New Years Eve is the planet’s most anticipated anti-climax, topped in 2012 only by the failure of the world to end. Over the years I have been conditioned to believe this and no longer care where I spend my New Years Eve. In 2011 I spent it in my little dorm room in London with about six people trying to dance to music on my laptop even though the sound of collective breathing drowned out the tinny speakers, ruining our Carly Rae Jepsen experience.
This year (last year?) I found myself up at the beach with my mother and father. It was a brilliant opportunity to trade the unforgiving heat of beachless Melbourne for the unforgiving heat of beach-laden southern New South Wales. It also gave me a great opportunity to trade spending New Years Eve with my friends for spending it with my parents’ friends.
The original plan was for a small dinner with family friends but this changed when said friends were invited to a larger dinner with their family friends and my parents and I were invited to tag along.
As the sun said its last goodbye for the year before dipping beneath the horizon we followed our family friends’ car towards the party. We went along blandly titled coastal roads like, “Bunga Street” and “Wapengo Grove” until we turned off into an unsealed driveway mysteriously titled “Smith Drive”. After travelling for a few minutes through silhouetted bushland a little brick house emerged in a clearing.
We double-parked another car and trudged up to the house where, upon entering, my parents immediately vanished somewhere else leaving me in the foreign open-plan kitchen full of strangers. It was a milieu of greying champagne socialists, most lost somewhere in their upper-50s. All the men were ruddy faced and looked well-trodden, like Jeremy Clarkson or James May from TopGear. Most of the women resembled Helen Mirren but with a twist of Germaine Greer’s ‘don’t fuck with me’ sophistication.
My first reaction was to stand next to the door and wait for somebody to come up to me or for somebody to announce me, like a young woman at her debutant. But, after a long minute of standing and trying to avoid eye-contact with people I realised that this wouldn’t be happening and, in fact, I am a grown man now and must fend for myself.
I took a deep breath and approached the people closest to me: a chic woman with short gray hair in a black dress talking to a bearded man with wavy hair, he wore a t-shirt that read ‘Born to Fish, Forced to Work’. They were angrily discussing a recent decision by local council to allow a Woolworths shopping centre to be built in the town. I stood off to the side, in the space equivalent to having one foot in and one foot out of a pool, waiting for a break to make my entrance.
The chic woman was saying, “I agree completely it is a bad decision, excessive, I won’t be shopping there -,” A pause. I spent a split second trying to work out whether the woman was just drawing breath or it was a lull in the conversation, I decided it was the latter and thrust my hand in between them but to no one in particular.
“Hello I’m – ” I began, but was cut off, my hand still hovering between them, unshaken. Evidently, it wasn’t a pause.
“- it’ll have a bad impact on the local community.” She finished her sentence and then they both turned to me.
“Hello, I’m Rupert, I just wanted to introduce myself I’m… Rupert.” I gave myself a solid 3/10 for execution. At this point I also realized that I vaguely recognised the woman.
“Yes, I know you Rupert, your family stayed at our house up here ten years ago.”
“Oh of course, how could I forget that time spent at your house. I had such a good time doing… things.”
“You don’t remember?” she asked seemingly half-humoured and half-affronted.
“I do remember, it was the year 2002 and I was 14 years old. How could I forget?!” Deftly dodged Denton, I thought, now time to make like a rat and escape this sinking ship. “Anyway nice to meet you I’m going to the toilet now.” I didn’t even bother with the man and scurried away from them down the hallway.
I came to what I thought was the bathroom door. I pushed on it but it stuck, I pushed and rattled it a few more times. Before hearing a squeaky voice, “Someone’s in here.” My blood turned cold. I turned to run away but the muffled sound of flushing and the click of the door unlocking told me I was too late. I turned back to see the door open and a woman step out. She looked at me, I smiled and nodded affably and, for some reason, decided this was an appropriate time to tell her, “I’m Rupert.”
She looked away and did not return the smile she just said, “Hello.” And, with eyes cast downwards, briskly edged past me. That didn’t go so bad, I thought to myself, the lack of eye-contact helps.
I didn’t actually need to use the bathroom, just decompress after my disastrous first introduction. So I sat with the toilet lid down and checked my phone to see if my friends’ New Years Eve was going as well as mine. I didn’t have any reception of course because 90% of Australia is a vast black hole
After a minute or two the door rattled.
