Jim Colquhoun

Best Laid Plans

If one day of the year most lends itself to precise organisation, it’s the last. Nothing can stop me having the Hogmanay I want.

I look at my clock. Guests will begin to arrive in a few minutes. 8.30 for 9 actually but I know that means 9.30 or even 10. They will come with bottles of wine and drink beer, or bring beer and finish off my collection of malts. Instead of crisps, they will be laden with a motley assortment of corn, maize or rice snacks, bizarrely flavoured; the full extent of the marketing man’s vivid imagination made real and inedible.

Not long now. The first few should be panting up the stairs shortly. I take another bite of my cheese sandwich.

The confectionery will largely consist of the guests’ own ill-judged Christmas presents. Unappetising organic sweetmeats rattling around in garish boxes and tins, with the occasional selection of exotic fruits exhibited in their jars. It looks so much better than Quality Street or Black Magic. Shows more thought went into it.

These gifts will only come from those who will be eating. The people who will turn up post-meal will not be able to bring. Princes Street will be enough of a crush without having to hold onto any alcohol they won’t actually be drinking. They probably won’t be allowed to take their own into the entertainment compound which is an Edinburgh Hogmanay. They could have dropped it off earlier of course. If only we had thought.

The diners should be here shortly. Acquaintances picked up from a variety of sources. They are unknown to my real friends, who will themselves be stuck amongst the throng in the centre of town. I would have loved to have gone myself to the communal excitement, of course, but I had inadvertently, carelessly, arranged this meal.

Pity that the diners won’t turn out to be the life and soul. Pregnant Peggy for example. She’s been OK up to now, but what with the excitement and everything, she’s feeling a bit queasy and will need to set off for home just after the Bells. Her husband will be in tow—as will the Donaldsons, more Peggy’s friends than mine. He’s working on January the first. Essential services. Winter chills and substantial premature inebriation should account for the rest, I’m afraid.

I’ll be on my own. But I could do with the rest. Don’t worry. The revellers will be here soon. They’ll probably pass the ill, the public spirited and the pregnant on the stair. They promised me they would leave the big party early, so early they will be.

They’re a bit late? Not to worry. A bit of a headache myself. I deserve a power nap. Given that I’m so tired, I fail to notice my drunken guest knocking the entryphone off its hook. The hardcore will eventually turn up about 2 or 3. They will press and press the buzzer but eventually give up and go to one of the other parties about town. There are plenty about. We can all apologise to each other next week.

Walking through the town in the last few days as new traffic obstructions are put in place and non-grip paint is applied to the bus shelters, I was uninvolved. Like having people in decorating your house for a party to which you’re not invited.

I look at my clock. Peggy and the rest are here by now, I suppose. We can swap pleasantries. At least the weather today has been a genuine topic of conversation, but it’s all so inane. You would have thought I could have come up with people I would actually like, but they’re serving their purpose. Like the ghosts of New Year Past, Present and Yet to Come, I feel them glide around the place without spilling anything on my carpet or throwing up in my bath; without disturbing my evening.

If only I could map out 2007 quite so meticulously.

I now settle down with the next DVD off the pile, casually nudging the phone receiver off its cradle. The window frames rattle. None too warm in here either, but my bath awaits and after that the peace that only sleep can provide. In my own time, I can see out the year the way I want. I step over to close out 2006 once and for all, but as I begin to move the wooden shutters into position, I hear familiar voices from the street.

The entryphone, still flush on its holster, emits an insistent buzzing which can’t be imagined away.