Christmas for us was usually spent in Dundee where your enjoyment of the festive season was generally measured by how much food you could consume between dawn and dusk - not eating meant not enjoying and that would simply not be tolerated. From the bacon stuffed rolls which left your dressing gown smeared with butter grease and tomato sauce to the industrial vats of prawn cocktail, it was heaven for a 9 year old with an appetite. Indeed there is a well worn family story where Gillian, who could be relied upon to work herself up into a vomitus over-excited wreck on Christmas Eve, was only cured of her boke by the ingestion of two cheese and tomato pizzas.
Another lasting memory is of the organisation involved when squeezing four or five adults and up to six children, plus guests, in a cottage originally built to house a crofter and possibly his wife. Place mats were laid each meal time in the livingroom on every available horizontal surface. A middle spot on a table was nice as there was less chance of things ending up on the floor, or of one of the dogs helping you to finish. Seats near the fire were at a premium earlier in the day when the house had yet to heat up, but by evening the furnace blast meant that only the cat and dogs could get within a few feet of it. This gave them the best view of the (off) TV and a perfect vantage point from which to let off casual farts in the direction of your Vienetta and Ice Magic. Feeding aside, the sleeping and washing arrangements alone were impressive enough. Bunk beds and inflatable beds were frequent friends as you were given your place in the sleeping hierarchy.
We were a family who still did "turns" - I did a mean Margaret Thatcher impression, and once an optimal amount of alcohol had been consumed the various uncles and aunts from many generations would indulge in some music hall classics to pass the time. One advantage that we had over the Broons was a "television", but this was in the days when the war for children's minds was still being optimistically fought by parents who believed two things - 1) that family derived entertainment was more fun than Tiswas and 2) this was a fight which could still be won. We could debate if either, both or none of these is true but it won't help me in 1982.
Anyway. Hogmanay as a child was perhaps less exciting, barring the thrill of being allowed up late. Once or twice we were taken along to parties then put to bed before being "gently awoken" at early o'clock when it was time to go home. I would not wish this torture on any child and will try to avoid it with my own. Jon's blog reminded me of those first few "allowed out" New Years when the rules of social etiquette were still being learned, then ignored. Hogmanay evening would be spent touring the houses of...people we knew. Calling them all "friends" would be a bit false considering many of them I have never, and will never see again, but we knew enough "friendly people" to organise or instigate quite the tour of Tain. Traps would be laid for us, though; on arrival at Tower Gardens for example I would be presented with a generous basin of neat whisky from my host or hostess which would then be refilled at a pace Oliver Reed might have called "a bit much". It was all my teen male ego could do to drink them as fast as they were presented. But then later in the evening any of my visits to the toilet would be accompanied by sharp intakes of breath and some tut-tutting as I weaved my wibbly wobbly way past vases and display dinner services before engaging other guests in inappropriate conversation. These truly were "the good old days". As time went on Jon and I became less of the social butterfly type and concentrated more on becoming connoisseurs of witty stories, droll recollections and the contents of other people's drinks cabinets.
We also frequently set out to prove that the right amount of alcohol prevented hypothermia. When it's 2 in the morning, and snowing, and you've been drinking whisky since midday, and someone says to you, "Let's go down to the beach" you really should say "No." But the memories of running my hands through my hair to dislodge the ice only serve to celebrate the anti-freeze properties of The Famous Grouse.
So, tonight Lorna and I will hit Tain town centre again after all these years. We are attending the Hogmanay street party organised, I think, by the Tain Gala Association Ceilidh band, fireworks (one assumes) and home by 00:10 if all goes to plan...