Giannino and Annmaree had flown in from Milan for a few days, and it seemed like a good idea to take them to see the pyrotechnics at Primrose Hill. The idea was to meet Guy and Vivian, Stephen and Laura, Ed and perhaps some other friends by the bonfire about 7pm. Unfortunately, 4,000 others had made precisely the same arrangement: they could have been anywhere. We waited a while, then shuffled into the crowd and looked out across London's curiously flat horizon, at St Paul's, the Telecom Tower, Centre Point.
My friends braced themselves against the cutting wind and hugged each other. All around, lovers did the same. By now the fire was lit and its vast orange flame illuminated a sea of feminine beauty: retrousee noses, bee-stung lips, high cheekbones; the fine arch of a lustrous eyelash against the lid. I decided to go and look for the others.
I wandered aimlessly for some time, then paused under a lamp-post to scan the crowd. Gradually I felt conspicuous, standing on my own in my fitted Seventies leather jacket, which seemed to mark me out as the epitome of a man alone: a priest, a hit-man, a dark angel of sadness and solitude.
I saw myself as a cold rock, buffeted by oceans of happy families and starry-eyed lovers, pushing baby buggies and eating hot-dogs. I turned quickly and squeezed and pushed through the crowd in search of Giannino and Annmaree. But, of course, I had lost them, too. The crowd had swollen and was now all but impenetrable, and they had undoubtedly been moved in the surge. A woman beside me complained that her children could not see the bonfire because the adults were in the way. The kids and I wore the same expression.
Emerging on to the path I was surrounded once more by couples from the pages of a photo-romance magazine, showered by images of beauty shared. Families stood in little groups waving sparklers at each other.
An emotion welled up in me that I had not encountered for more than two decades: I was lost. Not in the simple sense, but lost like a small child, full of anger and frustration, devoured by a sense of betrayal.
I swore out loud and heard myself say: 'I don't want to watch the fireworks on my own]' They were due to start any second. I told myself to get a grip, before I started to stamp my foot.
Two blonde women walked up to me, searching the crowd. 'You're lost, too,' I said, and they smiled, yes. Once more I tried to locate Giannino and Annmaree, although I knew it was hopeless; they were gone, I would never find them. Searching only accentuated my isolation. Finally I faced the fact: among the thousands on that hill I was the only one alone.
Below, people were still surging through the gates, hurrying to see the display. Red tail lights snaked all around the park perimeter: traffic had come to a standstill. It was like new year, Christmas and bonfire night rolled into one. My chest felt tight, as if I would suffocate, and before I knew it I was striding downhill against the tide of humanity, fighting my way past young and old as they threw handfuls of change into the yellow plastic buckets, struggling past them on to the street, desperate to escape before the show began.
Half a mile down the road they were still coming, in cars, on foot, team-handed, a flood of exuberance washing against me. Tears were streaming down my face, but the people did not see me cry. They were looking over my head at the glitter-burst explosions, their eyes glistening with delight, their mouths shaping the voiceless utterances of rapture.
And beneath all this, I was no more than a silhouette, marching on, desperate to get away. A thundershot exploded directly overhead, setting off car alarms all along the road. Laughter fell like icy rain around my shoulders.
I turned a corner and found myself on a deserted Camden High Street, with litter blowing in the wind. Vintage pop music blared from the open doors of an empty pub, attracting no one. The sign above the door said 'Take Courage'. Just what I need, I thought to myself: irony.
Why do we love to watch sparkling lights in the night sky? What is the great fascination of gemlike colours exploding against a midnight blue? Could it be some unconscious, archetypal recognition and celebration of the great explosion at the beginning of time? No one can say, but I would have given a lifetime of cool, ethereal wisdom for a single moment of warm, earthy romantic love up on that hill.Reuse content