Put the beer down, dip and kiss

New Year's Eve has never been my time to shine - probably because I am prone to paralysis due to excessive naval gazing, and a holiday that marks another year whizzing by only augments the fresh explosion of introspection.

I've tried for iconic NYE.

I've dressed up, worn shoes with a bit of a heel, put mascara on my eyelashes, danced with abandon, pulled wallflowers onto the floor with me, toasted to good health and happiness, and talked brightly about all my big plans for the coming year over thumping electronica.  

But come 11.45pm and I can pretty much always be counted on to be the downer girl who lingers at the edge of parties with a glass of Champagne in one hand and a party streamer in the other, with a stricken expression on her face.

That's probably the moment I have become acutely aware of the passage of time.

Another year gone; vanished.

Never to be recovered. And of course I'll look around because I want to talk about the passage of time. The irony, the poetry, the sadness and so forth.

And yet all that baggage you learn to chuck out the window as you journey onward. So much hope! So many surprises that life unveils as you throw it all off! Who wants to hear my monologue about the bittersweet torment of years vanishing?


No one?

So yeah, I know that furrowed brows have no place at holiday parties and that some of us are just better left at home pickling in a hot bath, listening to Sade: The Ultimate Collection and furiously journaling away about hopes and dreams and chucked baggage, instead of inviting a whole roomful of party people into our theatre of agony for the evening. 

But Southland, you gave me one incredible New Year's Eve of 2012 two years ago, and it's kind of spoiled my annual jammies-and-journaling ritual this year as 2013 disappears.

True, it was work-related. And yes, also true, that I might have initially been in a barely concealed foul mood when I approached you - if you were anywhere between Fortrose, Winton, and Orepuki that stunning early evening- in my darkest of sunglasses, with a notepad and a poised pen, demanding your New Year's resolutions on the record.

There is a high probability that if you were deep in conversation with a loved one while watching the day end somewhere scenic, holding a glass of wine, preparing for a toast, there would have been the sound of a car flying past.

Then, in the distance, the sound of the car coming to an abrupt halt.

Then the sound of it reversing.

Lots of opening and shutting of doors, then feet walking through gravel. Then my face in front of yours and an overly bright ''HI THERE!''

It was Doug, our photographer, and myself on New Year's Eve duty, armed with snacks, leftover Christmas chocolates, and a few mixed CDs.

This was the month that Annah Mac's Girl in Stilettos was on the airwaves, and I absolutely cannot hear that song now and not think of Doug singing along in a falsetto voice with the chorus (''but alllllll they seeeee is a girl in STILETTOS...'') with the windows down and the smell of freshly peeled tangerines that have been shoved into quarter full cups of stale coffee.

We were a tad shy at first, Doug and I.

And so polite when we approached all of you. So attentive about not being pests. So respectful of people's space.

We didn't want to be invasive, we agreed. New Year's is such a contemplative time for many (said I, loftily).

This approach lasted for about two hours.

We cruised out of Invercargill to Riverton and then to Colac Bay then back to Riverton to capture Southlanders swimming, surfing, eating ice cream and building bonfires before nightfall.  

We took artsy photos and profile pictures. We were not given an agenda - it was up to us that night to take our quotes and observations of New Year's and weave it into some kind of narrative after midnight.

Slowly we became braver.

By about 6pm we had a routine: Doug would stay in the car while I approached people on beaches, park benches, or sitting in their cars in public places (tap, tap, tap on the window.... ''HI THERE!'') then I'd give the special signal to Doug if they consented to a photo and he'd get out of the car with his camera bag.

By 7pm, I was wandering into people's front yards if there was a barbecue (''Gosh, something sure smells good here...'') and in less than an hour I was peering over back fences to say hi and asking if I could come over and take a picture because everyone looked like they were having so much fun.

It wasn't a line.

These were parties I would have longed to jump the fence to get into anyway, and I loved that I had an official excuse (''it's for the paper you see...'').  And you guys were so good to Doug and I, waving us over, slicing us off big chunks of meat from the barbecue and piling up plates with  salads to take with us.

Which we declined, of course, being professional and all that (by 8pm we caved, and began accepting sausages).

After getting our sunset shot at Cosy Nook (to the man, holding a can of beer and looking out to sea as the sun disappeared: you were, hands down, my favourite picture of the day) we hightailed it back to Invercargill to get a couple kissing at midnight.

Doug wanted to get the full drop and kiss in front of the clock at Wachner Place. I told him to get his camera out because I would use my charm to make it happen.

And Southland, this is where you disappointed me.

I walked jauntily into one pub and scanned the room. Okay. Exit. Next pub. Room scan. No flirting, no long gazes being held; zero chemistry anywhere.

Five to midnight. I was running, and I mean running from bar to bar. Nothing.

Finally I rushed back into Speight's Ale House and in desperation went straight up to a couple having a beer.

''Hi there,'' I said breathlessly, arm casually on the table. ''Do you guys, uh, plan on kissing at midnight by any chance?''

The guy didn't bat an eyelid at the question. And to his credit, he was equally straight to the point.


Oh, come on Southern boys. How about a little romance?

Because in the end, as I recall, the whole lot of you got shown up by an Englishman who had been brought home by his gorgeous Southland girlfriend.

On request, he did the dip and kiss perfectly, and her hair fell, starlet-style, behind her as their lips locked. The clocktower centred just over them like a full moon as the camera flashed.

It was such a great ending to the day.

I am in snowed in Montana today, feeling a little landlocked and cabin feverish.

As I return to my jammies-and-journaling ways this NYE - a ritual that has become kind of time-honoured tradition in my world -  there has been, all day, these stabs of longing for the scent of tangerine peels soaked in stale coffee, barbecued lamb; the feel of the ocean wind on my face, sand between my toes and yes, even a good excuse to peer over a fence and invite myself over for a party.

Happy New Year everyone - if you need me, I will be pickling in a bathtub and scribbling in a journal saturated with Walt Whitman quotes.

(And Southland guys - don't get shown up this year. Just put the beer down. Dip. And kiss. So easy).

The Southland Times