Portrait of a Hogmanay at home (aka Accidentally maudlin)

When I first moved into my new flat and became a single occupant in January 2018, I had grand plans in mind for my morning routine.  I wasn’t necessarily a “morning person” by nature – it was something I had fallen into the same way I imagine some people fall into selling drugs:  you have to do something to earn a living.   I was forced into learning to live with early mornings after more than eight years of working six a.m. shifts in the Co-op, though by the time I was living in my own flat the Co-op had been closed for three years and my interest in mornings was reduced to a desire to keep the impressive breakfast bar in the kitchen from going to waste.

In the weeks before I was handed the keys, I would picture myself waking early in the morning and turning on the radio to catch up with the day’s events before getting up and stretching out in a session of yoga.  Feeling energised, I would savour my luxurious shower and skincare routine, leaving me fresh and nourished and eternally youthful.  After getting dressed, with the colour of my tie and socks being a near-perfect match, it would be time to sit down at the breakfast bar with a cup of Lidl’s own Fairtrade roast and ground Colombian coffee and a book, fuelling my body and my mind before walking to work.  I suppose it wasn’t so much a breakfast bar as it was just a place to sit, since in those days I didn’t really eat breakfast, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me. 

And for a while it worked.  I was getting out of bed before daybreak, doing my exercises and moisturising my face, with enough time until I left for work to sit with a fresh cup of coffee.  The morning had almost become my favourite part of the day, a couple of hours of bliss before the reality screams in your face.  However, over time, as is so often the way of things in life, what is easy soon overwhelms what can make you happy.  It started when I grew tired of having to clean out the coffee machine every other day, lifting soggy, mud-coloured filter papers out of the tray and making sure the entire thing was ready to be used again the next morning.  Once I’d figured out that I could give myself another fifteen minutes or so in bed by giving up the coffee for a glass of orange juice, that was it for the coffee machine.  Gradually I would find myself stealing even more time in bed, using the sound of rain beating on the window as justification for not taking the long way to the office, or convincing myself that it wouldn’t matter if I missed my morning yoga because I could do it in the evening.  Sometimes I even moisturised my face without first using the deep cleansing facial scrub like some kind of hard-skinned heathen.

The first Coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 helped me to refocus a little and I at least managed to get into a habit of doing yoga twice a day, even if the rest of my routine was still lacking.  My new-found enthusiasm didn’t last for long, though, and by the bleak winter months I was staying in bed later than ever, only giving myself enough time to get washed and dressed and little more.  Darkness was yawning long into the morning, and when I would waken and ask my little Google Play device to tell me the latest news headlines, I usually lost any interest I had in getting out of bed to do anything productive.  There just didn’t seem to be much point in getting up early during the pandemic when every day was the same as the last.  I don’t know how anybody else was getting through December, but for me it was the moments after Google’s computerised female voice told me that she had played all of that morning’s news stories and I would sink back into my pillow and fall asleep until the next alarm went off.  It was an almost companionable silence.

A while ago I had promised myself that I would never make another New Year’s resolution, but it was difficult not to see the advancing of 2021 as anything other than an opportunity for improvement.  It just had to be a better year, even for those people who had vowed to afford themselves some more alone time or to do some work around the house and who were probably quite content with how 2020 turned out.  I decided that I was absolutely going to stick to my vaunted morning routine no matter how dark or wet the day was, or how often I had to clean the coffee machine, but that I would do it from the fourth of January since I knew that I would be suffering from a hangover on the first three mornings of the year, and there’s no point in setting yourself a target that you know is impossible to reach.

I was never a big fan of Hogmanay and the pressure that came with the 31st to be this picture-perfect landmark of the passing of time, and for maybe the first occasion during all of the tiers (and tears) of lockdown restrictions I was quite glad for the opportunity to not be expected to make any plans.  There was a relief that came with knowing that I wouldn’t be forced into spending ten minutes queuing at the bar to be served a Jack Daniels and Coke in a plastic tumbler, and that the reason I wouldn’t be sharing a kiss at the bells this New Year wasn’t due to my own ineptitude but was instead because a global pandemic had made everybody else just like me.

