Hold on. Haven't we been here before?; The Independent year

Hellos and Goodbyes
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Indy Lifestyle Online
SO MANY of the new things about 1998 had a curiously deja vu feeling. No self-respecting child could be seen in the playground without a yo-yo. But didn't we all dimly remember yo-yos from our own childhoods, cheaper certainly and less newsworthy, but somewhere there in the recesses of memory?

It was just such a feeling of deja vu that struck when we all gave an enormous welcome to free admission at museums. Terribly kind and progressive of the Labour government to promise us such a cultural boon; but did it not already exist?

Even the humble egg was relaunched as television cook Delia Smith demonstrated how to boil one and boosted egg sales by 54 million.

And to prove, if proof were needed, that a disaster is never fully a disaster until it is at the local multiplex, a new generation discovered the Titanic. That was illustrated by a youth in a cinema queue in Leicester Square, central London, who heard the person behind him talking about the ship sinking on its maiden voyage, and turned round furiously to exclaim: "Oh, thank you VERY much."

Some of the people we said "hello" to also seemed familiar. Take that modestly dressed, dignified, young humanitarian United Nations envoy, Geri Halliwell. Dab on much moremake-up and hair colouring, give it a pout, and you have almost got that feisty, micro-skirted, Union flag figure Ginger Spice.

And who was that John Glenn deciding to boldly go where few men had ever gone before? But one of the few was that same Glenn, back when yo-yos were in their first flush.

There was a welcome "hello" to Salman Rushdie, though those who frequented book prizes and other cultural dinners over the past few years may have felt that they had seen him around.

The sense that many of this year's "hellos" were a form of reinvention was encouraged by one of the technological discoveries of the year. Glasgow University came up with computer-assisted ways of bringing dead Hollywood stars back to life on the screen. If you thought Chris Evans getting into bed with John and Yoko was taking a stomach-curdling liberty with social history, wait and see what plans Quentin Tarantino could have for Marilyn Monroe.

It was a year that saw rock music renew its acquaintance with bad behaviour. Unfortunate, that, as it was also the year that cabinet ministers thought they would get trendy. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott tried to relive his youth at the Brit Awards and Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawamba threw a bucket of water over him for his pains. Prescott summoned record company chiefs to his office to complain about the insult to him and "the womenfolk" present, a quaint use of language that must have had Mr Nobacon reaching for his dictionary.

If "hellos" were definitely more of a welcome back this year, then at least they came with a twist in the tail. It was "hello again" to painting as a painter won the Turner Prize for the first time since 1985. But while Chris Ofili was a painter, he at least eschewed anything as reactionary and infra dig as oils or water colours. Why pay for those materials, when there are bucket-loads of elephant dung going begging?

Some "goodbyes" were involuntary, some unanticipated, some temporary. Peter Mandelson and Ron Davies might yet be back; Geoffrey Robinson will probably have a lot of spare time to count his money. David Beckham said a temporary farewell to the England team and popularity for scraping mud on an Argentine leg; Paul Gascoigne would, perhaps, have liked to have thrown some mud after being forced to say "goodbye" to international football but threw a table lamp instead.

Other "goodbyes" were, of course, permanent. Linda McCartney showed herself in death to have achieved a level of popularity that might have surprised her, and to be an icon of vegetarian and pro-animal groups, which would have delighted her.

The media lost some of its best known names including Lord Rothermere and Sir David English. And in the ever-affable Lew Grade we surely saw one of the last of the media moguls, who was not only adventurous and shrewd but approachable and good fun.

The approach of a new century was marked by the passing of another larger than life figure, Francis Albert Sinatra. In what serves as an interesting lesson for up-and- coming celebrities, Frank's reluctance to give interviews and tread the chat show circuit means that one of the greatest entertainers of the century - despite biographies and thousands of profiles - has died with us knowing virtually nothing of what he really thought and felt, and with the mystique still in tact.

That is more than can be said for poor Yves Montand. The French film legend who said "goodbye" in 1991 had to say a posthumous "hello" when he was disinterred in March for DNA testing to establish a paternity claim.

The most welcome "goodbye" of the year, if we follow an invention from Sweden, will be a farewell to the stuff of nightmares, the dentist's drill. Swedish company MediTeam produced a gel that can dissolve rotten parts of a tooth in 30 seconds and leave healthy parts alone, rendering the drill, and the gleam in the dentist's eye, redundant. But the most interesting "hello", followed by the quickest "goodbye", was another scientific invention. Sony invented a video camera, the Handycam, which included an infra red detector for seeing at night.

Unfortunately (or maybe not) when used in daylight it saw through people's clothes and made them appear naked. Sony quickly dumped the invention and offered refunds. Yet they failed to find a single person who wanted their money back.

Beats yo-yos any day.

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