New Year’s Eve 1999. 5.30pm I’m sitting at home getting a little wasted, talking to Melanie, an actress friend, on the phone and gazing at the Christmas Tree lights in the dark. Something ambient plays in the background. Phone call over, I finish the Jameson’s, take the champagne from the fridge and drive up to London sporting an uncharacteristic shirt and bowtie covered over with a big wool coat. I love this coat. I remember a photographer friend who wears something similar made by Crombie. Last time a group of us met up wearing them he described it as the Night of the Crombies. Years have passed since that bad pun but the coat always reminds me.
Thirty minutes driving and I fade into Europe’s largest television studio complex, ID dripping from me, to meet up with Mario in a technical area. He’s the one who’s convinced the shirt and tie combo is required and we make our way around the building, visiting friends, sharing the largesse. Somehow I blag a free dinner, even though I know deep down there is no such thing as a free lunch. The knowledge that dinner and lunch are not the same helps my addled brain reconcile this cognitive dissonance and two bottles of bubbly later and we’re in the bar.
Next thing I’m on a platform in the bowels of the London Underground. There are so many people on this platform that it is impossible to move. I take a swig from the champagne bottle I’m carrying and hold Mario’s camera over my hand. Flash! The sheer stupidity of the lemming-herd instinct is captured on celluloid for posterity.
We squeeze into a train, grinning inanely and drinking from the bottle. Our fellow travellers grin inanely back at us. None of us knows why we are here. None of us cares. We exit at Embankment and head for the bridge to make our way over to the rendezvous with Mel, except we don’t. We get 30 feet and the sheer pressure of people makes it impossible to move. PC Plod has decided not to let people back on the tube for no readily apparent reason so we escape through some gardens.
Making our way down The Strand is ridiculous. Apart from closing rail stations, Plod has abandoned the streets to the masses and traffic is non-existent. We have one more feeble attempt to get on to a bridge to cross the Thames but it is not to be. More people are coming towards us than are going are way and we are forced to go with the flow.
Onwards, then, to Aldwych and into the depths of the BBC World Service at Bush House. Suddenly we find ourselves in an oasis from the chaos outside, down marble steps and in a dimly lit bar with beer and free mince pies. A band seems to be setting up, or maybe it’s karaoke. Whatever, it soon becomes irrelevant as Mario gets this annoying bored look on his face so we must return once more into the night and the manifest stupidity that London has descended into. I am comfortably numb and content to drift along with this vagabond existence until it leads somewhere by midnight. It’s now around 10.30pm.
11pm or thereabouts. Fractal memories. Standing at the back of a TV studio after a scouser named Ron has talked us in. The floor manager stands nearby herding people in and out but seems to just accept our presence. She asks if we’d like to look around and Ron and Mario disappear into a maze of scaffold and cabling. Through the scenery I glimpse the back of Gaby Roslin (the presenter) while five feet away stands Peter Snow (another well-known face). He is tall in real life, very tall and totally absorbed in his work. On-screen babe Phillippa Forrester isn’t tall. Nothing is said as she slinks past in a shimmering silver silk dress and jaws hit the floor. We are not worthy! But, of course, we are.
Fractal memories. We are on the studio roof. There’s a searchlight pointing patterns into the sky. Someone next to me thinks it would be more entertaining to shine this into people’s living rooms and moves it accordingly. Within five minutes a production assistant appears and politely but firmly repositions the beam to skywards. Five minutes to midnight and various friends appear. Midnight. Party poppers, cheering, singing, hugging, kissing. In the distance, fireworks explode and the Thames celebrates with a “River of Fire”. We get the effect of a Sky of Fire, not having the ability to see through buildings. It’s an impressive effect as red, white and gold star blossoms light up the horizon.
12.30pm, back in the bar. A DJ is giving it ‘large’ on the decks although his large isn’t really as big as it could get. It doesn’t matter. I’m at a table with two or three buddies and a girl in a fire red dress across the room is ignoring her friend to look at me. I look around and look back. Yes, she’s definitely looking at me. I ask Ron to confirm this unlikely scenario and he sends someone over to see if she’s really with the person she’s sat next to. Unbelievable cheek. The inquirer returns and informs us that no, she isn’t. Ron starts explaining body language to me and I excuse myself.
Some time later I’m driving home with the girl in scarlet and 2000 AD propels us into a new world where anything is possible. Fractal memories seen from a new place twelve months later. Glimpses of the whole, resolving faster and faster as the pattern repeated and now fades, the lessons learned. She is gone now, the girl in the red dress and the harsh echoes of an unpleasant siren have long since vanished. Now I know what sights and sounds to filter for and such things won’t happen again, though there are few regrets. Now I embrace laughter, friendship and a smile; a new experience and a different journey as 2001 approaches. Life and light and love in a new millennium.