New Year's Eve and I was spending it with a new friend, whom I'd only just met. Dinner went well. I cooked it at home because we hadn't booked anywhere - this was a last minute arrangement. Then we had time to kill before midnight - staying in didn't seem to be an option. Television was solid repeats of shows and documentaries shown in the last few days. We didn't know each other well enough to go to bed and occupy each other in more interesting ways. I didn't have any cheerful DVD's to put us in a good mood for midnight. We didn't want to drink and drive so the party that I been invited to was not a good choice. So, he said, I don't go to pubs much, but where's your local?
I didn't think I had a local. Though I live within walking distance of the town centre, all the pubs there look alien and uninviting to me. My "local" was a five-mile drive away.
"There's a pub about five minutes' walk away," I said doubtfully. "I've never been inside and it has boards outside about Quiz Nights and Karaoke." We shuddered in unison. This man and I could make music together, I thought, observing the distaste on his face for such plebeian pursuits.
"OK, we could just take a walk down there and if it looks too bad at least we'll have had some air," he suggested.
It was a fine night, not cold. The decorous streets where I live were deserted. No sign of revelry, no parties. We turned into the street where the pub lurked on the corner. An Edwardian dive, probably a riotous gin palace in its heyday, I thought prissily, as we began to pick up the strains of loud music. When we arrived outside the opaque glazed doors we could see over the wall a small outdoor smoking area, packed with cheerful people laughing and shouting to each other. The smoke from their cigarettes drifted over to us.
Neither of us are smokers. We exchanged disapproving glances but soldiered bravely on. The first entrance we tried was locked.
Probably a private party, we agreed, but went round the corner and gingerly pushed the door. It was stiff to open, perhaps because of the crush of revellers inside, I thought.
The door gave and I stumbled in. And did a double-take. The place was almost empty! Two miserable looking elderly ladies were sipping port at the bar, on high stools. An even more miserable looking man sat a couple of stools down from them. He was clearly on his own and regretting it. In the corner was a group of four twenty-somethings and a dog. One of the girls was rather hopelessly trying to get the men to dance to the music that now assaulted us full blast.
My friend was hovering on the threshold. The music was deafening and he still had the impression that he would have to shoulder his way to the bar, through wildly inebriated revellers, and was summoning up his strength.
"It's OK," I said. "Look."
Even the decor was a surprise. The warm old brick outside led me to expect flock wallpaper, chipped cream dados of Edwardian lincrusta, bentwood kitchen chairs. I hadn't remembered that now we are in the twenty-first century all that is reserved for really chic places in the centre of London. Here, they'd swept it all away and replaced it with whitewashed naked brick walls, exposed steel beams also painted white, black chandeliers, They'd kept (or more likely bought new) small round marble-topped tables. The seating was a combination of white wicker armchairs and leather ones. Very tasteful. I had to admit, it was nice.
We paid a small fortune for a small glass of house red and a cider, and found a seat near the exit to the smoking area. This was still obviously where the action was. When the door opened, we experienced a powerful episode of secondary smoking and made sure it was shut again. Round the corner, in the almost deserted bar area, a large TV was showing Graham Norton's antics leading up to the midnight countdown.
In the same way that your eyes become accustomed to the dark and you begin to see again, our ears gradually began to make sense of the conversation we were trying to have, over the huge decibels of the seventies music that was pounding out. We began to relax. We pointed out the chic details of the decor to each other. We speculated on the possible need of the landlord for some more paintings for the walls (the black-and-white theme made this unlikely, I thought). We exchanged reminiscences about past New Years. We began to enjoy ourselves. We agreed that I did have a local, even though I didn't know anyone in it.
When the countdown to midnight began we were surprised how fast the time had slipped by. Everyone - even the smokers - crowded into the bar in front of the TV screen. We still didn't make a big crowd but there was a big crowd with us on the screen, all packed into Trafalgar Square. The cameras picked out some tiny children, some elderly faces, all colours, all races, all looking up, as we were.
The fireworks on the screen were wonderful. I thought I'd love to have the job that the men in lit up overalls did, cruising back and forth on the river in front of the London Eye, activating the cascades and waterfalls of fireworks, fluid walls of coloured light, painting on the sky on a vast scale so that the Eye became a gigantic catherine wheel, the river a stream of flashing, flowing colours. It went on and on.
The little crowd in the pub around us had suddenly come to life. We were seized and hugged and kissed by girls and men, and seized them in our turn, wishing Happy New Year! Happy New Year! over and over again. It was a night to remember, after all.
I'd forgotten to bring my camera or my mobile phone. Everyone around us was texting and receiving messages. My friend was doing the same and complaining that the network was jammed as usual and he wasn't sure what he'd sent to whom. I didn't mind not having my camera. My mind's eye was enough.
And now I know that I do have a local.
An occasional diary of days in the life of Jan Windle
- Jan Windle
- Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom
- Like a butterfly emerging painfully in several stages I've morphed a few times in my life, from art student to teacher, from rebellious confused twenty-something to faithful wife and well-meaning mother, from bored middle-aged art teacher to egocentric freethinking Italophile and painter. For the last few years I've been writing poetry and painting, drawing illustrations for my own work and other peoples's, and sharing as much of my time as possible with Donall Dempsey, the Irish poet who has owned my heart since I met him in 2008. We've spent working holidays together since then, writing, painting and enjoying ourselves and each other's company in a variety of places from New York to Bulgaria. We visit the Amalfi Coast in Italy every year, on a pilgrimage to the country that that I believe saved my life from sterility and pointlessness back in 2004. I'm looking forward to a happy and creative last third of life - at last I believe I've found the way to achieve that. I have paintings to sell on my website, www.janwindle.com, and books and prints at www.dempseyandwindle.co.uk. But I'll keep on writing and painting whether or not they find a market!