What font is Alphabetti Spaghetti?
One of the things that fascinates and infuriates me about London, is that it's such a young city. Sure, the architecture, the rituals, the social strictures and the hierarchies are centuries-rigid -- but the personality of the place is young. With all the arrogance, crowd-pleasing, over-dramatised self-absorption of the young. London is empty at Christmas. Nobody stays sober or in at New Year.
I'm leaning out of my window, shivering in the cold chill, listening to the echoes and ricochet of fireworks along the Thames. I know what they'll look like, that they'll stretch from Tower Bridge to Westminster. Nobody stays home in London on a night like this. Everybody plans their party weeks before. I can smell gunpowder smoke on a biting breeze and hear organ music playing the National Anthem in an East End boozer. As the minutes tick nearer to midnight, cars begin hooting en masse on a road two streets in the distance. Rockets explode in every direction. Two passersby argue loudly and agreeably about which direction Canary Wharf (and therefore the Thames) is. The skyline of the City of London flashes pink in a reverberating soundscape of numbers.
It's New Year now. The cabin fever schmaltz of Christmas is gone. This isn't a festival for children, or family or responsibility or age - it's for youth, for confidence -- and the newness of spirit that it takes to meet a challenge. I'm drinking champagne, which hits your head hard after two months without a sniff of alcohol. Thinking about the party that my ex is giving tonight. And wondering who I'll hug at next year's celebration.
It smells of scarves, gloves and hats, almost like November does, but also of kissing strangers on bridges. Loads of old men die between Christmas and New Year. Loads of couples split. I can already hear a screaming drunken row in the distance. The frustrations of the year before shatter just as the explosions rock and echo along London's river now. At no other time do we look at the person we're with, the place we're in, the person we've turned out to be, and assess if it really is what we want so harshly.
People talk a lot of shit about resolutions. But in one small sense, part of this festival is old. It's about death, about cutting away what doesn't work. It's about claiming your youth.
Minute numero two of 2004 and it rains. First drunken text. Probably the last, considering where my friends all are, and who they're with tonight. Another row erupts on the street. This time, between men. Car horns and a police siren add to the racket. I try to text back, but the network is down. The champagne tastes sour. Fight numero three is a squabble between eight year olds, returning from a neighbour's. An old man wanders over to the graveyard in slippers, puts his arm between the railings and pours away some sour milk. At a few minutes past midnight, there's no fooling onlookers why he left his house.
Argument numero four, twelve minutes into the New Year. My neighbour's gorgeous brother shouts at his girl that they shouldn't be arguing today, now, on New Year's Day. She cries and runs from him. The rain gets heavier. The fireworks continue - they've been constant for twenty five minutes now. Squealing rockets and bangers, though, signal the end of the big bangs.
London is a valley, and every bang creates two double echoes, three seconds (north) and five seconds (south) behind the explosions on the river. Five hours ago, a bomb exploded in an restaurant kitchen in Iraq.
The thundering tails off, the street is deserted again. One last burst of jubilant car horns. I can hear the rain slow to a patter once again.
Happy New Year.