A good old New Year

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THE start of a new year means that there will be a big change in the sights and sounds around Hartlepool from last week to this.

 In the early hours of yesterday, “Happy New Year” was the most common cry, replaced early this morning by “never again.”

 While, sadly, there will always be some people who use the big celebration as an invitation to go daft and overload the emergency services, the majority are still able to offer and accept seasonal hospitality in a good spirit.

 I don’t know if we are more wary and a bit less welcoming these days, but the innocent open houses of generations gone by have largely disappeared.

 When I was a kid, I’m sure that our street had a crop of literally open doors with rolling parties heading up and down the road.

 If you went into a house with nobody present, you simply helped yourself to a drink and waited a while.

 All this of course after the carefully choreographed rituals of the first minutes of the new year.

 My mum and dad were great believers in getting it dead right, with the dark haired man being the first foot, and ritual gifts of salt and coal to represent prosperity in the year to come.

 The week or two leading up to the festive season was always special too with extra house cleaning activity to be ready for “company” and the unusual sight of booze in the house.

 These days, many people keep supplies at hand “just in case”, but my mum and dad would clear the sideboard top just before Christmas so that the essential bottles of ruby port and sherry could be installed.

 I always remember one aunty who would proclaim that she’d have “just the one sherry, just this once” and wellied through a bottle and replacements with some speed.

 With boozing capacity being apparently much more common these days, I suspect that the “never again” pledges will be even stronger.

 I fear for the future of many local pubs after a year which has been difficult enough with tight times and increased competition.

 Many people, for economic and fitness reasons, will be pledging never to darken a pub’s doors this month and spend the money on a gym membership instead.

 My dad kept naturally fit through working in the shipyards and going there on his bike in his younger days, and thought that the modern passion for gyms was pretty funny.

 I saw his thinking when he pointed out that I parked as close to the gym door as possible, before going in and climbing on to the exercise bike.

 The other sight you can watch for this week is the explosion in the number of joggers around town, determined to keep it going every day of this year – or until Saturday anyway.

 I love the classic line of comedian Bill Bailey who points out that you should never trust joggers – they are the ones who always find the bodies.

 I trust your celebration went well and the blasts of conviviality and celebration in the middle of a long, dark winter will do the trick in re-charging the batteries.

 So here’s to a good 2012 for you and yours and our town – and may all your earnestly promised good resolutions last a bit longer this time around.