Soundtrack: "Fairytale of New York," by the Pogues
Edinburgh just celebrated Hogmanay, which is a complicated way of saying that 31/12/01 just became 1/1/02 (or, as they write it in the States, 1/1/02) with an extremely large consumption of alcohol, a bunch of fireworks, a lot of falling down, and the usual pissing in doorways.
Despite the fact that New Years happens everywhere in the world at pretty much the same time (whether you want it to or not), Edinburgheranitegians (for an explanation of this nomenclature, see here) pride themselves on their New Year celebration, as evidenced by their having come up with a unique name for it. No one precisely knows where the actual word "Hogmanay" comes from, though it probably means "Night of Excessive Drinking" in some ancient Pictish tongue.
The central feature of this Night of Excessive Drinking is the street fair of New Year's Eve, where massive amounts of people--most of them tourists--crowd into Prince's St. in the shadows of the dramatic Edinburgh Castle, easily within shelling distance if any of the guards up there get a drunkenly destructive idea. These people, ignorant of the danger of death from above, huddle against each other and wander the street in a desperate attempt to find something to do other than losing feeling in their extremities and wondering if there's anything more to the party than cold, crowds, and overpriced food stands (unless they brought their own alcohol, they're in for a night of disappointment).
But Edinburgh's heart is in the right place. And the idea seems sound. Get an extremely large crowd together than consists partly of Scottish people--a particularly alcoholic race of people, and then sprinkle in liberal doses of tourists, primarily Aussies, Kiwis, and South Africans, who all come to Edinburgh specifically for what they've heard is a heavy drinking festival.
It actually works out fairly well. After heavy amounts of drinking, no one notices the cold or the fact that they're being seriously injured by people pushing through the crowd. Hogmanay in Edinburgh is basically a cold non-religious Mardi Gras without beads and with kilts, which unfortunately means that you see many more male members than female breasts (and remember, it's cold. Colder than any self-respecting sober guy would rationally consider flashing anyone).
As for me, Hogmanay was a surprisingly relaxed time. Not that it wasn't a bit wild, but it does strike me in retrospect as a lot less wild than I expected. It started in a particularly frustrating way--I was woken up by Reuben and Georgie who decided to let everyone know that it was now 2002 in New Zealand, and it was time to get our lazy asses out of bed. I'd been up drinking until 6am, and N.Z. New Year comes at 11am in Edinburgh, so I was not all that welcoming, I'm afraid. But for some reason, "Fuck off you Kiwi wanker," was misinterpreted by Reuben as, "Please feel free to pull my covers off and make it impossible for me to go back to sleep. You Kiwi Wanker." I blame the accent.
Since I've spent the past two weeks with a soul wrenching cough that was putting up a mansion in my chest, I tried to use that to dissuade them, but the damage had already been done. I was awake for New Years Eve much earlier than necessary. Not one to waste time, I immediately started drinking, trying to drown that cough.
So a fair chunk of the afternoon is a blank to me, up until dinner. Dinner involved everyone in Room K (except for the American short-termer, Amanda, who Annica was convinced I had a crush on), eating messy spaghetti with veggies and cheese generally making a mess of our room, with Shepherd's Pie for dessert (not really a traditional desert, I admit, but it did the job), along with the occasional floor smartie.
After dinner, we retired to the dining room (yes, going to the dining room after dinner rather than before) to play drinking games and to get properly lubed up for going out on the streets of Edinburgh. Around 11pm, we went down to Prince's St.
Oddly enough, Prince's St. was probably the only place in all of Scotland where it was impossible to buy alcohol on Hogmanay. In an effort to make it a family affair, there were no alcohol sales at all on the mile long strip of Prince's St. Luckily, we'd come prepared with our own. I was sucking down my Christmas Wild Turkey from a plastic flask, while others were taking furtive sips from hidden cans.
Tens of thousands of people were thronging Prince's St., clustered around food carts and open air concert stages featuring mediocre bands and poor sound systems. And all packed with people, shoulder to shoulder, huddled for warmth. The only decent band--that quintessential Scottish band, The Proclaimers--were hidden off in a special area underneath Edinburgh Castle, and we couldn't even get at it without a special ticket, note even close enough to hear them sing "500 Miles."
so it was mostly groups of people standing around chating, trying to keep some semblance of warmth, while passing around flasks. So, after a half an hour of trying to feel entertained, we decided to make our own entertainment. As Prince's St. was pretty much a solid mass of people, either Nick or I (probably me, but I'm giving myself the benefit of the doubt and blaming Nick as well) decided it would be a good idea if we would race from one end to the other, ending at the McDonalds just around the block from our hostel. An end point whose only real flaw was that neither Jeremy nor Alissa actually knew where it was, despite having lived within a block of it for nearly two months.
