Here’s an idea: a New Year’s Eve camp for the children of parents who still love a party. Not just drinks, a dinner, but a party party, you know, a thing that starts gently with a plastic glass and chatter about school catchments and then joyfully descends.
A New Year’s Eve camp that starts today, lunchtime, where children collect by the campfire in full excitement and coats, and their parents, vibrating with guilt, cover them with weighted kisses before dashing off to shave their legs and put a record on. The camp could be in Elstree. Somewhere like Elstree. Somewhere suitably green and anonymous, but accessible by motorway. The children would have structured play for the first two hours, while parents made their ways home, relaxing a little more at every petrol station. And they’d get home, rushing now, steaming up the bathroom, a spritz of something citric maybe, the door to the kids’ room slightly ajar, its contents of Stickle Bricks and puddled tights like a conquered landscape. The music is important, the kitchen Sonos pumping out songs that remind them how to be the people they were when they met, with ambition and mopeds and all their hair. At some point they close the kids’ room door.
At camp, the muddied children would sit in a circle and drink hot chocolate, while the parents arrive at their friends’ house a little too early, too excited, wielding a bottle like a passport. In the hall they’d Facetime the children, who are anxious to get back to their midnight feast, and when they hang up the parents kiss with a passion that at first feels performative, but eases into something real.
Then the party would start to wobble slightly, they’re on a boat that’s leaving shore. The kitchen would become a ballroom, someone’s DJing from their phone, at one point a podcast about the ethics of euthanasia comes on and everyone keeps dancing. A cat sleeps furiously on the pile of coats, a marriage breaks down in the garden, 1,000 intimacies are forged in the smoking area. At camp, the midnight feast would be held in the bunks, with clumsy flirting as the new year dawns, and sleep would come slowly, under slightly itchy blankets.
The real beauty of the camp, however, would not be in the New Year’s Eve activities, but the accommodation for up to four days following – climbing, firepits, swimming, song. Each hour following a parents’ party is crucial. Home at four, ordinarily they would be woken again at seven, and chucked face first into a pit of toast and cartoons. When, of course, at this age, halfway to death, a hangover needs at least three days to bed in, to carry its owner through the tepid shallows of fear and loneliness, through to the depths of agony beyond. The memories of spilling red wine on their host’s carpet, and brilliantly covering it with ground pepper. The inevitable suggestive dance with the person who by day is a clumsy letch but by fairy light suddenly seemed like the one that got away. Oh God the vomit, the vomit in the plant, and the argument about Uber, and the standing on the table with arms outstretched shouting: “Please Has Anybody Got Any Drugs Please.”
Let’s say one day for just lying with their hands over their eyes like they’ve seen too much, heaving themselves to standing only to accept a Deliveroo. Let’s say another day to gently phone around, researching the truth, rehydrating the relationship. Then two days – full days – to ease back into the reality of their identity, and all the responsibilities and repayments, both emotional and fiscal, owed. To slither back into the skin of a person that goes to bed at 10.30, that has a whole thing about bin collection times, that goes into her son’s school to talk about stranger danger and the environmental impact of plastic bags.
At camp, the children would be protected from the raw reality of their parents as people, from seeing the awful fallout from cocktails made at dawn and shoes that need practice. Returning from Elstree, somewhere like Elstree, ruddy-cheeked and vital on 4 January, the children would smell nothing, see nothing, it would be almost spring, and they’d have learned how to make flapjacks, and their parents are alive, and that’s all they’d need to know. End of idea.