So let's breathe a big sigh of relief now that the most overrated night of the year, New Year's Eve, is over.
I can't remember when I first felt the pressure to have fun on New Year's Eve, but I think it was at an early age. We were at my gran's house in Scotland and there was an odd smell of whisky pervading the place not to mention laughter and party voices. This felt all wrong - my folks didn't do parties but if you are in Scotland there's a real pressure to party. We were shooed back into our rooms and from an early age, I recall the feeling of missing out on something.
The reason Scotland is the New Year's Eve capital of the world dates back more than 400 years. The Protestant Reformation from the end of the 17th Century cast Christmas as Popish and instead encouraged parties on New Year's Eve with its tradition of Pagan Hogmanay celebrations.
There were some traditions on New Year's Eve such as cleaning the house and sorting out your debts that - let's face it - don't sound lie a shovel load of fun, There's also a Scottish traditional called "first footing" in which the first foot in the door of your house in the New Year should be male and dark. This was a throwback to the days of the Vikings when blond strangers meant trouble - and more specifically raping family members and pillaging. As such, you were meant to bring black gifts such as coal, black bun and Donald Trump's heart, although whisky is more regularly brought these days.
A lot of dark, cold northern places have some interesting ceremonies such as rolling barrels of tar and throwing torches which sound rather more interesting to check out than what New Year's Eve has become for the rest of the world.
When I was a teenager, the pressure to have fun on New Year's Eve grew exponentially. We would wander the bleak streets of suburban Gloucester looking for parties to be thrown out of. We were an odd group of comprehensive school misfits, but probably not much weirder and more acne ridden than most of the other teens who wandered the streets on New Year's Eve looking for action. On occasions, we would take the bus to the city center where the pubs were busting at their seams, and the streets were full of people fighting or urinating against walls. Brits don't need an excuse to get drunk, so when you give them one, the results can be truly frightening. New Year's Eve also conferred on adolescents the pressure to end up in a drunken embrace with members of the opposite sex.
This New Year's Eve a photograph taken in Manchester went viral when its pseudo-likeness to a classical painting was remarked on.
On one particularly bleak New Year's Eve, I found myself at a party in a draughty bowling alley. There was very little to do other than tonsil familiarization with a girl called Lynne for the best part of two hours. We later arranged a date that was a walk around her high school. Without the help of super strength lager, we were hapless. We said three words to each other and never saw each other again.
Perhaps I had one fun New Year's Eve, but I am not sure. The New Year's Eve in Edinburgh was something to boast about because it was Edinburgh but it involved freezing temperatures and beer being thrown on my head as well as waking up on someone's floor at 5 a.m.
There was another New Year's Eve stranded at a party in London with a former partner who went off the rails and was yelling at nonexistent taxi drivers. There was the Millennium at the Millennium Dome party in London which was something else to boast about, even if the champagne ran out too early and we were left stranded at a railway station waiting for trains that never came. Typically, New Years ends up resembling some refugee crisis not long after the countdown.
My experience of New Year's Eve in America has been something a bit less hardcore and dangerous than in England, but there is a real obsession with dropping things - be it glittery balls, giant crab pots or whatever. It's a rather inadequate way to end a year because these things aren't even dropped properly. If you knew a giant, steel ball was going to be dropped into a crowd, at least, it would engender some excitement. Instead, these objects are gently lowered by a crane. Perhaps being gently let down is a good metaphor for the year ahead.
Don't get me wrong - New Year's Eve last night in Virginia Beach wasn't the worst one I have had. It wasn't cold or wet, and the music and fireworks were fine. It was better than some of those New Years when I have just gone meekly to bed at 10, not even staying up to watch the lameness that is New Year's Eve TV.
And the worst New Year's I have had? I have racked my brains back through the catalogue of domestic disputes, nonexistent taxis, packed pubs and restaurants and boorish revellers and came up with the New Year's Eve when I was working on the cops beat of a newspaper in Hampton Roads. I had already checked out a couple of shooting scenes where overambitious revelers in the hood 'accidentally' shot neighbors.
Then I heard about a serious accident on the scanner. I went out to the side of the road and waited behind the incident tape and the mangled wreckage to watch a body being brought out and put down on the highway with a blanket over it. After what seemed like an age at the cold margins of the highway, the police press officer came over to me to give me an incident report. Suddenly fireworks went off and we heard the strains of Auld Lang Syne from a house across the six-lane wasteland of concrete, the shuttered up park and the mass of skeletal power lines. "Happy New Year," we said to each other weakly before I jotted down the details of the deceased.