As 1999 moved towards the new Millennium, I was sitting down for a New Year’s dinner with my mother and brother in the St David’s Hotel in Cardiff.
This year, I will be spending it in LA with a whole new set of friends that I didn’t even know at the start of the decade. Heck, I didn’t even know them at the start of the year.
Isn’t life strange?
I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing on Thursday night. I’ve always found New Year’s Eve a bit depressing, but if there is one thing worse than paying over-the-top prices for a bad meal and clinging to strangers as the chimes strike, it’s sitting alone watching people do the same on TV – especially if the post-midnight revelry is taking place in Scotland to the tune of bagpipes.
Was there ever a more hideous sounding musical instrument? I swear that the bagpipes are the suicide watch of the musical world, and I am just praying that LA will be a bagpipe-free zone for the festivities.
I suspect that I may not be able to escape them if I go to Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica. This is a British pub that, at 4pm, is celebrating the UK New Year, which will be followed at midnight by the LA one.
I quite fancy celebrating the New Year in daylight, which might make it marginally less depressing than it normally is, although if they have bagpipes on the telly, I might be reaching for that razor blade and not even make it to my first US New Year.
I mustn’t be too horrible about Scotland’s national instrument, because a man called Jim from Scotland saved me from the razor blade on Christmas Eve.
I arrived back in the UK to discover that my Sky Plus box had gone kaput. Now, for a TV critic to be without TV at all is bad enough, but at Christmas, with several couch potatoes to keep happy, it is an event of monumental devastation.
I phoned Sky – no one was available until well after the New Year. I wailed, I cried, all to no avail. Despite having paid for a special plan in case of breakdown (my own, in addition to the equipment, I had presumed), there was just no one around.
Hurumph! The Sky’s the limitations I screamed at my family, munching peanuts and staring hopefully at the blank screen in the corner of the room.
I tracked down Sky’s VIP service, on whose list I had once been, but they couldn’t help because I didn’t have a special code from the “plan” department. So it was back to them. Back to VIP with the code, only to discover I am no longer a VIP.
“You’re going to lose a very good customer,” I whimpered.
“I’m very sorry about that,” said Scottish Jim.
Then Scottish Jim rang me back. He was going to see what he could do. Suddenly, I wanted to marry Scottish Jim; then I wanted to marry Welsh Kevin, who was on my door within half an hour, taking away the defunct box and replacing it amid such screams of delight that have not been heard since the Wise Men delivered their gold, frankincense and myrrh to a woman who, a couple of hours before, didn’t have a Marriott Reward point to her name.
Fair play, that was great service. Having constantly praised LA service as being infinitely superior to its UK counterparts, I have to say that Sky surpassed itself. I might even take up the bagpipes as a tribute to Scottish Jim.
For the most part, my LA life allows me to stay in the UK loop. Rolling news on the internet, and also Facebook, mean that I am never out of touch with anything or anyone for very long. Oh, yes – and Sky! Lovely, lovely Sky!
But ten hours on a plane is a long time out of the loop, as I discovered when I arrived back home for Christmas and was instantly told by my uncle that: “Gareth Edwards has come out as being gay.” Apparently, he said, it had broken up his marriage, and he had also contemplated suicide.
‘GARETH EDWARDS?!” I screamed. The great Welsh rugby scrum half of the Eighties? “No wonder he never fancied me.”
I reached for my phone to text Gareth, offer support, blah blah, while trying to conceal my delight at hearing the most exciting news to have come out of Wales since . . . Well, Henry VII’s ascension to the throne, to be honest.
I rang my brother with the bulletin. “No,” he said. “Gareth Thomas.”
Oh, good grief. That wasn’t news. The ex-Welsh captain? Those of us in the rugby world had known that for years. Still, I was pleased for Gareth and thought his coming out in the macho world of rugby, and also Wales, was an incredibly brave move on his part.
So much so, that I went up to him in my local club, the Cameo, to tell him when I saw him there before Christmas. All well and good – had it not been his lookalike team-mate (well, both balding) Tom Shanklin.
Apparently, in the bus on the way back from Cardiff Blues’ match against Toulouse before Christmas, Gareth received a call from Elton John. The team celebrated by singing Candle in the Wind for the remainder of the journey.
Much as I am looking forward to celebrating my first New Year in LA, there are some things about home that you just can’t beat.