The dawning of a New Year is celebrated throughout the world. To animals other than man it is merely another day. The Earth spins on, the sun rises and eventually sets, the day is no different from any other, it lasts 24-hours and in Scotland it invariably rains.
To Man and to Scot's Man in particular, New Year's Day is afforded a significance that broaches all reason. Hogmany, the last day of the departing year, is spent in frantic preparation for the magical moment of midnight and the flip into the new calendar year. Shortbread, black bun and Dundee cake, which for 364 days has been the staple of ladies afternoon tea parties, is bought in kilogram quantities by men known to live on raw meat. Whiskey is purchased with scant regard to the chancellor of the exchequer, his concern about the national debt or the contribution that our national drink makes to his balance of payments strategy.
The emotional temperature starts to rise in mid-afternoon when the potatoes are peeled, onions are chopped and a lamb's neck is shredded in preparation for the 'stovies'. This is a mushy concoction of the Scots kitchen that was surely invented as a substitute for human flesh when sacrificing virgins was abandoned some years ago due to scarcity.
The emotional temperature gets tremblingly close to boiling point when the crystal glasses are brought out of the cupboard. Each is wiped to a sparkle as they are set in front of the array of whiskey bottles - island malts to the left, Speysides in the middle and choice blends on the right. As each bottle is set in place, some long dead soul whose favourite tipple it was is recalled. Sentiment sets in, the eyes well up and a quick drink is needed to stem the flow. Then it starts, the behaviour moves from the emotional to the irrational and finally to the absurd.
Throughout Scotland households merge to bring in the New Year. Families, friends and neighbours put differences aside as they settle down with their bottles to await the midnight hour. With the common bond of golf in St Andrews, the gatherings are in the golf clubs. A ceilidh band is on hand and the lounge has been cleared for dancing and to offer space in which people can fall down. Kilts have been dusted off; sporrans burnished and buckles polished. Behaviour is initially discreet but as the amber nectars flow you learn more than you need to know. Her dress, for instance, costs more than a flexi-faced driver. The diaphanous woman dressed like a chocolate cream cake that the accountant is poring over is not his wife but is in fact her sister. Ask where Jimmy so-and-so is and you will get five different accounts of his stricken state with haemorrhoids.
Dancing is ongoing with ever-greater vigour as the drink flows and elbows become firmer yet more fluid. The emotional temperature is reached super-heated and the steam pressure is building. It is the eleventh hour and confidences are exchanged - New Year's resolutions are whispered into friends' ears through a breath at dew point relative humidity of alcohol and a residue of stovies, shortbread and black bun. The new man is being revealed.
It is customary to make New Year resolutions despite the fact that there is little resolve behind them. They range from the banal, like giving up smoking or losing weight, to the downright ridiculous, like halving one's handicap. Without the fatal optimism inspired by a combination of whiskey with a 'Strip-The- Willow', more whiskey and a 'Dashing-White Sargent', yet more whiskey and an 'Eightsome Reel' followed by even more whiskey before falling down, such ambitions would never even be contemplated.
'I've made a resolution', is always the opener of a long-loved friend swaying through 90 degrees as he spills his drink into your sporran while reaching for your ear. To be told by a man, who daily, literally holds peoples lives on the end of his scalpel, that he will be playing off single figures by the end of the New Year comes as something of a shock. The insight gained into the world of his fantasy is alarming for he has never broken 100 in the 20 years that you have spent looking for his ball. Hearing from a long despairing, twitchy bad putter that he will kill himself if he fails to win the club championship in the coming year is less concerning for this has been his annual resolution for 50 years.
New Year's resolutions are made to be broken. They are cathartic rather than realistic. As the midnight hour approaches the demons of the Old Year are purged with confessions that masquerade as resolutions. As the New Year is rung in and hands are shaken, backs slapped and ladies are over-lingeringly kissed, they are immediately forgotten, draining away with the emotional flow of well-wishing. By the time that we arrive, pale and shaking in the wind and rain on the first tee on New Years Day morning, they are long since forgotten. Or are they? Are you not simply sober and in control, quietly nursing your secret aspirations through to the next New Year?
Let me wish you a happy, healthy and successful New Year. May your drives be long, your putts short and your resolutions fullfilled.
Editor's note: And that goes from all of us at ScottishGolf
|| 4 - JANUARY 2005