Earlier in the day I had taken a crisp afternoon walk along the Esplanade in what not only were the fading embers of the day, but also the year.  As I was nearing St Columba’s Cathedral, I happened upon the multi-talented young woman who had previously curated the successful Let’s Make A Scene events in town.  She was out walking with another gentleman who I didn’t immediately recognise.  As I approached her, I pulled the earphones out of my ears and she remarked that “this must be where all the Catholics go walking.”  It wasn’t until she happened to mention her companion’s name after a few minutes that it registered with me who he was.  It turned out to be my best friend from primary school who I hadn’t seen since leaving Oban High, though in my defence he didn’t have the wispy beard back then and his voice wasn’t nearly as deep.  Almost immediately he reminisced that, as a boy, I was the one who was responsible for wrestling being banned from St Columba’s primary school, though that wasn’t how I remembered it.  There was certainly a time when my brother refused to watch WWF shows with me anymore because I always insisted on having matches with him during the ad breaks, and it was during one of these impromptu bouts that I burst his bottom lip open with a stray knee, but I just figured that he was a sore loser.  Nevertheless, this chance encounter on the seafront was very nearly the perfect ending to 2020, and it probably would have been had there not been another eight hours of the year left.

Until now I had never fully understood why mum always cried at the bells, though it was undoubtedly part of the reason why I never particularly cared for New Year.  My memories of the night were mostly of the generous spread of finger food that would gradually begin to appear before midnight:  dishes of salted peanuts, bowls of crisps, sausage rolls, and cocktail sticks which were loaded with a block of cheddar cheese the size of a small piece of lego, a slice of ham, and a pickled onion.  The cocktail sticks were everybody’s favourite part of the 31st of December.  In some ways they were even better than Christmas.  Every year dad would wait until a couple of minutes before the countdown to open his bottle of Whyte & Mackay, and once we had passed into the new year he would take his first drink.  He only ever drank whisky at new year, one of those little traditions that people have around this time, and it was funny how drunk it would make him.  On the television we would watch BBC Scotland’s coverage of the Hogmanay street party in Edinburgh, where the countdown to midnight ended with the firing of the gun from the castle.  We always muted the sound so that we could hear the CalMac ferries sounding their horns in the bay, and then mum would start to cry.  It wasn’t until we were talking about it at my sister’s over Christmas that I realised they weren’t tears of sadness.  Not an unhappy sadness, anyway.  They were tears for the people who weren’t there; for memories and nostalgia.  

As things turned out, spending New Year’s Eve at home alone wasn’t any better than previous years spent in a packed pub, surrounded by a sea of people I didn’t know, barely enough room to wave a cocktail stick in the air.  I thought about the people who I couldn’t be with – not only that night, but all through the year – and I felt nostalgic for previous Hogmanays, even the ones where I felt anxious over not having any plans or not enjoying the celebrations as much as everybody else seemed to be.

I tried everything I could think of to amuse myself until midnight, but it wasn’t easy when the only living company I had was the crassula ovata houseplant that I’d bought in September just so that I could make up the minimum spend to use a £5 off coupon in Lidl.  At least I think the succulent was still living, it was hard to tell.  I wasn’t sure how those plants were supposed to look when they’re healthy and thriving; it was more common for me to see them when they were withered and miserable.  My entertainment for the evening was my Spotify playlist of the year, which was 43 hours and 47 minutes long, and to pass the time until the gun was fired from Edinburgh Castle I played some YouTube videos in the background of some of the places I had planned to visit during the year but couldn’t due to the pandemic.  I watched videos of Ljubljana, Zagreb, a 4K walking tour of Belgrade, the fountain in the square in Sarajevo where all the pigeons frequently gather, and even footage of Edinburgh.  Places that all felt a lot further away now than ever before.

