Alice January 1939
At nine-thirty on New Year’s Eve, nineteen-thirty-eight, Amy and I went up to the Old Bull to see in nineteen-thirty-nine. The place was packed to the gunnels. Even the snug was so rammed that had either one of us turned around, everyone in the bar would have turned around with us. We didn’t stay long. The people standing next to the bar wouldn’t move away to allow those behind be served, so it would have been well past midnight before we got our first gin and tonic. A couple of lads from the local mill tried to chat us up, but even they couldn’t get close enough to buy us a drink, so we went back to Amy’s and played a few records until just before midnight, when Amy’s dad knocked on her bedroom door to invite us to share the big moment with him and Amy’s mum.
He just had time to pour us a glass of port before Big Ben bonged out it’s barrage of bells. Amy’s parents linked arms with us and we all sang Auld Lang Syne, with me, singing the wrong words. I have been taught the New Year’s anthem three or four times but still sing, for the sake of… Amy’s dad, who was one sixteenth Scottish, knew all of Burn’s lyrics and made sure our arms stayed linked until he had belted out the last line of the song. When he reached, and we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught, Amy looked at me, I looked at her, and no amount of lip biting or cheek sucking, was ever going to stop the hysterical fit of laughter that followed.
Amy’s dad kept going until the bitter end, then he let go of our hands, called us ‘childish’ and retired to his armchair to finish the malt whisky that a real Scotsman had sold him on their family holiday the previous Easter.
Around twelve-thirty, Amy showed me to the door.
I asked why her dad hadn’t done the first foot thing, seeing as he was so keen on the New Year rituals. My own father, who wasn’t even a hundredth part Scottish, had done it every year without fail. I never understood what was behind the custom. Mum told me it was something to do with bringing in a gift to the household, but as all he ever brought in was a lump of coal and a stale mince pie left over from Christmas, things we already owned, I was left as confused as ever. Perhaps they did it differently in Scotland.
Amy looked around to make sure no one could overhear and whispered. ‘He tripped over the step wearing his kilt a few years ago and showed his Willie Waught to the world, so Mum has banned him from doing it since then. He was off work for a month with a cracked ankle. Old Mrs Bowen, who lived next door at the time, got a right eyeful. She was going to call the police until Mum brought her inside and plied her with gin.’
‘I remember him being off work, but you never said why,’ I said, through my giggles.
Any looked at me wide-eyed. ‘Would you tell that story to anyone? It’s one of those tales you want to hear about someone else’s dad.’
‘I was still sniggering to myself when I got home. I stood in the yard for a few moments to look at the new foundations that had been backfilled and waiting for the concrete to be poured for over a week. Mr Hart, our builder, refused to tip the concrete until the weather was above freezing, as the finished slab wouldn’t be as strong. The forecaster on the radio had said the weather was going to be dry for the next few days with temperatures forecast to be around forty degrees Fahrenheit, so, Michael promised to begin mixing the stuff on the morning of the second.
I was really keen to get that process started because once the new milking parlour/winter cow-shed was ready, we could pretty much quadruple the size of our Friesian herd. I turned towards the kitchen wondering if the coming year would bring us better fortune than the previous one. It had been a year littered with secrets and lies, revelations and revenge. As I turned to close the kitchen door, I took one last look at the newly dug foundations and told myself to look for the positives. A new year always came with the promise of a new start after all. Last years’ secrets should remain buried.