So the four of us (Nick, Alissa, Jeremy, and me) took off from the center of the crowd and started pushing and dodging drunks. It quickly became apparent that it would solely be a contest between Nick and I. Alissa and Jeremy were left muddling behind us.
I was in my element: getting quickly through a mass of people without having to interact with anyone in any depth. Nick had a three step headstart, which may not sound like much, but it made a hell of a difference because it meant he got first choice of the route to take, leaving me either the option of following him (rude and cheating, as much as you could cheat at a game you just made up) or having to find my own route. Nick also has a clear advantage on me, being significantly thinner (if there's any fat on him it's in the location where our sense of tact should be lodged--oh well, at least I have less chance of drowning) and with that all important head start.
I quickly lost track of everyone, our paths going in different directions as we dispersed amongst confused or disgruntled drunks. I think I might have stepped on a kid at one point, but past too quickly to be sure.
Unfortunately, as I spent a long two minutes pushing rudely through the crowd, disaster struck--probably karma getting back at me for the kid. But, in a sign that karma supports kid crushing, it was a pleasant disaster. While trying to push past a group of jolly drunk Scots, one of them grabbed me and said, "Shite! You look like me da. Doesn't he look like me da?" His friends agreed. And suddenly, an expensive flask was being pushed into my hand. "Here, have a dram!" I took a hearty gulp of a good peaty single-malt, probably Talisker. "Cheers!" I said and tried to head off.
"Nay! Not a wee dram. Take a real one!" Who can turn down a kilted Scotsman offering you more alcohol? Not I! I took a huge swallow, nearly spitting it out when he clapped me on the back. "There you go. Now, if you must."
And, regretfully, I did. I still had to try to win my meaningless game. I hate to lose anything: it's probably one of my biggest personality flaws, and that night it meant I wouldn't be spending time with alcohol friendly Scots.
Still, I got lucky with the crowd. A break opened, allowing me to move quickly without pushing too much. It even thinned out to a patch of open concrete, allowing me to run full out.
I'd been sick for the past two weeks, with the type of cough you get issued when you enter hell. I'd been drinking beers all afternoon, sipping bourbon from my flask all evening, and only two minutes before I'd had massive gulps of straight malt whisky. So I can't explain how I ran like I did. Maybe it had something to do with spotting Nick slipping out of the crowd into the open concrete at nearly the exact same time as me. Nick saw me jogging and broke into a dead run himself. I don't know what hold up he hit, but we were neck and neck again. [Addendum. Nick's reported obstacle was: "two or three drunks collapsing directly in front of the police, and me, owing to my relationship to even minor authority and my need to fix things, not having the bottle to leap over them rather than help them up." Personally, I think I got the better end of the deal.]
So we ran, crossing that open space in record time and hitting the crowd like it was our own personal game of Red Rover. All semblance of politeness was gone; we shoved through as fast as possible to try to win. If it had crossed my mind to trip him, I would have tried.
We both saw the open alley at the same time, and cleared the crowd simultaneously. Though the alley was just a hundred meter dash to McDs, my legs gave out on me. I've never been a distance runner (or a sprinter, for that matter, preferring a brisk confident walk for my crowd movement), and my lungs and sides and feet couldn't take it. So I trotted up to the McDs window a good fifteen seconds after Nick, to claim second place.
There we stood, sucking down cold Edinburgh air, waiting for Jeremy and Alissa to show. They never did. Finally, five minutes to Midnight, I started to feel odd. For a reason I don't even understand myself, I had the urge to spend the transition to the New Year alone. Maybe I subconsciously thought I should spend that time alone like I had the previous four years (stranded in suburban California, or in the remotest B&B in Tasmania, or the Bangkok airport, or in a flat in Singapore), or maybe just being in the crowd was getting to me, like it always does after awhile. So I excused myself from Nick; I think he was a bit hurt by this. I went to my favorite place in Edinburgh to watch the fireworks--the center of North Bridge, surrounded by Edinburgh Castle, Prince's St., Calton Hill, and Arthur's Seat looming in the background.
It was good just to wander the city on my on; I'd grown to love Edinburgh, and it was great to see it on one of its more debauched evenings. The Scots celebrate in the most fantastic and exuberant fashion possible, and it did my heart good just to watch them. But, after an hour of this I began to miss my friends, and so I returned to the hostel, one of the first to get back from the festivities.