In an effort to fend off some of the weariness I was feeling after a few beers, I put a tray of sausage rolls into the oven at around ten o’clock.  It wasn’t pickled onions and cheese on a stick, but it was the best I could do to keep myself interested.  The trouble with hot pastry goods is that once they are there, it is close to impossible to stop yourself from eating them, especially when I was the only one who could eat them.  After a handful of the sausage rolls I was feeling bloated and queasy, and my thoughts turned to trying to figure out how long the bag had been sitting open in the drawer of the freezer.  It isn’t the sort of thing that you ever think you’re going to have to remember, not like the date your home insurance is due for renewal or when you last had a dental check-up.  There was no way of knowing when I had opened the sausage rolls, but given that the bag was advertising the goods as being part of a Christmas party range and they weren’t typically the type of food I would eat if I was on my own, it was reasonable – if not entirely safe – to assume that it wasn’t within the last year.

The point at which I started to feel at my most lonely wasn’t when I had ignored any sense of uneasiness and continued to polish off the entire plate of sausage rolls, but rather it was when I downloaded yet another dating app.  The way I saw it, I couldn’t have been the only person that was sitting alone on New Year’s Eve and feeling nostalgic for the company of others, and surely out of all those numbers someone was going to be drunk and lonely enough to swipe on my profile.  To sweeten the deal, I considered an addendum to my biography that would let the single women of Scotland know that I had excess sausage rolls which I could do with a partner to help me finish, but I couldn’t bring myself to type the words.  A better man than me would have known how to make it sound romantic, but I just never had that ability.  Besides, any potential match would have been prevented from visiting my flat under the restrictions of the time anyway, and I wouldn’t have wanted to start a relationship with a promise that I knew I couldn’t keep.  I imagined the disappointment on her face when she arrived to discover that I had already eaten all of the sausage rolls, the sort of look that summed up so many Hogmanays before it.  Is that it?  By the time I had finished my beers and taken myself off to bed it was long after 3 a.m. and I hadn’t found a single match across any of my dating apps.  When I asked my Google Play device to play some Ryan Adams, the robotic voice all of a sudden wasn’t sounding so companionable. 

As a mass vaccination programme began in Scotland on the fourth of January, the government announced that the country would be going into a full lockdown until at least the end of the month to support it, though most people believed that it would go on much longer.  It wasn’t unexpected, but you could tell that everyone was demoralised by it all the same.  When I arrived home for lunch on the fifth, the front door to my close was pinned open and the concrete floor was strewn with a blanket of pine needles.  Someone in the block was really taking the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ seriously.  It was a mess, like a road traffic accident where the only recognisable piece of debris is the air freshener.

I had been doing a pretty decent job of sticking to my morning routine during the first week of the year, managing to get out of bed at half-past six on three out of the five days, and I was feeling good about myself for it.  The town seemed to be stuck in a perpetual frost that week, with the temperature mimicking the number of my recent romantic encounters, in that it was struggling to climb above zero.  I couldn’t remember a cold like it, though it made for a fantastic Instagrammable scene with the snow-capped hills hugging the backdrop of the town.  Some of the pavements around the station and George Street seemed particularly slippy underfoot, which was something that I had felt especially anxious about since the morning in either 2009 or 2010 when I fell on some ice three times on my way to a 6 a.m. start in the Co-op.  I bruised the bone at the bottom of my spine quite badly and for weeks it would hurt to sit down, though the damage to my pride lasted much longer.  Every winter I felt the same fear whenever the weather turned cold enough for the ground to freeze.  To any casual observer I must have looked like a trauma victim learning to walk again for the first time after a terrible accident.  I could hear the physiotherapist by my side, coaching me along, becoming exasperated.  “If you could just take your hand off the rail and put your left foot forward, it isn’t that hard.”  It was difficult to enjoy the winter landscape when I could see the ground approaching with every step I took.

