The planning New Years Eve always creeps up with a passive aggression that seems unnecessarily calculated for a culture-created public holiday. It’s a big night. That, unfortunately, is unavoidable. To spend it alone, at a parents house, keeping warm and desperately clinging to the last of Christmas would no doubt be dismal. On the other hand, buying expensive tickets for speakeasy balls or animal mask raves exposes us to disappointment, heavy spending and, with youth becoming ever more distant – figuratively, if not yet literally – feels like a bit of a busy evening.
After much debate, my friend Evi and I decide to spend it locally, as we seem to spend most weekends, evenings and holidays. My little brother Sebastian is over from New York where he stubbornly persists in living 50 weeks of the year. He is joining us.
‘I’m just concerned we will feel a bit out of place.’ Evi says when the plan is first made official. ‘Hampstead is the place for having children, not spending New Year.’ Her housemates are going to rave in a bubble.
Sebastian is attached to a plan of cooking lobster at my house. ‘You can hypnotize them by stroking their tails,’ he explains. ‘It will be like in Annie Hall. I’ll take photos.’
We meet in Waitrose half an hour before closing.
‘There’s not a lot left,’ Evi looks around.
‘What kind of sauce do you cook this in?’ Sebastian looks at the attendant behind the fish counter and points to the tiny pile of limp looking fish that are all that’s left.
‘We should have white wine,’ Evi looks around, ‘over there!’
‘And Champagne!’ Sebastian picks up a bottle.
‘You can’t buy that.’ I tell him. ‘It’s a Bollinger. It costs £50.’
‘A Bollinger you say,’ Sebastian eyes it closely, then puts it in the basket. ‘I’m only home two weeks a year.’ He says, ‘I live by a tight economy the rest of the time.’
Before cooking dinner, we decide to go for cocktails. I’ve never done this in Hampstead. There is a Gaucho, and we go there. ‘This reminds me of the period we spent going to those seedy parties in nightclubs,’ Evi says looking round. ‘I approve of their attitude to new year though –’
Gaucho has a dinner in full swing with a lot of h’orderves and champagne flutes being passed liberally around.
We sit down to sea bass at 11.15. Sebastian made a sauce, I made mince pies and Evi mulled wine. There is a lot of flour, wine and parsley on the floor.
At 11.30, we lock the house and head out toward the heath. There is a thin drizzle.
‘I think they’ll be quite a scene up there.’ Evi says, ‘like at a festival.’
It is like a festival. In front of us, people move between the trees in dark clusters. When we get to Parliament Hill, there are, ‘At least 2000 people,’ I tell my cousin Susanna on the phone. She is at the tube station and remaining unconvinced. ‘You can see fireworks all over London, and people are setting them off up here, and there are fire lanterns…’
‘Do you want a mince pie?’ Evi turns to a policeman who is standing watching the crowd. He accepts, then asks Sebastian to move his enflamed lantern into an open space.
Susanna arrives. ‘Have some mulled wine,’ I offer.
‘This is like the countryside,’ she says. I’m not sure she’s keen on this. ‘Where are the others?’
‘Over there,’ I point to Sebastian and Evi who are with a group of Danes with a guitar shouting out an Oasis medley.
‘That was ok,’ I say to Sebastian as we walk home.
‘My housemates say there is a rave after party,’ Evi has her phone out, ‘Shall we go and rave in a bubble?’