But not the first, as I discovered when I walked into Room K. I was going to flick on the light, when I saw Annica and Canadian Chris in bed together, and not much more. The only real details I picked up were that they were under the covers up to their shoulders, and Chris had a rather ugly bleeding head wound that he seemed completely unaware of (received, he claimed later, at some point at the street party whilst being dragged by Annica. Not some kinky sex wound). I threw my coat on my bed from the door and walked right out without saying a word.
When I made it down to reception, Nick was just arriving back. And I had no idea what to tell him, though he obviously knew something was up from the big shit-eating grin on my face. when he pressed me, I just said, "Be careful going back up to the room." Which instantly sent him up to the room.
In less than a minute, he came back down as angry as I've ever seen him. He had his solid metal camping cup in his hand--briefly. He threw it in anger, putting a permanent dent in it and taking a serious chunk out of the table. "Goddammit" he snapped as it kerranged off the table. The mounting irritation of the evening had gotten to him: he had quit his jobs to be with the people from the hostel, and we'd all promptly wound up with anyone but him. Even further, I think--but have no concrete proof of this, so I might be stepping on a couple toes here--he rather fancied Annica at the time. (Though, to be fair, I think Nick fancied every girl in K at one time or another, so that may just be my paranoia.) So I think Nick probably felt a bit surprised and hurt that she'd wind up with Chris. A surprise I can definitely understand.
I excused myself to find my own way to deal with stress. Halfway through my first beer, Ylva came home. Nick told her what was going on, while I sat back and drank. I was in passive drunk stage, more of an audience to the drama of the evening than an actor in it. Ylva went up to see for herself and "deal" with it. I sat in the dining room, only half-listening to Nick rant; I hardly even qualified for "neutral observer" status, mostly I was just trying to stay qualified for "conscious body" status. Someone kept feeding 20p pieces into the jukebox to play the Pogue's "Fairytale of New York," but I never managed to catch them at it to tell them it's a song about Christmas, fer crissakes! Though I wasn't actually vigillant. It could even have been Nick.
Ylva came down halfway through my second beer to let us know that Annica had moved to the Balmoral bathroom and that Chris was currently AWOL. The vague thought that he was passed out somewhere with a concussion flitted across my mind and elicited nothing stronger than a "Well, that would suck," response. Ylva was more concerned with Annica, who was curled up on the couch in the Balmoral bathroom, wrapped tight in her duvet, and impossible to move. Ylva shut the bathroom door and put up a sign on it warning people to use another bathroom, but was unable to lock it.
As I finished off my beer, Ylva and Nick came to the decision that they needed to do something further about Annica--that leaving a nearly naked drunk Swede unattended in an unlocked bathroom in a hostel full of ratarsed people was a bad idea. As for me, I was thinking that it'd be a bad idea t leave a toilet occupied for an entire night when people will be wanting to empty their bladders and needing to empty their stomachs more frequently than usual. I wasn't being intentionally callous towads Annica, I was just extending my own refilling bladder to the entire world.
First, Ylva went back up to try to move her. Nearly a full beer later, she returned, having failed. "She won't move. When I tried to get her up she tried to elbow me in the face and swore at me in Scottish! 'For fuck's sake,' she said." Nick suggested all three of us go up and take care of her. I was opposed to it, though I can't really tell if my motives were pure. In general, I try to leave drunks alone unless they ask for help or are in danger. But it may just be I felt I couldn't be arsed.
Also, in my drunken state, I was less than charitable about who I'd be helping out. My thoughts of Nick were mainly of his world-class skill at schlimmbesserung (a wonderful German word meaning approximately "making things worse by trying to make them better"), and Ylva's ability towards the least appropriate response to any situation. I was thinking of my friends as cliches by this point. Plus, I wanted to finish my beer.
But they talked me into it, so I picked up my beer and abandoned my hunt for whoever was putting the Pogues on repeat. There were apparently no lightbulbs anywhere in the upstairs hallway anymore, and for some reason we didn't put on any lights in the Balmoral. Our only light for the ensuing operation came from outside. Annica was still passed out in the Balmoral, apparently unnoticed by the hostel crowd thus far. It was still early in the night and most people were still out stumbling around the streets. Ylva went in for one last attempt to get her to move on her own. This time there was no response, whether in Swedish or Scottish; she was completely asleep.
Nick and I joined Ylva to carry Annica out. Of course, since Nick and I are fairly prudish polite boys from repressed countries, we had another problem. Since Annica was only wearing pants and wrapped in a duvet, we struggled to figure out a way to pick her up and keep her covered at the same time. Nevermind that we were sure she'd remember none of this the next morning, honor and prudishness demanded we keep her decent. After three increasingly clumsy attempts to pick her up, Ylva suggested we just carry her into K on the bench she was passed out. That Nick and I agreed that this was a good idea shows how drinking warps all sense of size and proportion.
