IT IS, according to those who party on a semi-professional basis, amateur night. The one date in the calendar when people whose usual idea of a wild time is an extra shot in their skinny latte turn into Lindsay Lohan on the randan.
Hogmanay, allegedly the biggest party of the year, is terrifying. The pressure is on: to have an evening of wild debauchery, drinking and dancing, ending up at a house party in Springburn where you swap shoes with a drag queen and have to walk home in your tights. Or to rent the most idyllic cottage, in the bonniest glen, and fill it with friends and family who actually enjoy each other’s company, then light huge fires and play Scrabble without weeping. To cook the perfect sit-down dinner for 15 of your closest friends without coming out in a stress rash. Mix this improbable cocktail! Dazzle in this floor-length evening gown! Have fun! Have more fun! It’s all too much. I’ve got a hangover before the first cork is out of the first bottle of champagne.
It’s the unmanageable expectation that defeats me. Christmas is different: it’s predictable and formulaic, the same guest list, the same menu, the certain knowledge that the large beribboned box does not, in fact, contain a Celine handbag, KitchenAid food mixer or Burberry parka (it’s a selection of powerfully scented Gok Wan footcare products, non-returnable).
New Year’s Eve, however, is a darkly unknown quantity. It has no instruction manual, it’s simply the one night of the year when everyone is obliged to have fabulous, decadent adult fun. Those with children are expected to bring them to the party too, and leave them watching Fred: The Movie while the adults drink dirty martinis and eat oysters until dawn.
I don’t remember my parents feeling the need to re-enact The Great Gatsby on the last night of the year. They certainly did not heartache over whether to buy tickets for Ashton Lane, head to the big concert in Princes Street Gardens or get down with the kids in a converted glue factory. If I was taken to glittering balls in my carry-cot, it has been deleted from the family memory bank.
Instead, as a special treat, I would be allowed to stay up for the bells. Sitting through Andy Stewart and interminable Highland dancing, in my pyjamas, even then I wondered what all the fuss was about. Other years there might be a sedate gathering of neighbours and a fork supper. The window would be opened at midnight, to let the old year out and new one in.
We had a black bun only once. It was sold to us children as a rare treat, a great Scottish delicacy that we must try. To my eight-year-old palate it combined the worst features of mince pies and Christmas cake, two items that I could already well do without, in one dusty slice. Who, I clearly remember thinking, would eat this when there were perfectly good toffee Yoyos in the house? Despite the heavy spin, no-one else was very keen on it either. It was thrown out, unfinished, in March.
Black bun can still, I understand, be sourced from specialist retailers. Andy Stewart and fork suppers, however, are no longer with us. Now we have newsreaders in their Karen Millen finery, heritage rock artists and sushi platters to get us through until midnight.
A Morrisons poll of 2,000 people found 83 per cent of them intended to stay in tomorrow night. Almost half had no more exciting plans than a film and a giant packet of Doritos. And while a supermarket group with a range of mini steak and ale pies in its festive food range, and which hopes to sell 89,000 bottles of champagne before Tuesday, has a vested interest in chaining us to our sofas, it also points out that this is a 10 per cent increase on last year’s party-poopers, which was itself a post-war record.
So instead of neighbours bearing lumps of coal, we crack open the carry-out and welcome our new circle of intimates: the casts of EastEnders and Coronation Street, Jools Holland, Alan Carr.
Even those of us who refuse to leave the house on Scotland’s biggest night of the year – New Year was a public holiday long before Christmas, which was a working day in Scotland until 1958 – must work extra hard to escape our national identity. The BBC brings us a two-part quiz about Scots on television, a documentary about the Dandy, Only An Excuse?, the traditional live broadcast from every city holding a hoolie and, for a special early-morning treat, a repeat of a comedy show chosen by BBC1 Scotland viewers.
Thankfully, for those of us who prefer sneering at other people’s wardrobe malfunctions and culinary disasters to venturing our own, Channel 4 has the 30 “best bits” of dinner table schadenfreude from Come Dine With Me.
It is all too traumatic to contemplate. Time, I think, for the amateurs of the world to unite, for those of us who have no desire to do the full Lohan to stand up and be counted. We need a Hogmanay equivalent to “Bah, Humbug”. I plan to spend tomorrow night dreaming one up. At home. In my jogging bottoms. With the lights off.