New Year Eve: a time for cruel insanity, rich forms of banality and not a little bestiality wherever alcohol thins the blood. It’s the night when the blubbering and fey gather on the banks of the Thames for the sake of bright lights and novelty. Over there is Suzanna Reid ready to go live to the nation. You would think her face lagged against the cold. Surely it’s been given the full cavity wall treatment. Nothing else would explain why she looks so smooth and expressionless. Over here talking to News 24 are the self-proclaimed food ‘artists’, Bompas & Parr, ready to fire banana flavoured confetti out of canons. They are promising the world the very first edible confetti, though a quick dip into a dictionary might have told them that the Italian word ‘confetti’ actually means ‘small sweets’ and that confetti started out as the ritual throwing of rice or grain.
But none of this matters. It’s New Year’s Eve. A special night. It’s the hallowed festival of the cretinous and bizarre.
Nobody questions what happens on New Year’s Eve for fear of looking like the perennial party pooper, yet no small part of the nation stays indoors or goes to bed early. We non-combatants never make the news but then TV hardly acknowledges our existence, as though avoiding the New Year weren’t a valid choice for sane men and women. There was a time when to do otherwise meant watching Hogmanay riots, where men in kilts acted the fool to bad folk music and the worst kind of regional presenter with a dry scalp and greasy comb over who would grope the dancing girls in the name of warm seasonal camaraderie. At some point in the not-so-distant past, that form of New Year torture gave way to sly news reviews, sometimes hosted by the great Clive James, later hosted by a succession of tuxedoed non-entities who would get the blood boiling well before Big Ben chimed. After that, New Year became a chance to watch Jules Holland invite aging soul acts to celebrate New Year from a sweltering hot studio in the middle of June, which was when the show was actually recorded.
Since the turn of the millennium, fireworks over the Thames have welcomed in the New Year along with cut up pop punctuated by people speaking BBC English announcing ‘This is London’ against the constant beat of music favoured by the pubicly plucked and the arse stamped. It’s probably the best alternative we’ve had simply because it’s as loud and meaningless as New Year itself. As the spectacle from London reaches its crescendo in a fiery mass of flames and flares, it’s like one very lough ‘blergh’ screamed into the void, as if a whole generation doesn’t care what noise fills the space so long as we don’t have to hear the silence where meaning used to be found before we killed our Gods and failed our science O levels.
Of course, we don’t have big celebrations this far north. The sky occasionally crackles and pours with fireworks ignited from various council estates or rugby clubs. Chinese lanterns drift across the cloudless firmament ready to drop their incendiary load wherever fields are dry or innocent children look skyward. None of it really makes sense but it doesn’t have to. New Year’s Eve is the point at which all the year’s banality comes together as one. And the banality this year really couldn’t have been bettered than what we saw along the Thames. I suppose those food artists, Bombas & Parr, typified the state of the nation. They do things with jelly, apparently, but on the BBC News, they were more like a gastronomic Gilbert & George. No doubt they would probably accept the comparison as a compliment but they shouldn’t.
TV embraces this type of character because they’re entirely self-generated and supposedly interesting because they dress weirdly and dress alike, glam Hooray Henries dressed in their neon-Bullingdon Club attire. The extent of their artistry doesn’t extend beyond our being able to say ‘they do things with jelly’ and no matter how much they fire banana confetti from canons, it doesn’t turn a firework display into a multi-sensory experience. That’s just a load of jellified nonsense. Stand in front of an exploding banger and tell me it’s not already a multi-sensory experience, which you see, hear, feel, and smell as you pick the cordite from your eyebrows. The taste of banana really doesn’t make a rocket more exciting.
That they’re there, however, is a sign of the times, as well as a sign of what we’ve come to. The false significance, the risible notion that this is art, is the most detestable element of New Year, making it more undignified than Christmas. One is a commercial event marketed by big companies to empty warehouses of last year’s products. The other lives in the febrile minds of sad people who live each week for Friday night. New Year’s Eve is the year’s Friday night. It’s the big important night when the nation slips out into the cold without any underwear. It’s for muscular plasterer’s mates, psychotic fax machine engineers, randy delivery men, and fake-tanned salon sweepers. It’s about false breasts, false muscles, false happiness. It’s the weary accumulation of a year of misery when the overpaid and the underclassed say they want to change but ultimately stay exactly the same. It’s the night when resolutions last no longer than the dying chimes of Big Ben. It marks not the beginning of a new world but the perpetuity of everything that came before. Anybody with any sense would sleep through it. Any dream is better than this bleak nightmare.