The Balmoral bathroom is only about a fifteen feet walk from room K. Unfortunately, there are four right angles to negotiate in this fifteen feet. The path is something like a reversed question mark done in block print. Out the Balmoral, immediately to the left a foot, then right five feet, then another right five feet into the door of K, then another immediate left one you enter K to get around the bunk bed keeping the door from opening all the way.
This was our path to carry an unconscious nearly nude Swede on top a five foot by one foot wooden bench. I finished my beer, and we set to work. Ylva took the head of the bench, and was in charge of both lifting and making sure Annica stayed covered. Nick took the feet, and I handled the middle. We manoevered out of the Balmoral with little problem, and managed to shift around so (we thought) we could just take a straight shot into the alcove/hallway leading to K. Nick was backing into it, reporting that it was a tight fit but it could be done. Just as he said, "Okay, take it slow and be careful," Ylva gave an extra little push. "Goddammit!!!" Nick hissed as the bench smashed his right hand against the far wall.
"What?!" Ylva said, spooked by Nick's pain, and reversed on the bench to unpin his hand. Unfortunately, she also tacked to the right and smashed my hand against the other wall. "Oh motherfuck!" I responded conversationally.
On the plus side, Ylva was much more careful after that admittedly quick and efficient inflictoin of pain, while Nick and I moved at a slower pace due to our wounds. We managed to get the bench as far into K as the current laws of physics would allow. Nick and Ylva picked Annica up and carried her that last couple feet to deposit her in bed. Throughout the entire crude and profanity strewn operation, Annica never stirred.
Nick and I went down to put ice-cold beers on our hands. It was halfway through my second cold compress that Alissa returned. Without even thinking about asking where she'd been, we launched into a long description of what we'd up with and why Nick and I were still craddling our hands. We never did find out where she disappeared to and what she'd done in the hours between midnight and her return.
But with Alissa back, we had enough for a game of cards. With the evening already so odd, we thought nothing untoward about playing card games, drinking, and passing around odd smelling home rolled cigarettes on New Year's Morn. The card games we played are only interesting to those of us who played it, so I won't go into details. I do have this to say. If Alissa has ingested any chemicals at all, DON'T play any card games that require you to be her partner. I would rather play chess against her (and even the calm serene Buddha himself would get impatient waiting for Alissa to make a move at chess) than play as her partner again at cards.
Three beers later, we moved back up to the dining room. It was sometime around 5am, I guess. My sense of time and space was more than a little bit distorted at this point. I did make a rather startling discovery, though. I learned never to take a drink from a Saffie, for it's possible that a Saffie will hand you a drink that's a mixture of Coke and red wine--not particularly alcoholic, but the taste is enough to bring up the meals you hated from when you were a kid.
The night was coming to an end, in the way that parties that involve heavy drinking normally end. People were being picked off by drunkenness and exhaustion one by one, not having mastered the true art of long distance drinking (it's a very delicate balance, and unless you have the stamina of a Georgie, it's very easy to screw up. You have to drink heavily enough early on so that, after a certain point, you start to sober up, and the adrenaline of sobering up--which your body puts out because it's being flooded by a depressant--gives you the energy to continue on. You then keep drinking, and hope that the adrenaline-alcohol mix continues; like using the gravity of a planet to slingshot a spaceship further). But as sunrise approached, a bunch of people decided to go out to Calton Hill to greet the new day. Since I was still mightily sick, I was the only one still conscious who decided not to go.
Apparently, the sunrise was good, but damn cold. Not that anyone realy noticed. Chris, who hadn't passed out with a concussion, wound up stripping down and running around Calton Hill wearing only his shoes (it's almost a shame that, the next day, Chris wound up not remembering anything past the New Year's Dinner we had in K), while everyone else just stood around and shivered. I was just going to sit and the dining room and wait for everyone to come back, but immediately after everyone else left, Amanda the Nebraskan came back; we got to talking and realized that we'd both been woken up by Reuben and Georgie celebrating Kiwi New Year's. Further, the Mid-West American New Year's was coming up in about ten minutes. AND, Reuben and Georgie slept in the same room. So we went in and woke them up, screaming "Happy U.S. New Year."
I couldn't understand much of Reuben's response, but the twitching and swearing was good enough for me.
I went to bed soon after. New Year's Eve never goes right for me, but apparently, when you call it "Hogmanay," it can.
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