“Um, just a minute,” I called slightly panicked. I arbitrarily flushed the toilet and washed my hands. I opened the door to reveal the guy in the ‘Born to Fish, Forced to Work’ t-shirt.
We looked at each other then, learning from my earlier experience, I cast my eyes downwards put out a damp hand and said, “I’m Rupert.”
He shook it. “Yeah we met earlier, I’m Michael.”
“Oh, that’s water on my hand,” I informed him while still looking at the ground, before adding unnecessarily, “not wee.”
His eyes narrowed a bit in what could have been either disgust or confusion. “Right. Mind if I use the bathroom now?”
Wiping my hands on my jeans I walked outside. The late evening air was still warm from the day’s heat, you could see through the trees to Wapengo Lake. I found my parents sitting at the centre of the table with the friends we were supposed to be having dinner with originally.
Oysters had been laid out on the table and I took to them like a bowl of chips slurping down one quivering mollusk after the other.
The host stood up to make a toast. She issued some salutary nothings then added, “It’s good to have the Dentons here, who some of you know, though I didn’t. But, I’m sure you’ll all get a chance to meet them, especially as they have taken the seats at the centre of the table. And it’s nice that their son Rupert has chosen to spend the night with us instead of spending the night with his own friends -”
I stood up from my seat a little and, using my new eye-contact avoidance trick, introduced myself while looking at my shoes, “I’m Rupert.” Then sat down quickly.
“Anyway, enjoy the oysters, they are fresh from Wapengo,” she indicated at the darkened lake through the trees. “Although, it looks like Rupert has eaten most of them.” I sunk in my seat. “So maybe if someone from this end can share theirs with the other end. Otherwise, thanks for coming everyone.”
The murmur of conversation resumed. “Born to Fish, Forced to Work” Michael had sat next to me and was talking with the person next to him my mother and father are in conversation with the person next to them. The shy woman from the bathroom had sat across from me.
I noticed that she had only one empty oyster shell on her plate and was staring longingly at the empty tray between us. I look guiltily at my mound of shells.
Dinner featured a selection of quinoa themed food. Michael, my table neighbour, had somehow managed to keep his back turned completely away from me. Meanwhile, silent girl across from me was being her usual silent self. I attempted conversation, “Do you pronounce it quinwa or qui-noah?”
She began mashing bits of goats cheese into her plate with the back of her fork. I sighed and occupied myself by sitting quietly and enjoying fun solo dinner table activities like looking at my lap and arbitrarily adjusting my cutlery.
The evening wore on and people trickled down to the garden where a small fire had been lit. People sat around in fold out camp chairs. There were none left by the time I got down there so I had to sit on the grass. The smoke from the campfire started blowing into my face, making my eyes water, I waited for a while to see if the wind would change, it didn’t so I shifted around the fire to get out of it. A minute later the wind changed and the smoke blew onto me again. I did an entire circuit of the campfire but to no avail. The smoke tracked me like a spotlight.
To avoid the smoke I ended up standing quite far away from the party. Unfortunately, this meant when the countdown did finally begin I missed it. What an anticlimax.
I got down just in time to sing Auld Lang Syne, of which I know none of the lyrics. I finagled my way into the circle, taking the hand of one of the Jeremy Clarkson lookalikes who was now sodden drunk. Singing or, in my case, mumbling, the group of us converged ritualistically towards the fire before skipping back from it.
Suddenly, the singing was shot through by a piercing cry on the other side of the fire. I could only hear voices as the smoke obscured my vision. I heard someone yell the host’s name, “Petra! My god! Her foot, her foot! She’s stood on the fire.”
While all this happened, the drunk guest holding my hand continued to sing Auld Lang Syne. I couldn’t get away. I pulled but his grip became tighter. He turned to me, his face glowing menacingly in the fire’s light, and bellowed in a deep Scottish accent “Funnish th’ sohng buey!” Then he turned and yelled something similar to the person next to him. I leaned over to see who it was. Silent girl! She looked as uncomfortable as me.
The rest of the party had broken away from the revelry and were assisting Petra. “Quick, take her to the lake!” A huddle of guests moved off in that direction carrying the host and her burned foot.
Then it was just me and silent girl being wrenched violently back and forth by an oblivious Scot whose voice, thick as gravy, filled the night.
“And we’ll tak a richt gude-willie-waucht,
Fir ald lang syn.”