New Year’s Eve can be great fun and a joyous time of welcoming in January 1st and bidding farewell to the previous year… good or bad, it’s over.
The Portbraddon family come together on December 31st in Lois Elsden’s latest novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:
Later, even only a few weeks later, no-one could remember who’d suggested they should be together on New Year’s Eve. It was as if no-one dared acknowledge they had put the idea forward, as if it was heartless and insensitive. However, they all looked back on the final day of 2014 and the first of 2015 as one of the last times they’d been completely united.
There was a furtive debate about where they should gather; they’d never had to decide before, it had always been at Slake Hall, or on a couple of occasions Slake House. No-one wanted to go back up to Slake Hall and Mrs Portbraddon’s home would be too poignant.
To accommodate everyone it was a choice between Antoine and Shane’s home in Lebanon, or Alex and Ally’s large place, Farholm View. Nick and Tyrone were the messengers and they shared the joke that Alex was graciously suggesting it should be at Lebanon and Antoine courteously putting forward Alex’s home. The real joke was that both men wanted to host the party. So the actual decision lay with the twins. Tyrone went to see Ally, Nick sat drinking sloe gin with Shane, troubled by his bruised nose, luckily not broken by Jaco’s assault.
Shane was in the kitchen when he arrived so he sat with her, watching her ironing her children’s clothes and thinking perhaps she would make rather a good model… would she pose naked? She was meticulous in her chore; her children were her life. She was extraordinary with her black clothes, dramatic make up and dyed hair. He reflected that he’d known her nearly thirty years and yet really he knew nothing about her. She actually was seriously weird, and although his marriage wasn’t exactly a success, he could not imagine in a million years being married to Shane… scary….
She and Antoine had been kind enough to him during his sometimes troubled life, in their stiff and formal way. There never seemed much fun in their household but their three sons seemed lively and normal. Antoine and Shane were shadowed by sadness, and her strangeness; his brother Eduardo’s death, the long and difficult wait for children, the miscarriages, the still birth of their first child… Would they have been different if they’d had children as easily as Tyrone and Carla, or Alex and Ally?
“I’m sorry, what did you say, Shane?” Nick asked, his mind having wandered away from whatever they’d been talking about.
Maybe it was the sloe gin; the bottle which had been full when he arrived, was nearly empty and Shane’s glass was still untouched on the dresser behind her.
“Well, Shane, we, that is, us and Alex, think that as Antoine is the oldest, New Year should be here with you,” Nick announced surprising himself possibly more than Shane, and admitting later to Tyrone that perhaps it was the gin talking.
“I’ll ring Ally, and see what she says,” Shane replied much to Nick’s alarm,
Before he could think how to dissuade her she’d picked up the phone and talked sympathetically to Ally, asking after Alex and the children. If Ally wanted to host the party, Shane would help all she could; if it would be too much, then could she and Antoine…? Ally was delighted and sounded relieved.
This year wouldn’t be so much of a celebration as a being together.
Trailing up to Lebanon on a miserable stormy night put none of Antoine and Shane’s guests in very festive frame of mind even if other circumstances had been different.
Ruby and Tyrone insisted their children came, and in the end the young people were glad they had. They arrived to find the drive lit by lanterns put out by Shane’s boys, candles in jam jars, and the rather gloomy house was brilliant with light, every window had candles and the door was flung open in welcome.
Nick made a joke about Antoine spending more on electricity tonight than he had in the whole of the previous year, but he only murmured it to Alex.
The hall was decked with greenery from the garden, woven with tiny fairy light, and the spicy scent of mulled wine mixed with the resiny smell. Ally had come up during the afternoon to help, her sister Jessica and Ismène looking after the little girls. Alex and Ally had tried to persuade Ismène to come tonight, but she couldn’t face it… New Year could be a poignant time, and with thoughts of her mother, and of James, no doubt, she had insisted she would baby-sit.
The cousins stood together in the sitting room and the younger ones made their own cheerful racket in the extension, planning what they were doing later in Strand. Antoine’s oldest boy, Brandon hovered in the doorway, wanting to join them while his brothers, were happy to carry round plates of savouries, excited at the thought of staying up way past their bedtime to see in the New Year.
The dining room was transformed; Shane usually liked dark colours, wine coloured cloths, ebony place settings, but tonight it was white, the tableware a brilliant ultramarine. Everyone admired it, and for the younger generation it was an image they’d never forget.
Shane had cooked a marvellous meal, a huge joint of beef, served with roast winter vegetables and red cabbage and apple in cider; everyone else had brought desserts and cheese, and there were crates of wine and beer.
Ruby’s eldest son Phil stood up and thanked Shane and Antoine and proposed a toast, and then after hugs and New Year’s good wishes, the minibus arrived and the young people went off together.
There was a silence when they’d left and then the TV went on, with Jools Holland’s Hootenanny taking them up to New Year…
Afterwards, everyone looked back on the night as the last time they’d all been together, together as a united family.