The turn of the 21st century was a heady time, thick with ominous portent. Those present at the time will recall the conflagration in the Balkan states and the quite sickening self-praise which dominated press reports of a bombing campaign there, led by Her Majesty’s government.
The Right Honourable Mr Blair’s cabinet had lurched the popular discourse through a series of unedifying pronouncements, echoing the uncertainty of the times. Those in power made it clear that the electorate would trust them at their peril, and a gentleman’s word, hitherto sacrosanct in the annals of history, came to mean little.
There was also considerable panic regarding the turning of the clock to zero, and the effects on the electronic equipment on which we had come to rely. Many indulged in public – and, with the benefit of clear-eyed hindsight – risible bouts of paranoid alarm.
Excitement and anxiety were palpable, as opportunity collided – as it always must – with considerable risk. Doomsday prophecies abounded.
Through the haze of memory, I recall that I myself was a typically scurrilous youth of the day, replete with the wild ideals and dishevelled appearance which characterised the student population of our great country at that troubled time.
In high spirits, and with hope of gathering in the town to celebrate with my fellows, I ventured out to convene with Capt. Hornblower, and others, at his official Bishopston residence. Much joyous merrymaking ensued.
Massive Attack, the great local troubadours of the day were to regale the citizenry of the town to mark the great occasion. I had long been an admirer of the ensemble, and anticipated a great and hearty celebration of these festivities.
What a great and rare event, the dawn of a new millennium. To be alive was joy; to be young, very heaven.
Declining a carriage, my peers and I walked to the town down the Gloucester Road, engaging in spirited singing and joviality, greeting fellow revellers as we passed. In an advanced state of refreshment, my friends and I enjoyed the ribald language and tomfoolery befitting youths of our years and epoch. A great swathe of the townsfolk were already heading toward the party, despite the early hour; the clock had barely touched 7.30 as we passed the Polish Church.
And that, Dear Reader, is the last thing I can recall.
Until, that is, around the ungodly hour of 2.30 in the A.M., when I quite suddenly alighted from my stupor, being surprised to find myself in a lavatory with a delightful young lady of my acquaintance.
I had no recollection of the events leading to this situation, nor was I entirely sure of the nature of this tryst. At that moment, with a knocking at the door, the lady excused herself and left the smallest room, bidding me follow her, and imploring me against eye contact with the interloper. I must say, the young lady in question purported herself in a most upright and dignified manner, given the circumstances. Do not assume, Dear Reader, that this tryst was in any way sordid, as I am in no position either to confirm or deny that prurient assumption.
Being somewhat surprised at this turn of events, but at a loss as to any other course of action, I continued my revelry, which I saw as I joined my contemporaries, had continued unabated in my cerebral (if not physical) absence.
I felt a new man, bleary-eyed upon waking from a long, fitful sleep. We had indeed entered a new millennium. The birth of this new age had not been without pain, however….
My friends were swift to avail me of details of the intervening period of my amnesia: I had stumbled around the town, braying in the most abominable way, making an exhibition of my inebriation, exhorting others to participate in the idiocy of my unfolding cautionary tale. In the town centre, a well-known charitable group had erected a tent to provide comfort to those in need and spread the word of their campaigning. Even now, after the passing years, I am mortified to admit that I abused this sanctuary, vomiting at the edges of the temporary structure, like a common vagrant.
Later my cohorts found an ingenious way to deal with my sordid behaviour and reckless physical abandon, placing me in to a trolley of the kind used by shoppers in the “super” markets, wheeling me home to safety. Once again, I admit, much to my chagrin, that I had become a danger to myself and others.
As I met other friends and acquaintances in the ensuing days and weeks, they were all too eager to grant me the benefit me of their own memories of the evening, and my shameful part in it.
Barnard, for example, a gentleman of standing, respected about the town, greeted me thusly:
“My Dear Boy, I trust we meet today under more felicitous circumstances?”
After I had enquired to what he referred, he continued:
“Ah, I see. You do not remember. Allow me to remind you: on the New Year’s eve, we met on Park Street, whereupon you enjoined me in the basest sort of carousing!” (This last, accompanied with a wink.)
“At your urging, several fellows did join your hearty chorus “Two-triple-oh is here!”
On noticing my chagrin, Barnard bellowed, exclaiming “Why, my Good Man, it was the most hilarious japery of the season!” before adding, in a lower voice: “One must regret, however, regurgitating the fluid of one’s rejoicing all over the Amnesty International tent.“
In attempting to make sense of the confusion and shame in the early weeks of this glorious new millennium, I flattered myself to think that since imbibing alcohol relieves one of inhibition, that I may have behaved with total honesty – and, in retaining friends I may have lost, proved some innate charm. However, since I am unable to recall many of the events here described, this was pure self-serving speculation on my part, and the whimsical theory gave way to harsher realisation.
Chiefly, that one was a lightweight who could not hold one’s drink.
I am not so deluded as to believe I had achieved anything other than a most fortunate escape from very real harm, due chiefly to the actions of others, and not myself.
My friends showed a kindness which I scarcely deserved. At every New Year’s celebration since that one, I save a toast to their patient forbearance and generosity of spirit.
So, as another new year dawns, won’t you join me, friends: Should old acquaintance be forgot….?
I should jolly well hope not!