It's just another day but a madly warm (for time of year) day here, and boots will be donned, dogs walked at length and nature gawped at.
Last evening, Mark and I opted for a night in: Gone With the Wind, a larger than normal 'Plate of Bits' (film-watching salad, crudities, crisps etc) and a glass of fizz. The lad had gone up the road to do something adolescent with mates, and that was as should have been.
I stayed awake for 80% of the film, ate too many crisps and then stood on the terrace in the drizzle thinking about the stars above the clouds - the plan had been to lie on the terrace and look at the stars without the intervening cloud, but not to be.
New Year's Eve. A weird time on the whole.
Most parties I've ever been to seem to have been cloaked in a slightly desperate air - drink masses, eat masses, sing that song that contains words no-one, unless they come from well North of Berwick-on-Tweed, know the meaning of, and possibly have a major row with a nearest and/or dearest.
There have been good ones, like piss-up events at neighbours houses, where we did daft céilí dancing rip-offs and only had to walk a few hundred meters to fall into bed, or that time Mark danced in a Brazilian street after too many Mojitos, but on the whole, a film and the fire on - nice.
The French seem to ensconce themselves at home within a wall of food and eat their way through it to celebrate the birth of the New Year, or they go out and pay for the privilege at astronomical cost.
I dunno, all seems a bit pointless and then there's the now what syndrome that starts up the next day - 'Hey, holiday booking time! and The Sales!'
Better perhaps just to do something low-key and wake up the next day to another similar and hopefully wonderful day.
I'm re-writing my trilogy 'Going out in the Midday Sun' at the present time and, oddly, all the characters' experiences of the Millennium New Year's madness arrived on my screen yesterday to be re-edited.
Here's Peter's experience of the evening.
Peter pressed the bell next to the huge white gates. Someone from the end of a wire asked him who he was.
“Peter. One of the musicians for the evening.”
No reply, but the gates started to move. He slipped inside and crunched up the gravel drive to the front door. Clipped bay trees stood primly to attention; a sign featuring a slavering Doberman read: 'If you break in here I will eat you, then seek out your family and eat them too,' or something to that effect. Peter had an unpleasant feeling about the gig. Suddenly he very much wanted to be curled up with Holly on the sofa. The door opened and a giggling couple swayed out into the evening.
“Oh,” said the woman. “Who are you?” She was heavily made up with dark beige foundation and searing red lipstick, her perfume overwhelming.
“Musician,” said Peter. “For the party?”
“We thought you were Caroline and Tristan,” whined the man. “He rang a minute ago as they were driving up – look, could you go around to the side entrance. They should have told you.”
He turned, muttering about staff. Peter walked around to the other door, rang, and a minion opened it. He was shown to the back of the house and met up with the other members of the group.
“Quite a place,” he said to Harold.
“So, you had the same treatment, did you?” smiled Harold, eyebrow raised. “At least you didn’t get attacked by the dogs,” he said, pointing to a ripped trouser leg.
“Is there anything to eat?” asked Peter, realising this was going to be a job where benevolence was not high on the agenda.
“We have to start in twenty minutes, then break to eat at ten, while they do speeches and whatever.”
Peter changed into his black suit and tuned the violin. It was quite a time since he had played a jazz set; it would make a change from the spate of musicals he had played in recently. The group had met for a couple of rehearsals the week before and added a few more numbers. He ran through the new ones with Harold on double bass then went to see where they would be playing.
He opened the allotted room’s door and stood gaping at the desert of thick cream wool carpet and shimmering chandeliers. A white grand piano stood at one end of the room. Judith was already there trying out the keys.
“A Steinway. A white Steinway. This must have cost more than my flat,” she squeaked, “a lot more.”
Peter patted her on the shoulder. “And all our flats would probably fit in this house. How the other half . . .” He tailed off as he noticed somebody in the crowd, the sight of whom made him feel totally cold and rather sick.
“Oh . . . shit.”
“What?” said Judith. “Are you okay? You look very pale – gas left on?”
“Nothing so trivial,” murmured Peter. “There is someone here that I really, really, do not want to see.”
“Well, you’re not exactly going to blend into the wallpaper so just have a few drinks and make the best of it.”
The rest of the band appeared, installed themselves, and, with a click-click-click-click of Jed’s drum sticks they started with a bossa nova, a ribald laugh or shriek of drunken hilarity from the hostess occasionally drowning out the music. The crowd increased every few minutes as the door chimes went and another elegant couple entered the room to be offered champagne and caviar toasts.
