Life

Nuala McCann: Texts? Time was, we queued for a landline to ring home at New Year

My best new year was when I beat the marathon runner in our student house in a race to the off-licence. Then we danced on my bed until it collapsed and at midnight, we ran outside and cheered and clinked glasses with strangers as the shipyard horns blared

At New Year these days, my phone dings and crackles with texts and flashing fireworks

THIS is it ... love it or loathe it, we're standing at the turn of the year, about to cross over. This evening shall find me in my nice, warm work. And maybe that's OK.

New year is no time to elbow for space in a crowded bar. We were reminiscing the other night about the pub where we drank as students. You stayed away from the front bar because that was for the old men in flat caps who wouldn't have a woman about a bar.

It was a traditional drinking bar up front. At the very far back, the Jesus girls with the crucifixes around their necks hung out.

In between, we swanned about nursing a pint for the whole of the evening. Times were tight when you had to splash out on the King James Bible because the English professor sang of its literary worth.

The barman would do his level best to get rid of us at closing time.

“Have you no homes to go to?” he'd shout.

“Have you no exams in the morning?” he'd try.

And when he was really stuck, he'd whisper “There's a party in number 24 Suchanda Street.”

There was always a party in somebody's back then because the bars shut at 11pm and you needed somewhere to go.

A man ran a mobile chip shop from a van on the street outside. He did a roaring trade when the bars shut, only some wag would inevitably find the gas canister that powered his fryer and switch it off. The shrieks, the clamour... they were innocent times. But oh the joy of a late night fish supper.

Now, students meet up for a pre-swall. Yes, it puzzled me too. Not for them a dark cold student flat – it's usually in some parent's fancy kithen. They don't to head out on the town until at least 10pm which is usually the time that the bed is singing siren songs to me.

We like to inform our boy that once upon a time, life in a student house was tough. Central heating? Huh, I tell him as he rolls his eyes and glues them to his iPad.

Double glazing? Huh again, I tell him. Staying warm meant getting dressed to go to bed – two pairs of pants on your head was a grand help. But how often did I wake up to a wreath of icy smoke that was my own breath in the bedroom? The inside of the big sash windows would be lace patterned with ice.

Our boy loses the will hearing the tales of the penury his father and I endured as students. We dressed out of the Oxfam shop, we tell him. But everybody did. Oh, the joy of finding a man's thick tweed herringbone coat. The mileage I got out of my aunt's old brown suede coat.

Second hand was well loved. His father remembers the heavy army surplus coat a friend bought. He wore it in the depths of winter on a trip to Vienna and two Austrian soldiers saluted him as they passed him on the street.

In Belfast, we went to a “club” down town for everyone's 21st party. This was in the days of the Troubles. The club was on Royal Avenue and the place was tumbleweed quiet until you went upstairs.

I remember the thrill of eating out in a pizzeria. Really it was to watch the antics of the owner who was outrageous in an Italian way. It was new for us in the 1970s. I never tasted pasta til I left home. We drank tea all day from a steel teapot with a willow pattern.

My mother kept a bottle of camp coffee with an Indian soldier in front that was tooth-achingly sweet. I was a late convert to Jamaican Blue.

At Christmas, we sipped Blue Nun and thought ourselves sophisticated.

My best new year was when I beat the marathon runner in our student house in a race to the off-licence. Then we danced on my bed until it collapsed and at midnight, we ran outside and cheered and clinked glasses with strangers as the shipyard horns blared.

Then we dashed indoors to queue for the landline to ring home.

My mother and father would have spent the night with Jackie Stewart and the neighbours.

Now at New Year, my phone dings and crackles with texts and flashing fireworks... Have a good one.

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