The New Year And The Old Place

So there you have it. Audrey Hepburn has come down from her spot on the kitchen wall, which she has dominated – in different guises – throughout 2011. She has been replaced by 12 views of Britain from the golden age of railway posters. During January, I will be looking at one of South Devon’s coves and imagining the excitement of travelling there from London (courtesy of Great Western Railways) in the summertime, when the weather in those days was always fine.

That was then and this is now. The great wheel of the celestial clock has slipped another cog and the old year has given way to the new. 2012 is upon us. (Be afraid, be very afraid!) I wished my parents a happy new year this morning and, stupidly, asked them how they celebrated the night before. My father told me that they went to bed well before the midnight hour. It’s all stuff and nonsense and what is there to celebrate anyway? I guess that, when you’ve negotiated 84 years on this earth, you start to think like that.

My younger sister turned up with a copy of the Mail on Sunday and my father read me the headline. Something about the Inland Revenue declaring war on millionaire footballers who don’t pay their taxes. Not before time. When I suggested a fiscal war on every overpaid individual who doesn’t pay his or her taxes, he launched into a diatribe on Jonathon Ross. I managed to steer the conversation onto more positive ground – an appreciation of Oliver Postgate, in fact, and his charming creations, like The Clangers and Bagpuss and Noggin the Nog – by telling him about our New Year’s Eve.

It was a rainy night in the Corrèze – and it felt like it must be raining all over the world. We dropped The Daughter off at the Salle de Fêtes in Ligneyrac, where she and her friends were seeing in the New Year, free from adult supervision. We drove on through the pouring rain to Serilhac to have dinner with old friends. At least the rain kept the gendarmes off the roads. I had nothing to hide, but I always fear those routine roadblocks. ‘You have a defective side mirror, Monsieur. That will be 180 euros and six points.’

American Steve had invited one of the other Steves from his band, unofficially known as The 3 Steves. I’d met him (2nd Steve) before at a gig, the night when he aired his new Fender Telecaster, but I’d not met his wife, nor their good-looking, personable son. They moved here from Bristol six or so years ago and renovated an old hotel in La Roche Canillac, an improbable medieval village that perches precariously above the steep-sided valley of the Doustre, a tributary of the Dordogne. It was only a 15-minute drive from our old house, so we grilled them for news about the old place. The beautiful little lake where we used to go for swims in summer and walks in winter was still beautiful. The garden full of topiaries, nicknamed ‘Corrèze Disney’, was still as outlandish as ever. The bearded Welsh oceanographer still lived in the village, but the retired German couple who befriended us had moved now to the same hamlet as our ex-family doctor. The German couple were good friends of Oliver Postgate, who spent many a month in his holiday-home in the bourg. By a stroke of very neat good fortune, Oliver Postgate’s stepson has bought their old house in the village, which has been up for sale for several years.

Apparently, during the dark days when Steve and Jo were renovating the old hotel and trying to galvanise builders (who ended up absconding with a sizeable deposit), the Germans lent them a DVD that Oliver Postgate had made about the old Transcorrezian railway, affectionately known throughout the department as the Tacot. The fact that this old stately steam train, which once wound its way through some of the more impenetrable valleys of the Corrèze, taking passengers from Tulle to Ussel and back at little more than a walking pace, might have inspired Oliver Postgate’s Ivor the Engine somehow gave Steve and Jo the courage and belief to keep going, instead of throwing in the towel and moving back to England.

Our meal culminated in Jessica’s homemade Christmas pudding and her twin brother’s approximately 95% proof brandy butter. American Steve went outside to light some fireworks and Debs and I took our premature leave, as our Belgian friends had booked me for a two-hour DJ slot at their annual party in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. We would all meet up there later that evening.

The party-people danced, but not like it was 1999, and I fretted about the sound quality in general and distortion in particular. My cross-fading was a little perfunctory and Amadou & Mariam went missing for a few worrying minutes till I located the disc in the bowels of the console. Nor did I feel it was quite right to be wearing reading glasses to keep an eye on my playlist. So by the end of the slot, I had to ask myself: should I really be putting myself through all the doubts and the stress for the sake of my demanding ego?

Later, my wife and I chatted some more with 2nd Steve and Jo at the bar. Steve picked up on my reference to ‘Bullmoose’ Jackson’s scurrilous ‘Big Ten Inch (Record of The Blues)’ and Jo professed to wanting to come up and riffle through my vinyl at some point. It also crossed both of our minds that our daughter might like to meet their personable son, so we ended up inviting them for dinner later this month. Let the new year start with new friends!

On counting out the old year and counting in the new, we all raised our plastic champagne flutes (left over from our Christmas Eve party), toasted 2012 and then indulged in that invigorating pastime we’ve all learned from the French: indiscriminate kissing. Two for most nationalities, but three for the Belgians and possibly, if I remember correctly, the Dutch. More fireworks were then set off – outside and not in – before people started settling imperceptibly into the latest calendar year.

1.30 in the morning seemed a rather amateur-ish hour at which to leave the festivities, but Debs by then had lost all traces of her voice and we are, as they say, ‘not so young as we used to be’. On leaving (with three more kisses), our Belgian hostess Natasja echoed my feeling that 2012 is going to be a singularly hard and testing year, but – she suggested – we must all be ‘true to what is in our hearts’. Amen to that and nobly phrased. Happy New Year, one and all!

Wasn't hejust, Jane? And such a quiet unfussy genius, too.

I have fond memories of winter afternoons spent "locked in" at a certain hotel on the shores of Windermere, drinking by a roaring log fire and watching the Clangers.

Oliver Postgate was a genius.