Here, at the close of the year, a slightly more personal post as we move towards 2018:
We lived in Glasgow when I was little. I loved it, but my parents, both Highlanders, spent their time there wrapped in a kind of exile mentality. We socialised mainly with other Highlanders, went to concerts and parties at the (now defunct) Highlanders’ Institute, and pretty much let the rest of the city carry on around us while we lived in our little bubble of teuchterdom – my accent, drawn directly from my mother’s Helmsdale cadences and untouched by any hint of Weegie, is undoubtedly the reason my primary school teacher, a fearsome Orcadian called Miss Shearer, had a soft spot for me. I never realised it at the time, but I think she must have been more than a little homesick herself.
Then my father got a new job. In Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, and close enough to my Ross-shire grandparents to make visiting less of an expedition (we’re talking several moons ago, with narrower, bumpier roads and no bridges across the firths). They were genuinely pleased to be going ‘home’ to the north, I know they were … and yet, most Hogmanays, after the bells, after the toasts, they’d talk about their Glasgow New Years. Wistfully, with a kind of puzzled longing.
Because the truth was, the Highlands they’d been desperate to return to were no longer there. The world they’d remembered, of dances in village halls, of days-long Hogmanays of music and first-footing, that world had changed. It was slipping away from them, accessible only in exile enclaves like the Highlanders’ in Glasgow, or, increasingly, through the tartan and shortbread nostalgia on TV. It saddened them, made them fearful of the changes they couldn’t understand, and I’m not sure they ever really got over it.
And here I am, back home in Inverness after my own years of wandering, heading for another Hogmanay. Fighting the same sense of melancholy they did, I think, as the roll-call of those to ring after the bells grows smaller every year. Wondering how the months manage to concertina into each other without me noticing, so that a whole year vanishes in the blink of an eye.
But here’s the thing: Hogmanay is more than the nostaglia-ridden end of one year and the start of its untried successor. It’s the breathing space we need, the place to acknowledge what has gone and find the way to move forward with as much confidence as we can muster.
Because in spite of all the horrors 2017 has brought us, in spite of all those still waiting in the wings, Hogmanay stands for something we can never quite let go of.
It stands for hope.