For the sake of Auld Lang Z-z-z-z-yne

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The Independent Online
GOOD SENSE, calm, and no alcohol - new year in Trafalgar Square did not have the makings of a great party. And although police said they were delighted by the celebrations, they did somewhat cramp the style. In fact, London's Hogmanay was a bit like a 16th birthday party without wine cup and with parents.

It wasn't fair - we weren't allowed to do anything. 'Please, could the people jumping up and down please cease . . . you're ruining it for everybody else,' whined a loudspeaker attached to Nelson's Column. And round the pedestal a 3ft- high light-board gave non-stop information on what else was forbidden, verboten, prohibido, interdit. In fact, all the prohibited items had already been taken from us at the entrances to the square.

A banner stretching the length of the piazza on the National Gallery side said 'Happy New Year - Don't Drink and Drive]' And at St Martin's Lane a policeman with a loudhailer advised the queues at the body-search to watch out for 'silent footsteps' - police- horse droppings. We did need the nannying. Last new year 42 people were injured in Trafalgar Square and 11 years ago two women died. So this year a thousand police were on duty and you weren't allowed to jump in a fountain and catch cold.

The naughtiest thing you could do was kiss someone without a condom on. Kissing police people, however, was prohibido. Five men serenaded WPC QK113 - she wouldn't give her name - with 'Don't you know you're beautiful?' and then gang-kissed her, mildly dislodging her headgear. She summoned assistance from nearby officers.

The Samaritans were there, but not the English Tourist Board. And there were an awful lot of disappointed tourists. 'London to us was party town,' said Andy Evans, 27, from Australia. 'But this is a bit dismal, really. We could party to three or four in the morning in Adelaide.'

This was at 10.30pm, with most of the West End pubs already closed and the ones still open packed to the fanlights. (The bouncer at the Roundhouse in Bedford Street asked for a pounds 5 'deposit' from anyone trying to get in.) In New Row, the off-licence was selling cans of lager at a 50 per cent extra mark-up - 'a special price for a special night'.

'It seems wonderful,' shouted Remy Mandon, a 22- year-old business student. We were being buffeted around the south-east Landseer lion, where there was a sweet smell of burning cannabis. 'We're from Paris, and we would be dancing in the Champs-Elysees. This is great . . . but you can't dance.'

Nor could you sing Auld Lang Syne. It wasn't prohibited, but nobody did. 'It was crap,' said James, a 20-year-old salesman going home to Paddington on the N89 night bus. 'A New Year without Auld Lang Syne]' His friend, Annabel, 21, from Cape Town, confessed she'd rather have been at home on the beach. The best thing that had happened to them was getting the free bus ride. Then they realised the N89 doesn't go to Paddington.

There were life-enhancing moments: the joy of the two street people finding a cache of abandoned, half-drunk bottles by the police cordon - Gancia, Cherry Heering, Red Stripe, Martell; midnight, when the Nelson's Column notice-machine stopped prohibiting things and wished us a 'Happy New Year from the Metropolitan Police' instead.

Acts of random niceness: the Ozzie boy, who, alone among all of us at the Oxford Street bus stop, put an arm round the balding man who sat slumped, sobbing and puking on his Timberlands. And the black- haired girl in Tottenham Court Road, who gave me a crushing hug and a big kiss and said: 'Also for you a happy new year, yes?'

New year violence, page 4

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