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Joe Blake: A week in the life of a free spirit

Five, four, three, two... no, wait a minute... three, two damn... now..., yes? 1997 ended as it began, snogging an actress, looking at my watch. That's not to say that it was a year of unbridled passion, but somehow you can always count on New Year's Eve for a bit of tongue-in-cheek. It's the only time that people make lunges at total strangers out of a desire for a transient experience they can monitor by the second.

When the pagan ritual drumming grew to a sweaty climax at the Return to the Source bash, heralding the rebirth of the gaia-cycle, for a moment auld acquaintances weren't simply remembered but confused with this year's model.

"Who's Amanda?" Rachel asked, pulling away, as the beat settled into a trance-like pulse "Sorry, you just look like her under fluorescent light," I replied, escorting her to an ambient cushion. "At least now it's out in the open - eh, Joe?" Candi hissed, ever the drama queen.

I knew that going clubbing with a recent ex- on the most uninhibited night of the year was going to be problematic. But what was I to do? She phoned with offers of platonic partying near her place in Brixton and I was hacked off with my friends. The curator-and-novelist, husband-and- wife team, formerly known as Jake and Sarah, refused to commit to eating shrimps in Moro's or noodles in East One, preferring a candlelit evening in front of Chris Evans to trawling through Clerkenwell - in case they had to hug any yuppies. Mick was in bed with a camerawoman from TotTimeTelee. Tara, my journo flatmate, was out interviewing people in the back of taxis about their hopes and fears. Clav was intent on seducing young men at Popstarz; though it's a mixed club, I don't like dancing to stuff you can sing along to - you can inadvertently reveal how shite your life was during the Eighties. (For the last few weeks, John Lennon's "War is Over" has been playing in my head - "So this is Christmas and what have you done?" - but not with the gentleness you expect from John, quite barbed and accusatory.)

"Amanda's history," I insisted, twisting Rachel's hair in what I imagined to be a healing way, while Candi went on a New Year's Day bargain hunt round the stalls. "Just occasionally, it pops into my head that her stage and screen career has overtaken mine rather massively since I left her, that's all." Rachel, whom I had recognised from The Bill was highly sympathetic, like a WPC trying to coax information from a suspect she knows is lying. "You don't have to worry about baggage," she said, as though reading from an autocue. "I'm travelling light, living for the moment." She kept dropping remarks like this into the conversation as we bundled into her Mini and sped off towards Brighton, leaving Candi behind to be face-painted by a man dressed entirely in Day-Glo.

"You like the idea of a one-eve stand, then?" I asked, as we checked in to the hotel. "How old did you say you were again?" "I'm hitting 27 in three weeks." "That's not funny," she replied. It was only later in the afternoon, after we'd woken to the sound of gulls screeching, that she filled me in about the soap she is going to star in Down Under. "It's called Here and There - it's half set in London, but they can't afford to film it here, so the English actors go out there," she said. "I leave before the end of the month."

I took one of her chips and sank my teeth into it, heedless of the ketchup on my fingers.