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4 January 2023

Last year ended as disastrously as it began. So why am I already nostalgic for it?

The past year appears to me as a series of soft-focus montage moments; less pain, more days of celebration and laughter.

By Hannah Rose Woods

The year 2022 ended for me the way it started: disastrously. I had thought I might go away for a few days, but after my plans were undone first by train strikes, and then by friends felled with various post-Christmas plagues, I decided to make a virtue out of spending New Year’s Eve on my own. I scripted an evening of self-care: I was going to make cold, sweet, bitter bourbon cocktails for myself, and sit down to write about everything I was grateful for and have loved amid a substantially dreadful year. I would give myself time and space to reflect on the good parts: the achievements, the reasons to be optimistic. And then I was going to put on some music and light candles, cook a gorgeous meal and open a lovely bottle of wine – and be very at peace.

The meal was important. It doesn’t matter what the meal was specifically. I chose it because it had been cooked for me by someone I had loved, and who loved me, so often that I came to think of it being made for me as an act of love in itself. And after that person told me, on a miserable night in early February last year, that they no longer wanted to be with me – after miserable weeks of trying to mend an argument that had begun on New Year’s Day, and could not be mended – I thought of the meal often. About how I had mistaken its meaning, because of what I so very much had wanted it to mean. That I had mistaken it for a kind of promise of something larger than it was.

I had been wrong, about the meal, about love, but I fashioned the perfect story to end the year on, in cooking it for myself. It would become my act of love to me. I was delighted by the idea of it. I would wrap up the experience of one exact calendar year and then present it to myself as a gift to eat.

What happened, when I went to fix the night’s first drink, is that I opened my fridge and a tide of water poured out. I have no mechanical explanation for how this occurred. A cartoon-logic mishap or small natural disaster had manifested inside my fridge, and soaked every ingredient in water of uncertain origin.

I was stunned by it. Life gave me lemons – and then an Acme Corporation anvil. I stood there, wet-footed, dripping, almost physically winded by astonishment at the stupid, stupid unfairness of not being allowed this one, last, modest meal for myself. I raged in various positions around the flat for a bit. I cried; I laughed – not crying with laughter, but doing both separately, at the same time. I swore inventively and extensively at everything.

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I had frozen pizza for dinner, and the wine. And I couldn’t say why, but after the weird bewildered rage subsided I was in such a good mood. I was, genuinely, at peace. This lasted about 45 minutes. Suddenly, bone-achingly tired, and unable to do anything else at all, I took myself to bed in the kind of dreamlike autopilot you do when you’re coming down with the flu. I woke, disoriented, to midnight fireworks.

I’m not falling for it this time, though – I am not mistaking this for a symbol for anything else. This one is between me and my fridge.

[See also: House plants can be addictive. I should know: I own 51]

I am, however, making time to remember the good in 2022. What is it about the entirely arbitrary dividing line of New Year’s Day that makes it so much easier to look back with generosity?

With nothing changing, except the simple trick of it ending, the past year now presents itself to me as a series of soft-focus montage moments. Walking down a Toronto street in soup-thick summer heat, with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, passing between us a jar of Manhattan on the Rocks so wet with condensation it took care to grip. Visiting Oxford to see another friend on the coldest day of the year, and wandering through the University Parks in awe of the hoar frost. Weaving through people on the Tube at rush hour on the day my book was published, feeling featherlight despite being laden with flowers, gifts and cupcakes – iced with my own book cover – on the way to a celebration dinner. Always heading somewhere, always laughing, drinking important drinks and eating meaningful meals.

I wrote my book about nostalgia. You’d think I would be used to the glow we give to memory, the ways that pain fades as pleasure overtakes in the rear-view mirror, again and again. But it surprises me every time.

[See also: Instead of insulating from winter, I have decided to expose myself to it]

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This article appears in the 04 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak Under Siege