Hogmanay Memories

The Highlight of the year

Hogmanay was a real treat, the highlight of the year. Children would be allowed to stay up late in anticipation, waiting for the bells. It was never certain just who would turn up at the door, but someone always did. The food was laid out on the kitchen table covered with a pristine white tablecloth. Sandwiches, shortbread and black bun. Also, bottles of beer and a half-bottle of whisky, with bottles of cordial, a sort of sickly sweet concoction which virtually guaranteed that dentures would later be a necessity for the imbiber!

When the pub closed, well before midnight, Uncles Angus, Duncan and Alex would appear, with their favourite tipples in carrier bags, and a lump of coal as an omen of health, wealth and prosperity for the coming year. Grandad would enjoy a quite dram and a puff at his pipe, whilst Uncle Angus would, once again, re-create his part in the winning of the Battle of El Alamein in North Africa in 1942, using the salt and pepper and a box of matches. Everyone had heard it all before, of course. Mum and Dad enjoyed the commotion simply because it was an event in those days, a unique event, before the advent of late-pub closing and urban sophistication had made every Saturday night an event.

On the television would be The White Heather Club, with Andy Stewart and bagpipes, tartan, singing and lots of dancing, in black and white, of course. Then, finally, the moment we had all been waiting for- the countdown to the bells. In a frenzy everyone would refresh their glasses and listen to Andy Stewart intone the magic phrase, 'Happy New Year!' Everyone would give each other new year greetings, the ships in the docks would sound their foghorns, fireworks would ascend into the night sky and the celebrations would commence. Uncle Eck produced a guitar and would sing some rock and roll, followed by Harry Lauder's Roaming in the Gloaming, just for Granny. After every verse she would laugh uproariously and cry out, 'yir an awfy man, Harry!' Neighbours would appear bearing records and these would be stacked on the Dansette record player, The Beatles, Helen Shapiro and, of course Cliff Richard and The Shadows for the younger ones. Strip the Willow, The Gay Gordons and The Dashing White Sergeant were then performed in the tiny living room, as grand as if it were the Royal Albert Hall.

More neighbours appeared from the landing, part of a giant impromptu conga which had spilled out from Mrs Findlay's, three doors down. Her son, Big Tam, had been a Piper in the army and he was in the lead playing Heiland Laddie on the bagpipes, around three times faster than usual.

The party would begin to wind down around three in the morning, Mum's favourite phrase to us protesting children was, 'remember, it's New Year tomorrow, as well.' One by one, the revellers would leave after another rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne. When they were gone, the table, once pristine and orderly, would now be a reminder of another Hogmanay. Another year over and the new year still to come, what would it bring? Stored in the 'Press', the ubiquitous pantry, the large, pre-ordered steak pie would be waiting for the traditional New Year dinner.

Many Hogmanays have come and gone since then. Although perhaps more sophisticated and grand, they will never outdo the special magic of those, perhaps, more innocent times. Most of the people I remember, including my uncles, have gone as well, but I can still hear the laughter and the music and still feel the sense of optimism and hope as the bells signalled the start of 'Neerday', looking to the future whilst remembering the past and absent friends. Still, whatever time we live in, whatever the ways of the world and the complexities of modern life, the greeting Happy New Year, is, and will always be, the cry at Hogmanay, A very Happy New Year to everybody.

Previously published by Scottish Memories Magazine, Warners Group Publications plc. Cover artwork by Chris Taylor.