I’m writing this column slightly differently from how I usually file, which is in ‘real time’, as Kiefer Sutherland would say. As today is New Year’s Eve, the only thing you want to hear about is New Year’s Eve parties, and New Year’s resolutions. God only knows how my NYE will pan out, but rest assured you will receive a blow-by-blow account soon, along with expletives, huffs and puffs, exclamation marks and asterisks, to indicate there is more opprobrium up the side in teeny type because I will have run out of room, and videos.
I’m not a great one for parties, New Year’s Eve or otherwise. NYE is like holidays and honeymoons: the idea of them is so much better than the reality. I would much rather snuggle by the log fire with my collies and cats watching The Holiday, Love Actually and The Apartment for the umpteenth time. I’m completely hopeless at parties. Not just the juggling of champagne flute, clutch and canapé. Or the standing for hours in difficult shoes. Or the wondering how on earth I will get home without crashing and dying on the road, or being murdered, or both. But the main reason I am not good at parties is I can never, ever hear what anyone is saying. Their faces, mired in gloom, are merely pale shapes with mouths that are moving, but telling me nothing.
People tend to get bored and wander off. It’s the same at dinner parties. I went to a friend’s house for dinner the other week, and her husband, at the other end of the sofa, started talking to me. I had to shuffle closer and closer, but still I grasped not one single word. All I could do was nod, smile, sip my drink and wish the night would end. I still smart from the verdict from a famous left-wing feminist writer, with whom I once shared a taxi after our boss’s leaving dinner. ‘I couldn’t see the point in being rude to someone so tragic,’ she wrote in her newspaper. ‘She uses her deafness to explain her awkwardness and alienation, but I don’t buy this at all.’ I wonder if she makes faces at blind people. She’d questioned my salary, too, which isn’t sisterly. Listen, love: they don’t pay me enough to take this level of abuse.
Today is also a day when we reflect on the troughs, triumphs and losses of the past 12 months. It has not been my best year, truth to tell. In January, my beloved home was auctioned without my consent. The other day, restless, I put the collies in the car and drove out into the Dales and up on to the moor for the first time since I was forced to move out. I left the picture-postcard village of Reeth, and stopped on the crest of the hill, the valley where I used to live spread before me in all its silver and purple glory. A bit further on, I stopped again to spy on my old house on the other side of the Swale. Smoke was curling from the chimney. It was all twinkly and cosy. I realise I’ve been grieving all year for what I once had. I’m still in shock. I cannot believe this happened to me.
Frozen, I stopped at a pub in Muker. Grace clambered on to the bench. The landlord bore down on me, ‘Can you get your dog off the seat?’ ‘Oh, sorry,’ I said. ‘Can you tell me the code for the wi-fi, as there’s no signal?’ ‘We don’t have wi-fi.’ When I went up to the bar to pay for my (frankly ghastly) meal, he didn’t say, ‘Was everything OK?’ Just a flat, ‘How can I help.’ There were drawbacks as a woman living alone in remote rural surroundings; I should have thanked him for reminding me.
I know this sounds self-pitying, but my only rule for this column is that I write what’s in my heart. No filter, no artifice, no pretending things are better than they are. I’ve tried to make the best of things: I’ve submitted 46,000 words of a new novel, but I’ve yet to hear a peep, so I think the worst, as I always do. But I’ve put up a tree. And when the grief of losing Dream washes over me, I remember those lines from Sleepless in Seattle, another festive favourite.
‘I’m gonna get out of bed every morning, breathe in and out all day long… After a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.’
Happy New Year. Maybe next year will be my year. I hope it’s yours, too…