My problem here is how to make New Year’s Eve in this windswept little clutch of bungalows, amid puddles, weeds and unmade roads, sound quaintly worth reading about.
For some reason I think of the sea at the bottom of the road, licking the partially-concreted shore with an oil-coated tongue. I think of the mud-tumbled cliffs stretching up and then round, that may at any moment – tonight, perhaps – continue their slow-motion fall into the North Sea taking with them such bargain basement park homes, decrepit caravans and bits of deserted cottage as are left behind, awaiting the inevitable descent into pebble-and-salt oblivion. Palaeontologists say there were dinosaurs here once, on these very cliffs, and I choose to believe that imprinted in the mud beneath my house remains one giant footprint.
Dylan Thomas called his own, Welsh sea the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. He was more of a poet than me, his cosy little Welsh sea more poetic than mine. Mine is a grubby, industrial, estuary-into-sea type sea. I consider that great expanse of grey-black water with its crop of wind-turbines, its silent steel-barges, and the docks with their Meccano cranes and car-transporters.
On the beach in summer, when they Londoners are here, the camps full to bursting, people tend to get stabbed – teenagers and local nuisances mainly. Girls tend to get what the boys will claim they were asking for. Sometimes you hear a girl’s thin scream in the night. In the morning police cars come sweeping in, in twos and threes, down the only road out. Whatever happens out there in the dark will be drowned by the rattle of shingle. We close our curtains and turn up our TVs.
Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.
My curtains happen to be away at the dry-cleaners so I’m making do with nets, lots of nets which, if folded thickly, give an illusion of privacy. The street lamp shines through them, though. Ghostly cobwebs of light on the ceiling.
My friends email, then my sister from Canada. Happy New Year we tell each other, separated by roads and houses, land and ocean, fireworks, streetlamps, police cars, traffic signs, dark villages, dark towns. Lets hope for a better year this year, my friends have written. Lets hope at least for some good – a mixture, maybe. Ten Minutes To Go.
And so I turn off the computer and go downstairs. Somehow it seems important to finish drying the dishes and putting them away, though the countdown’s about to begin. Cats sleep along the tops of chairs and on every available cushion. London lights up blue and pink on my TV screen and the firework displays begin. The London Eye is transformed into a giant Catherine Wheel. We can be proud of our fireworks, I think, taking my first 2016 sip of microwaved milk. We’re good at this sort of thing, we British. Pageantry and whatnot. Good at this sort of thing. Why is that no longer comforting?
And outside someone sets off a firework or two, but there’s no cheering. Where are the snows of yesteryear? I wonder, and then wonder where that came from. With any luck I’ll have forgotten by tomorrow – save looking it up. Where are the remnants of parties and the people banging saucepans to scare away the devils of the old year? Where is the dark first-footer, bringing in coal, salt, bread and a silver coin? Where are the whisky-fuelled celebrations, the loud goodbyes, the raucous singing in the street? And why, in Dubai, that burning building? It seems like an omen.
Where is what we had, before it all started to change?