On at least three evenings I passed the same guy who was out running, always wearing a pair of black shorts, a t-shirt that was a shade only slightly darker than my cheeks, and a winter hat.  I felt like the Michelin Man every time he jogged by me.  Here I was wearing as many layers of clothing as I could fit into, and this guy was in shorts and a t-shirt like it was nothing.   Just seeing him was enough to make me feel colder.  I couldn’t understand how anybody could be out running on those pavements when I could hardly even walk on them.

Soon the sight of this guy’s t-shirt became like a rag to a bull for me.  I had never hated anyone; sure, like anybody else I held on to petty disputes, but hate was a bit strong, something I reserved mostly for mushrooms and Boris Johnson.  But by the end of the week I found myself wishing that the runner would find a thick patch of black ice.  It wasn’t anything I could say out loud, even though it wasn’t like I was wanting him to be severely injured – just a minor sprain, enough to help me feel better about myself.  With my luck it likely wouldn’t make much difference anyway.  The guy would display all of the natural balance of Christopher Dean, and would probably manage to save a small child in the process.  Meanwhile I would be seen off in the distance, unable to move from the one spot I knew for certain was safe, shivering and helpless.  Obviously I knew that deep down what I was feeling towards the runner wasn’t hatred at all, it was more like envy, which in some ways was worse.  I was jealous of the confidence he had on his feet, the fact that he was seemingly impervious to the lowly temperatures.  I could tell just from looking at him that he wasn’t the type of guy who had to bargain with himself to get out of bed in the morning, like a contestant on a TV game show.  I knew that I wasn’t going to be leaving the flat in shorts and t-shirt, but maybe 2021 was going to be the year where I could at least settle for a cup of filter coffee.

As Scotland’s Covid vaccine programme begins, this song seems like the ideal anthem for the month of January:

The other side

An unusual event took place on New Year’s Eve when I found myself drinking in the public bar in Aulay’s.  I didn’t often venture through from the lounge side, other than maybe for the occasional televised boxing fight, on account of the awkward glances whichever shirt and tie combination I was wearing would usually attract from the fishermen, farmers and others who typically didn’t feel the need to wear a pocket square to the pub on a Friday night.  Aside from the benefit of the lounge bar having the jukebox, I just never felt truly comfortable in the public bar, where people instantly assumed that I was above my actual station; usually a lawyer.  I was viewed with suspicion and folk were often reluctant to talk to me, and particularly share sensitive parts of a story.  Most of the time this seemed like a blessing.

I was the last of the gang to arrive at the bar on the final night of the year.  The diminutive barmaid poured me a pint and pointed me through to the public bar, where my brother, the plant doctor, Brexit Guy and others had taken residence on the stools.  I had turned up wearing a three-piece brown tweed suit, seeking to see the new year in with some sartorial style, and given the occasion, I wasn’t feeling quite so awkward about being the only person in the pub dressed as such.  On the television in the far left corner, a concert from the well-known pop band Coldplay was playing, though it was to everyone’s relief that the volume had been muted.  It was left to us to imagine what Chris Martin & co. were singing. 

It was as though a rocket had pricked an enormous water balloon.

For all intents and purposes, we were bringing in the new year in the wrong side of Aulay’s, but it didn’t seem to matter.  It was just like any other night.  We admired the blossoming kinship between my brother and the Brexit Guy, a sight which would have seemed impossible before the miracle of Easter 2019 [“The night of the handshake”].  Drink after drink appeared on the bar before us, in the manner of some late Christmas offering:  pints of Tennent’s, rounds of Jameson, Jack Daniels, our very own Tough Paper Round, and Cointreau.  The latter encouraged the plant doctor to make a pun centred on how the round of drinks had been “Cointreau-versial”, which was the sort of joke that no-one found funny, though everyone had wished that they’d thought of it.

