Material Remains

By Richard W H Bray

A small world fractured in the wake of an untimely death

Friday, 6 January 2017

what's wrong with arbitrary?

I didn't so much stumble into the new year as I did cheer and dance and hug and sing my way into it. The stumbling came a fair few hours later, as I descended the staircase after only 4 hours unconscious, needing to take my MS meds with some food. The house was quiet: every one with any sense was still abed. Empty wine glasses, lowballs, highballs, beer bottles, cans, wine bottles, covered every available surface. My bare feet were cold upon the tiled floor. I somehow found a clean glass and filled it with water whilst grabbing a piece of homebaked bread from the dinner the night before. I soaked in the quiet and took my pills. The back of my throat tickled with a tang. A cough followed. Yeah, I'd smoked part of a cigar the night before. It was a good cigar. New Years Eve and the bells were full of love. Later, there, alone in the kitchen, I reflected. 

I understand a lot of people don't 'do' New Years. For many, it's just an arbitrary date and folks make far too big a deal out of it. It lacks any astronomical significance. Christmas has only just passed and do we need another bloody holiday? Well, yeah, we do. Or I do, at least. 

See, I've spent the vast majority of my New Years in Scotland, and when I was a kid, Hogmanay was the most important holiday up there by a country mile. The old Calvinist doctrine of the country did all but ban Christmas. Folks worked through it regularly, in particular the distilleries. Instead, the time for family, friends, gifts, and making merry was the heralding of the new year. The folks who brought me up in this tradition made clear that it wasn't just a piss up (though that was indeed a significant part of it), but a chance to reflect with loved ones on the year gone, and brace yourselves and offer support for the future. 

If Christmas is a time for family, then New Years is a time for friends, close friends, the sort of people who you care so much about, who make your life better by being a part of it, the human hot water bottles that provide warmth, comfort, solace, and whose presence reassures you that the world isn't all bad. 

That's what my New Years are about, anyway. That and loads of great wine and food and whisky in the wee hours. That's the nice thing about it being arbitrary, you can make it whatever you want. There's nothing wrong with picking a day to reflect on the last 364 and look forward to the next. 

So I stood close the Aga as the house slept and I thought back on the last year. On friends lost and gained. On the deaths of heroes and villains and inspirations. On my family, my parents. On making wine and writing. On my mistakes. On why I wasn't as hungover as I should be. On how I was faring in the whole "being the hero of my own life" thing. It was less a progressive montage culminating in the night before than a free association that faded into the unwritten future. A big question mark that could be as much hope as fear. I chewed the last bite of salty, doughy, pretzel-like bread and washed it down with the last of my water. The kitchen was a mess. The dirty plates and glasses of 2016 remained unwashed. I listened to hear if anyone was moving. It was quiet. It could have been a crime scene, or an archaeological site. There were no echoes of the night before's laughter and song, but I closed my eyes and heard them anyway. Then I headed upstairs and back to bed. There was a lot of 2017 to come. I needed a bit more sleep before facing it. 

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