The band had nearly played their first set, Peter trying to hide behind the piano as much as possible. The next piece was a Romany melody with a big fiddle solo in the middle. Peter would normally have been center stage.
“What are you doing?” hissed Harold. “Get out from behind the piano.”
Peter reluctantly did so; the others made space for him and he began the piece, soon forgetting his angst and performing the wild solo with exuberance. A lot of applause followed, especially from Carla, who was staring at him fixedly – just like she had done on their first encounter when she had bodily removed him to her flat.
The first set finished, and the group was directed into a back room to eat. They discussed New Year events they had played at over the years. Harold’s favourite involved the tragic end of a grand piano. Judith winced, knowing the story.
“It was this guy in Hampstead . . . he had the most palatial house you have ever seen, makes this one look like a chicken shed. Anyway, he had this mad idea about someone playing the grand piano on a platform built out across his swimming pool. Candles all around reflecting in the water, you get the idea . . . mad obviously. He got a specialist contractor round who said it would be almost impossible, and to cover himself he put in a ludicrous quote.
The house owner decided to use a builder instead for half the price. It was made, the piano wheeled onto the platform and there it stayed, much to the smugness of the guy – until about four minutes to the magic hour when the whole thing gave way and the piano and player ended up in very cold and deep water.”
“I hope the piano player sued him,” said Judith. “Bastard.”
The food finished, they returned to the main room where the atmosphere had changed from sedate chat to party.
The red-faced host came over and prodded Harold in the chest.
“Goose it up a little, eh?”
They did, and soon the floor was filled with gyrating, unshod, flushed people: makeup running, ties undone and flung aside. Later Harold changed double bass for electric bass and the band switched to the 60s, Peter singing and playing lead guitar. Just before the hour, a woman lurched up.
“Say, can you play that Prince thing . . . er, 1999.”
“We’ll have a stab at it,” said Harold, then turned to Peter, eyes wide in question. Peter looked at the crowd and shrugged.
“Why not – they’re well past knowing if its crap or not.”
“True. Okay – Prince, 1999!”
Peter sang, remembering most of the words and they partied like it was 1999.
FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE . . . HOOOORRAAHHH!
Everyone crowded outside for the fireworks. Peter watched the gold and silver chrysanthemums exploding into the smoky sky. In all directions came the clatter of bangers and whine of rockets: a million celebrations spreading out across London. He smiled to himself – it had been quite a year.
At around two, people were starting to leave. The band rounded off the evening with a few slow songs, the hangers-on, slumped over each other, dancing in drunken circles like end of season wasps high on fermenting apples.
At the end of the last song, Harold grabbed the microphone.
“Thank you everyone. You were wonderful, and we were The Overnight Bags! Hope you enjoyed the evening and Happy 2000!"
A ragged but appreciative cheer greeted his words, followed by a hopeful call for more from a few hardened partyers.
The band started to pack up and Peter went to find the loo. He was just coming out from the bathroom when someone came up behind him and put their hands over his eyes and spoke in a husky feminine voice.
He turned, already knowing with dread who it was. Carla was dressed in her trademark skin-tight silver and black dress. The heels were even higher, the lipstick redder. They were alone in the corridor. Carla spoke under her breath.
“God, you turned me on playing that solo. I’d forgotten just how sexy you are.”
She moved closer and ran a finger down his chest to his stomach. “How about a quick reminder, mm? Lots of bedrooms here . . . remember what I used to do on the edge of the bed?”
Peter did, graphically, but whatever fun it had been then was in a different and distant life.
“Carla, I’m not remotely interested in you. I have a woman I really love and a child at home. I’m knackered, and want to leave this bloody place. Get out of the”—
She had moved even closer to him and was undoing his shirt, running her other hand up between his thighs, half-opened red lips, half-closed bedroom eyes . . . Peter felt some part of him beginning to suggest this seemed like an interesting idea. He moved sharply to the left to escape and knocked hard into a consul table. A large lamp wobbled and fell onto the parquet floor with an explosive crash.
He ran, hurled apologies at Harold, said he would explain later and grabbed his gear. As he left the house, slamming the door, he caught sight of Carla grinning as if in a Hitchcock movie. He could almost see her mouthing: ‘You haven’t seen the last of me.’
Peter got a cab back to the flat, let himself in quietly, threw his clothes off and slipped into bed next to Holly. He embraced her tightly, kissed her neck, and breathed in her comforting familiar scent.
“I love you so much,” he murmured. She stirred in her sleep and smiled. The baby slept on, his tiny breathing sounds clear in the silent room.