We discussed the George Harrison song Wah-Wah, Netflix murder documentaries, and our resolutions for the forthcoming year.  I made the declaration that I had vowed many years earlier that I would not be making any New Year’s resolutions going forward, a dedication that I had kept every year since.  Often it occurred to me that I should at least make the promise that I would reach next 31st December no longer being a single man, but it seemed that these things should at least be realistic and achievable.

The hours were passing by, and so was the year we were about to leave behind as the pub rapidly filled with revellers at around ten o’clock, though was suddenly emptying by eleven-thirty when people started making their way to their preferred party destination.  With the all-important midnight hour ticking ever closer, we were considering amongst ourselves what the kiss protocol would be on the bells.  Once it was taken into account that some of us were related, and that the bar staff probably didn’t have it in their terms of employment that they should kiss the slobbering drunken customers on Hogmanay, we all agreed that hugs and handshakes would be appropriate.

As Big Ben chimed from the television in the background, fireworks could be heard crackling overhead in the distant January sky.   The few folks who were left in the pub began to filter out to watch them, and I would shortly follow.  I had worn my favourite tan shoes to compliment my tweed outfit, though much like any time I had made an attempt to talk to a woman in the previous twelve months, it turned out to be a mistake.  Standing outside the doorway of the pub, I watched the fireworks explode out of McCaig’s Tower on the hill, through a haze of cigarette smoke and rain.  It was as though a rocket had pricked an enormous water balloon.  I could feel water seeping in through the bottom of my shoes, and I soon realised that each of the soles were cracked.  Happy New Year!

When Aulay’s closed for the night, it was left to the four of us to first-foot Markies.  I had arranged to meet up with the Subway Girl somewhere along the way, but first our attention was drawn to an anonymous-looking woman who was huddled in the doorway of the butcher’s shop, presumably seeking shelter from the rain.  She was dressed entirely in black and seemed to be taking the time to send a text message, although it struck me from experience that she may only have been pretending.  The plant doctor began to dance back and forth in front of the doorway, almost in the manner of one of those hairy mascots with the over-sized heads that you find at sporting events or in shopping centres.  The texter seemed unperturbed.

“Don’t worry about him,” I called out through the mist of the rain.  “He’s just an idiot.”

“Oh, I noticed,” the woman in black responded, lifting her attention from her mobile phone.  We got to talking, and it transpired that she had just ended her relationship with her boyfriend and wasn’t sure what to do with herself for the rest of the night.  She said that she was in her early fifties, though I wouldn’t have placed her as being older than late forties. She asked where we were going and if she could join us.  After the plant doctor’s dancing, it seemed the least we could do was to take her to Markies.

Our inherited stranger hit it off with the Subway Girl, and our expanded group of six made its way down the seafront.  The streets were slick with rainwater, and the further we walked the more my socks were soaking it up like a sponge.  When we reached our destination we were stuffed into the pub like sardines, with barely enough space to fish dance, only the stench of tinned seafood had been replaced by the overwhelming fragrance of Christmas morning deodorant sets.  We were able to socialise all the same, and it was a fun night.

The early days of 2020 weren’t quite what I had hoped they would be.  By the second date, I had developed such a cough in my chest that subsequently anything I ate would come back up quicker than a Hogmanay firework.  By Friday I was struggling to get myself out of bed, and things were so bad that I couldn’t even make the usual trip to Aulay’s in the evening.  As the week progressed, it was becoming more like the New Year’s Resolution I hadn’t made:  I had spent four days in bed, my body had been ravaged from head to toe, my joints were throbbing, and I was a hot mess.  At around 3 am in the dark of one of the nights, Spotify began playing a playlist of power-pop ballads from the eighties and nineties featuring the likes of Annie Lennox, Cheap Trick and Garbage, and at one point I was feeling so sick that I began to question my own mortality.  I imagined how ridiculous it would be if I was a thirty-six-year-old man who perished to the flu.  I thought about the requiem mass that would follow and wondered if it would be better attended than the Christmas Eve service I had been at a week earlier.  In my mind’s eye, I could see a handful of people sitting around, looking at each other solemnly and asking, “why couldn’t he just wear jeans and boots like everybody else?”  

