or could correctly point to Europe on a globe, was fast coming to its logical conclusion. One girl whom I had never fancied at all decided to make a big move for me that night. After I declined her affections, the remainder of the celebrations took a turn for the nasty. There was a long argument amongst three or four of us, the subject of which I can’t recall; probably something timely, like whether the Beastie Boys were a respectable pop act or not. This was all done with the girl I had spurned sulking in the background. I made up with her somehow, somewhere along the way, so much so that eventually we conspired to ring up a classmate that we had a mutual distaste for. We left an hour long, rambling message on his answering machine (remember those?) that involved threats, insults and random acts of rapping by the two of us. I ended the occasion by sticking my head into the toilet and throwing up for several hours. I arose the following morning with the worst hangover I experienced prior to turning twenty-five. Since then, if you can believe it, my New Year’s Eves have only gotten ever worse. Take the evening just described, then make it about ten percent worse every calendar end, and there you have my New Year festivities for two whole decades.
I was ill most of December 2010. Not sure why exactly, but I felt like I had the flu for about three weeks. What made it all worse was the fact that I had to trudge to work every day, that being a job on the ultimately unsuccessful Yes side of the AV referendum, past some sort of protest or another (‘twas the season for protests, what with tuition fees, austerity in the air and Ed Miliband telling everyone they deserved to be compared to Emmeline Pankhurst for wearing a sign on which an ‘N’ was “cleverly” inserted into the middle of the word “cuts”). The most annoying placard I spotted during this period of prolonged illness was one that decried “Save the Planet”, a slogan that was embossed upon a flag of the Soviet Union. This got my gander up; the Soviets have perhaps the worst environmental record of any country that has ever existed. They are to saving the planet what the Nazis were to protecting Jewish heritage. Forget about Chernobyl for one moment; the Soviets managed to destroy the fourth largest body of freshwater in the world all by themselves. It mostly involved badly designed irrigation ditches, water diverted from the Aral Sea (which was technically a lake) eventually causing it to shrink to one tenth of its old size and split into four. The areas around where the lake’s shores used to lap are so heavily polluted that incidents of cancer, tuberculosis and infant mortality are rampant. Then there’s the Semipalatinsk test site in Kazakhstan, officially known as the Polygon, where there were 456 nuclear weapons exploded between 1949 and 1990. The testing is estimated to have adversely affected the health of around 200,000 people. I don’t mind people with very different political viewpoints than my own. I just hate intellectual laziness, particularly of the kind that would lead you to put saving the planet and the Bolsheviks together as if they were synonymous.
So as it was, the New Year’s break came just in the nick of time to save both my health and my sanity. My wife and I had booked a skiing holiday to Borovets in Bulgaria. Now, the first thing I feel the need to cover straight off is Bulgarian cuisine. Every pejorative thing I’d ever heard about it turned out to be spot on. For the first day’s lunch in the hotel, the only thing I could touch was the white cheese. They had even managed to fuck up the flat bread. The meat was all over done and tasted a bit like offal. The pudding tray was made up in total of a lone satsuma, which had gone mostly mouldy. The food at the hotel was so bad, in fact, that even the English lads who had desperately wanted to save all their available cash for drinking didn’t partake in the hotel’s included in the price of the room buffets.
The skiing was little better. Most of the trails appeared to be closed and the ones that were open were hard ice death traps. The views were nice and perhaps the best day we had in Borovets was taking the chairlift up to a part of the mountain where the runs were closed but you could walk a few of the paths. We had beer and biscuits up there and tried to see Greece.
New Year’s Eve itself, I am happy to report, was lovely, even though the “New Year’s Banquet” that the hotel had laid on was no better than any of the previous meals. The first course was an array of different shaped potato wedges. One of mine was still frozen in the middle. Then came a plate of cold cuts with Thousand Island dressing dumped in the middle. All of this was washed down with white wine that tasted a bit like petrol. After the “feast”, my wife and I retreated to one of the bars designed for young Brits, where most were already well oiled for the countdown to come. As 2011 arrived, fireworks went off over Borovets and I kissed my beloved.
“I think 2011 is going to be okay, you know,” I said, and I meant it. I hadn’t felt that way going into a new year in a long time. Whatever happened on May 5th, I felt like working on the campaign was going to feel like a good use of my time when it was all over. At least, that was the way I felt after a few Bulgarian lagers, watching fireworks go off above the Carpathians. I had no idea what was ahead, but the story of how the AV referendum panned out is one I will tell some other time.