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The countdown began. Each number was a diffuse halo of noisy voices, starting somewhere beyond Jenny, encircling her, and not quite dying away in the distance before the next number was sung out. Jenny had never liked New Year. She had surprised herself with the decision to come to London to see it in.
“Bob suggested it. I would never have even considered it myself.”
“No! It’s never appealed to me. All those people. And the cold! Where will you stay?”
“Bob booked the room. It’s a hotel near the river.”
“Very nice too. You could stay in, not worry about the cold, and see the fireworks from there I expect, with a nice cocktail.”
“Yes, there’s a thought.”
“Well, I will raise a glass to you. And to Bob.”
The first chime sounded and a hush rose from the throng – it hung in the cold air, like their breath, like the knell of the bell.
She had often heard other people complaining about New Year too: the forced festivities; the rushing around to have another party just after Christmas; the over-indulgence; the ridiculous making of resolutions which would be broken with dawn on New Year’s Day. Yet none of these reasons for disliking the event chimed with Jenny.
Some complained about the melancholia that surrounds New Year, that looking backwards and regretting, missing, wishing.
Other people seemed to look forward so much… Oh this will be the year when… Jenny could never quite get on board with the idea of resolutions. The idea of a new beginning just because of a date in the calendar seemed absurd. Why couldn’t something start fresh on March 5th or August 19th? The Second World War started on September 1st. Perhaps that was not the best example of a new beginning, but Hitler obviously wasn’t the type to wait until New Year before beginning his masterplan.
She clutched her bag to her.
No. Her problem with New Year was precisely that she didn’t enjoy the nostalgia of looking back, and neither was she one to look forward and make plans. She had always felt at this time of year that there was nowhere for her to sit comfortably between the backward glances and the projected yearning. She was an in-between sort of person.
To her left was a family of four. The mother was dressed warmly in a cream and black striped scarf, hat and mittens and was holding a boy of about three in her arms. The boy had red semi-circles under his eyes – either the cold or tiredness was starting to get to him. He looked a little like the gang of face-painted zombies Jenny had seen earlier in the evening on their way to a fancy dress party. There was an older sister, of around seven Jenny estimated, sitting up on her fathers shoulders for a better view. The father was broad shouldered and quite handsome, Jenny supposed, in an effete sort of way. She marvelled at his stability with the weight of the girl upon him. The crowd was jostling for position and regular little chains of revellers – holding hands so as not to lose each other in the mass – threaded their way through the carpet of people on the riverbank.
Jenny wished the small boy with red eyes would stop staring at her. She turned slightly. On her right was a gang of shouting Spanish youths. Jenny wondered if they had pockets full of grapes. She and Bob had been to Madrid for New Year once. They had stayed with their friends Stu and Lucia who had an apartment in the suburbs. At midnight, Lucia had given out handfuls of frosted grapes, which were supposed to be eaten, one for every chime. Jenny could still see the red grape juice trickling out of the corner of Bob’s mouth as he chewed.