New Year’s Eve had been a good night spent amongst some of my best friends and the nicest people, and Brexit Guy, in our favourite places – or the wrong side of our favourite place.  For a few hours, it even felt good. It was just a shame about the shoes.

Links:
The song I’ve mostly been listening to this decade…

The nights I was having difficulty with language

New Year rings in the opportunity for renewal and arrives with a breath of optimism.  All around there are people promising great things to better themselves, making exciting plans for the weeks and months ahead and revelling in the ‘New Year, new me’ mantra.  For a while after the hands on the clock crawl past midnight it is as though anything is possible. It is in this sense that New Year is a lot like getting a haircut, only without having to listen to the barber’s banter for fifteen minutes.  There is nothing like a new haircut to allow a person to feel revived and enthusiastic about the opportunities in store; nothing except the New Year.

I was thinking about this on the afternoon of New Year’s Day, when I was hunched over the pristine porcelain of my toilet bowl, vomiting for the second time in as many hours.  My life was flashing before my eyes as another heave brought more of my guts to the water below me. If New Year is like getting a haircut, then New Year’s Day is the hairs that are trapped down the collar of your shirt after they are trimmed from your head.  It wasn’t even that I was hungover so much, although I had been drinking rum with a tall and wild-haired student from the University of St Andrews and his bespectacled girlfriend until five in the morning. I woke up on the first day of January with flu-like symptoms – a consequence of a rainy walk home a few nights earlier, I presumed – and they lasted until the fourth, by which point a healthy dose of my New Year optimism had been blown into most of the contents of a box of Kleenex.

The ten-second countdown to midnight started abruptly, as though the bar band had been lost in song and suddenly remembered why everyone was there.  By the time it ended and 2019 had arrived, there was a mass exodus from the pub by people who were keen to watch the fireworks explode against the black blanket of a winter sky.  When the celebrations started I found myself surrounded by swathes of people I didn’t know, and in keeping with previous New Years, I didn’t receive a kiss at the bells, although I have never liked to go too far on the first date anyway.

Amongst the drunken revellers who were clustered around the bar, I spotted the Italian doppelgänger version of my brother, and I approached him to wish him the best for the coming year.  He was accompanied by the smoking Frenchwoman, whom I endeavoured to talk to.  She was telling me that she had returned to Oban from Paris earlier that day, and in my never-ending quest to gather as many mundane details about a story as possible, I asked – or at least attempted to ask – how she had travelled back to Scotland.  I wasn’t looking for much; just modes of transport, weather systems encountered, anecdotes of awkward aircraft seating, interactions with train station baristas, airport security snafus, that sort of thing.

Against the backing track of the bar band, who had returned from their break and were in full swing with rambunctious ceilidh music, and with Jameson clinging to my tonsils, I was finding it difficult to make myself heard.  I tried changing my line of questioning, tried moving the words around, like when my dance moves aren’t quite working out and I try to involve more shoulder action, but it was futile.  The smoking Frenchwoman tilted her head and spoke.  “I don’t understand a word you are saying,” she hummed in a flawless French accent, her use of English unquestionably more effective than my own.  She left with a cigarette clutched between her fingers, and I was considering the ways that I could have made a worse first impression in a new year.

