Saturday 18 January 2020

Lay of the Land: Nearly never won the race to the new year

'But pause before you pop that Champagne cork, and remember that cliche about counting your chickens before they hatch. For things can go belly up when you're on the brink of making it, as you fall at the final hurdle' (stock photo)
'But pause before you pop that Champagne cork, and remember that cliche about counting your chickens before they hatch. For things can go belly up when you're on the brink of making it, as you fall at the final hurdle' (stock photo)

Fiona O'Connell

New Year's Eve is creeping closer, many in this country town gearing up for what are often bitter-sweet celebrations.

For only a lucky few have not lost loved ones. Whether the grief is brutally raw or a long-standing sadness you have learned to live with, having little alternative, the countdown to a new year can be a rueful reminder that those you deeply miss have missed this year, and are not around to eagerly anticipate the next.

While 'happy new year!' rings hollow for those suffering ill health, having received dire diagnoses this year which mean they are facing into a new year of debilitating medical conditions and treatments.

Even folk with fewer worries can feel it's something of an achievement to have made it to this last Sunday of the year, surviving the costly chaos of a festive season that could be dubbed the frazzled season, with pressure to buy perfect presents and the must be merry mantra that makes our nerves jingle as much as the bells.

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On top of which is the weather - which you might be under, smothering with a cold or flu. For the light is fleeting so the days go fast.

But with the winter solstice behind us, it's all downhill into not just a new month and year but decade. Making it the closest most of us will get to such a shining new slate, given the century is fairly sprightly. Only young children are likely to experience another (or the incredible Kirk Douglas, who recently turned 103).

But pause before you pop that Champagne cork, and remember that cliche about counting your chickens before they hatch. For things can go belly up when you're on the brink of making it, as you fall at the final hurdle.

Certainly, some rogues in previous centuries survived risky ventures only to blow it over buttons, or similar trivia. Such being the case with George Anderson, who picked pockets and then became a highwayman, only to be executed on December 31, 1750 for stealing buttons.

While no one knows if the three prisoners who painstakingly planned their escape from the notorious Alcatraz Island in 1962 actually made it, since only their belongings but not their bodies were found. The FBI called it not just a day but also a year when they officially closed the case on December 31, 1979.

Others only made it to the end of the year by literally doing a Lazarus. As happened to William Duell, who was executed for murder but came back to life while being prepared for dissection in the surgeon's hall on November 24, 1740.

There are no records as to whether the authorities let him enjoy his miraculous second wind.

In contrast, some reached the new year but didn't last long, again throwing it all away over a trifle.

Like Matthew Henderson, who was executed in February 1746 for murdering his mistress, Lady Dalrymple, when she made the fatal error of losing her temper after he trod on her toe.

So on that note, tread gently over the remaining days of this year. And see you on the other side.

Sunday Independent

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