Old Times

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I’m never quite certain what it is, exactly, that we are meant to celebrate on New Year’s Eve and who it was, exactly, that got to decide that the first of January should be the day on which we celebrate it.  Is it perhaps conceivable that a bunch of no-hope Bronze Age serfs, having hauled numerous huge rectangular boulders across half of this country to Wiltshire, might have eventually realised that the planetary calendar they wished to chart was, itself, somewhat lighter than the giant slabs of quartz they had been dragging about, shouldered their load and said ‘Sod it, we’ll just leave ‘em here.  Drop ‘em in some sort of circle lads, so it looks neat, it might be a while before anybody thinks to clear them away.’  And to those who said, ‘But what about the astronomical calendar?’ replied ‘Er, see that big bluish number over there.  Well, when the Sun rises in line with that, it’s the start of a new year.  A year?  Oh, that’s what passes until the next one comes along…  Here, have a bowl of fermented something or other and a neat little tray of pig’s entrails to chew on.  It will become a tradition.’  Probably not.  I don’t know who invented the year but, if I’m honest, if I had to guess, I would say the ancient Chinese or Egyptians – if it had been up to us, it would almost certainly have started at some other time to everybody else.

I can understand how early humans would have been able to work out the yearly cycle from the stars, the moon, the crops, the birds and the bees, and the annual demand for money from the tax man, but how did they decide where one year was to end and another begin?  Surely they could have chosen the shortest day, or the longest day or at least something that could be recognised without a calendar: the day that next door gave the kids their annual nitting and bath; the day that the one with the lumps on her chest started mysteriously filling out and craving mammoth again…  By whatever means, it has to be clear that the actual choice was an arbitrary one.  It could have been any one of the 365.25 days that mark the Earth’s passage around the sun.  If you ask me, it would have made a lot more sense to have chosen a day when far fewer people had a hangover.

It is, anyway, a strange thing to celebrate, don’t you think: everything is another year older, another day closer to death, including the Sun, which as far as I understand it¹, is just biding its time until it gets its chance to swallow the Earth during its death throes.  It’s a fairly vindictive thing to do, but it seems to be just the way it is with stars…  Maybe New Year’s Day is the Sun’s birthday… or God’s, or Time’s – that would make more sense wouldn’t it?  That would be a better reason for letting the fireworks off.  You wouldn’t feel quite so daft sitting on some dateline beach, waiting for the New Year Sun to rise if you knew that it was its birthday.  What could be a better choice for New Year than the birthday of Time itself? 

You wouldn’t mind hugging a stranger if you knew it was the anniversary of the almighty’s birth², although, as always, God’s a tricky one.  It’s hard to see how he can have a birthday when he’s been around forever.  (Ever wondered what he got up to before he decided to create the Universe?  You can’t help but thinking that with all that Eternity to mull things over, he might have arranged things in a more logical manner: thought things through a little more.  Mind you, if we’re created in his image, then he must be just like us, in which case, it’s a miracle that we’re not in an even bigger mess than we are.)  Astronomers would have you believe that they know exactly how old the Sun is – even when, like the rest of us, they can’t work out when the car’s MOT is due – but try asking them for a precise date.  To the nearest one million years does not help when you’re trying to book a party at the play barn.

Philosophers say that Time is a manmade construct, well, fair enough I say, but who was this man and what did the rest of us do to wile away the days before he did it?  Presumably nobody got older until he sorted that one out.  Mind you, you’d have to question how we all got here: a nine month pregnancy could be a very long time indeed if nobody had bothered to invent Time beforehand. 
“You’re looking a little bit… erm… rotund these days, Shirley.”
“Yes, I know.  I’ve been pregnant now for…”
“‘For’ what?”
“I don’t know.  I’ve been pregnant since…  Since…  Been a funny sort of day hasn’t it?”
It’s almost impossible to imagine a life without Time – mostly because you wouldn’t have the time to do it³.  At least it makes some sort of sense for us: if humankind created Time, then it must have a birthday and it is only right that we celebrate it.  If we keep it happy, then it might stop slipping away quite so quickly.  It is the one thing that none of us wants less of.

And that, of course, is the only real significance of New Year’s Day – as a tangible reminder that Time is drifting away and, if we’re honest, we realise that there is nothing we can do about it, other than light up a cigar, pour a giant glass of single malt and stare up at the stars: there’s nothing like a sense of your own insignificance to set you up for the year ahead.  Just tell your family that you love them and stagger on to the horizon…

And a Happy New Year to one and all.

¹Not very

²Terminal embarrassment is really not so bad as long as it occurs on New Year’s Eve

³If you wish to experience eternity, simply watch an entire episode of Casualty in the company of an insurance salesman.

N.B. This piece was originally to be called Auld Lang Syne, until I realised I’d originally used that title in December 2018, so Old Times it became because it means more or less the same thing and, by some miracle, it fits the text.  Making sense – something I resolve to do more often in the New Year – I’ll give it a week…

15 thoughts on “Old Times

  1. My house mate and I had much the same conversation earlier today. I suppose if we didn’t have years all mapped out life would be even more chaotic and we wouldn’t want that. Though perhaps I could tell the tax man to sod off…

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  2. I just wonder what drunk dude decided to start the year when it was so cold out. Couldn’t he look out on a beautiful summer day and say this is a good day to start the year? No he get’s all drunked up one night and declares the new year. The next morning he wakes up with no idea what he did, and as he’s going for the coffee his wife starts hitting him with resolutions. Plus I still think Stonehenge is a Christmas toy some slick salesman sold to an unsuspecting father. It arrived in Twelve crates and no directions. after two weeks of trying to put it together the dad gave up and left it the way it is. His kid probably cried for a day or so but after some candy it was all smoothed over
    Make 2022 a year of laughter

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  3. I’m sure that it was a Victorian Mill owner who invented time. Up to that point, his lazy, loafing, layabout workforce simply turned up for work whenever they felt like it, which is not very productive when you are trying to supply the British Empire with home grown wool products. The invention of time also coincided with the invention of the factory hooter and the clocking-in machine and the steel toe-capped booted foreman. Probably.

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    1. So what you’re saying is that the invention of time coincided with the invention of time and a half for overtime and double time for Sundays and bank holidays?


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