After spending much of New Year’s Day asleep on my father’s couch, I was determined to make my first homecooked meal of the year a delicious one when I was making dinner on the second.  I happened upon an appetising recipe for a chilli prawn linguine dish in that days Times newspaper, and I was looking forward to trying it.  In the afternoon, I walked the short distance along the road to the Lidl supermarket to purchase the small list of ingredients I was needing to make my evening meal.  Almost everything was readily available, although they were out of spring onions.  I considered the merits of going to one of the other stores which are nearby to finish my shopping, but in the back of my mind I knew that there was an onion or two in the back of my kitchen cupboard, and presumably the only effect of substituting spring onions for onions would be to make my cuisine slightly more mature.

I decided to take the lazy option and use onions in my recipe rather than walk all the way to another supermarket just for a bunch of spring onions, but the judgment weighed on my conscience for the rest of the night.  I was reluctant to let it trouble me too much – there is no use crying over sliced onion, after all – but I couldn’t stop myself from thinking how I was only two days into the new year and already I was following the same pattern as in 2018:  settling for what I already have instead of going for what I really want, and not making the effort to go and find the ingredient which will give my meal the flavour it needs.

On my first visit of the year to Aulay’s Bar, there was a complimentary pint of lager being offered to each of the ‘regulars’.  In addition to the pocket diary and pen which was handed out on Hogmanay, it was a generous gesture which left me thinking about whether it was the first time in my life that I had ever been considered a regular at or to anything.  I was basking in a sense of achievement when the plant doctor then revealed that he had returned from his Christmas trip home with a gift for me from his mother.  He reached into the pocket of his jacket, which seemed deeper than a regular pocket, and withdrew a Tupperware box which had inside it a neatly ribboned bag.  In the bag were five gingerbread figures:  four men who were each wearing glasses and were finely tailored in matching ties and underwear, and one gingerbread woman who had an ample bosom and a delicious red smile.  It immediately became the sweetest gift I had ever received, both literally and in terms of kindness.

I took the Tupperware box home at the end of the night and proudly spread the gingerbread people out across the kitchen counter, admiring the handiwork in their little personalities.  I began to imagine which of the gingerbread gentlemen would be first to make romantic headway with the gingerbread girl.  It was already noticeable that she was keeping a further distance from the baked figure which most closely resembled me, and I was wondering if he had said something on the way over.  I thought about the awkward tension there must be inside the Tupperware once I had carefully packed them all away again.  This should be when things are at their most intimate and exciting, when the lid goes back on and the lights go out and the possibilities are endless.  But the gingerbread representation of me had already made some sarcastic comment or arduous pun, and now he was going to have to watch as the other three gingerbread men made the girl swoon with their sugary charisma.  I wondered if it was best to just put myself out of my misery and eat the gingerbread me, but there was something uncomfortable about the idea of biting my own head off.

In Markie Dans, amidst the double celebration of an engagement and a thirtieth birthday, our crew was aware of a tall girl who was dancing alone in the corner of the dancefloor.  We observed the scene and realised that, for whatever reason, people just weren’t wanting to dance alongside this girl.  After some time the three of us each approached and broke out some moves of our own.  The not-so-tiny dancer turned out to be a Brazilian soap retailer who was fun and friendly and simply seeking friendship.  She told us that she felt other girls were reluctant to talk to her because they felt threatened by her, and the plant doctor and I looked at each other and expressed empathy with her trouble with girls.

“And guys only want to fuck me.”

Immediately the dancefloor became like a scene from a lame western movie, where the cowboys are all involved in a standoff and have holstered their weapons.  Our dance moves became much less sexualised, although mine started out that way and stayed the same.

The dancing Brazilian soap seller told us her name and after around seven arduous attempts by me to get the pronunciation right, with each one further aggravating her, we agreed that I was never going to make it sound right and that it would be in everybody’s interest if I stopped trying.

With all of us on a first name basis, and most of us with the ability to annunciate them, the four of us returned to my flat for beer, incense and music.  Although Wah-Wah was inevitably played, the scene was more like Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as we exchanged stories of romantic misery at four o’clock in the morning.  In many ways it was the same old new year, though all of a sudden my decision to use onions instead of spring onions wasn’t seeming so terrible.