It’s autumn — fall, to you — and soon it will be winter.

It makes me think of tenement days, days of cold and the security of beer on my father’s breath.

He wakes me and helps me dress in my Christmas cowboy outfit: the waistcoat, the chaps, two silver pistols in holsters, a large handkerchief for a bandanna and a warm coat on top, my mother singing along to Johnny Ray on the radio as she busies herself with secrets.

We walk down the hill into town.

It’s a magic night, the air frosty and crisp and the streetlamps glistening amber as they swing softly in the city crosswinds, the sound of clicking heels and excited chatter echoing all around, men in cardboard hats, hip pockets bulging — their women, tipsy and giggling, teetering on stiletto heels, short dresses displaying lacy underskirts and sometimes a hint of bare thigh — gathering outside the bars and cafes, readying themselves for the procession to the centre.

And then we reach the Square.

A huge Mississippi riverboat, its bridge decorated with coloured lights in front of the Town Hall and a dixieland jazz band playing on the steps. I’ve never seen so many people: all dressed fancy as movie vampires, Italian waiters, Hollywood gangsters, riverboat gamblers and gunslingers, plains-women in gingham and sun-hoods. And everywhere the sound, like a great deafening roar, of HAPPY NEW YEAR.

And soon it’ll be here again; it’ll be four hours until midnight and London will have dark circles beneath her eyes.

“Then there will be bells and sirens and car horns,” Julian Devine might say, “telephones in millions of homes will bleep, lips will be kissed and resolutions made, silver and gold-necked bottles will be opened with great flourish if little expertise and the good people will be full, awash and delirious with hope.”

I’ll click off the light and lock up the office before taking my customary walk around the public area to check the troughs.

The machines are arranged like strange standing stones in two circles, one inside the other, their consuls facing outwards. When the players are in, it’s like a prison exercise yard or a mobile ID parade; all the subjects are suspects and all the suspects are guilty.

There’ll be a pound coin in the Oklahoma Showdown; a blue infant’s teething ring on top of the Glory Ride Express; the coin slot of the Caribbean Cop Fighter will be glued up with chewing gum…

And on the floor, amidst the cigarette butts and the discarded cash bags, spent matches and candy wrappers, I may find a packet, make-shifted from a glossy magazine page.

Four hours. Soon the buzz will begin. In Scotland now they’ll all be waiting, all the ghosts, and soon the hugging and the kissing and the singing, the Lord Provost’s speech in the city square, the pipers and the dancers in their plaids and soft black, silver buckled shoes…

There will be the sense that I never want to lose this moment but the knowledge that it will, of necessity, be lost.

Still, that’s a couple of months away yet.

Happy new year. 

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