I was going to do a Christmas-themed story last week, but circumstances got in the way (i.e. I broke my glasses and spent most of the day slogging from Essex to London and back to retrieve the spares). Shame, as I had a half-drafted story and everything.
But never mind, maybe next year. I have managed a longer-than-usual effort for today on a New Year theme, despite being slightly ill yesterday. But if it’s rubbish, that’s my excuse.
So, belated Merry Christmas to any and all who’ve stuck with me through these things, and a Happy New Year as well. Hopefully 2011 will be a good one, writing-wise. I have at least one confirmed good thing coming, at least.
Anyway. Let’s get on with it. As ever, more short-ish stories are available if the New Year depresses you.
Operation 2011: A Survival Exercise
By Nick Bryan
It is early on New Year’s Eve, my name is Alf. Every year, my friend Simon and I have tried to attend the free fireworks in London at the turn of the year. We arrive in the evening and find ourselves crushed, abused and stuck behind tall drunks.
However, we are fireworks lovers and will not be refused. After drawing up complex diagrams, we have come to the north bank of the Thames at six in the morning with several books and thick layers of clothing.
Our plan is to claim a bench and sit here until the fireworks start, in seventeen hours time, and I will document this undertaking in journal form. So far, we have chosen a bench. It has a good view of the river, and there are no bridges in the way, making it the best of the available candidates.
So we have taken our position. It is getting light now.
Some conflict over breakfast. Simon was not sure where to go, although I kept telling him it didn’t matter. Really, I was hoping he would make a decision. It was hard enough getting him to settle on a bench.
Anyway, we eventually agreed on McDonalds, as it was nearby and neither of us have had one of their Big Breakfasts for some time. And all my other suggestions were “too weird”. I hope he’s not going to be like this all day.
It appears McDonalds coffee is even less pleasant than the instant in my thermos. Otherwise, breakfast was pleasant, even with the aftertaste of grease.
However, we did experience a few issues. It appears there are very few public bins in Central London, due to the risk of terrorists dropping parcel bombs. Since I didn’t want to sit on a pile of McDonalds packaging all day, I sent Simon to find an exposed disposal area, since one of us has to guard the bench.
And also a free toilet, since he needs to pee and refuses to pay. I think he’s hoping the “restaurant” will let him use the facilities.
Thankfully we brought a lot of books with us, or we might have had to converse. Obviously, myself and Simon have been friends for years, but sitting on a bench for seventeen hours would strain things between even a long-standing married couple.
I suppose we should start thinking about lunch, but I’m fearful of another squabble, so am going without for now. If only I’d thought to bring sandwiches.
Simon’s stomach rumblings became audible to pedestrians, who began to mutter about our being tramps. Yes, even though our wives had ironed all our layers of clothing for this adventure.
Still, it became clear that Simon was unlikely to suggest food of his own accord. One day, we shall beat decisiveness into him, but until then I’ll do it myself. Sandwiches seemed the most logical option, as there are outlets nearby, but the range caused problems.
I offered to let Simon stay on the bench and direct me by phone, but he still would not trust me to pick the correct option. So we are taking turns.
Thanks to multiple visits to Subway, lunch took some time. Have at least got a hot sandwich, with meatballs and spicy sauce. This should come in handy, as my thermos has run out.
Simon took a while to return, as he was unable to decide on a Subway sandwich, or anything they had in Pret. He ran back and forth between the two for a while, before settling on Pret’s Soup Of The Day, which seems to contain mushrooms. And then we ate for a while, before Simon pleasantly agreed to do the rubbish run again. Feet starting to go numb, maybe I should’ve volunteered for the walk.
It has been a quiet spell, but we are now experiencing difficulties. Firstly, it is now too dark for us to read easily. London street lighting is simply inadequate.
More importantly, others are starting to turn up for the fireworks. It seemed a slow trickle at first, but now the pavement is starting to look well dawdled. I imagine they wish they had turned up at six this morning, as all the benches are long gone.
Someone has sat in the remaining third of our bench. How awkward.
I was concerned this might become awkward, but Simon and I are busying ourselves spotting embarrassing fashion trends. Someone appears to be carrying a skateboard; I don’t pretend to keep up, but I thought that was ten years ago.
Pleasantly, the skies remain clear. I had studied the forecasts extensively, as it would have been woeful to agree to this amazing exercise, then spend the whole day getting pissed on.
Problems are springing up. A need is emerging among us both for both further refreshments and perhaps a trip to the toilet. However, the surrounding people are becoming denser still, and I don’t have much faith in only one of us being able to hold the bench.
Not sure what to do about this. Perhaps I could slip one of the teenagers a few pounds to stand guard while we go? With four hours to go until the display starts, I imagine the situation will get worse before it gets better.
I was right, matters have gone downhill. Simon is now discussing whether we could hold our urine in my thermos. I am uncertain, slightly because we might be arrested, but mostly because I would never feel comfortable drinking from it again, even after repeat bleaching.
For the first time, I regret throwing away cheap McDonalds cups. They could have finally come into their own.
A shade over two hours remain until the midnight moment. The crowd is bumper-to-bumper, police have already blocked off many routes to the riverbank, leaving most spectators to filter through one tiny entrance.
So, with this packing, Simon thinks there might be sufficient cover to get away with emptying our bladders into the thermos. I reply that I’m not sure its cutting edge insulation technology was designed to keep our piss at post-expulsion warmth.
I also worry he may next suggest we drink it as a solution to our hunger.
I considered not recording this low point, but having committed to this journaling, it seemed rude not to. So: it saddens me to report that we have both gone to the toilet in my thermos flask. Must remember not to absent-mindedly sip.
Having taken so long to negotiate this toilet solution, we have agreed we shall have do without further food. And now we shall do our best to put this indignity behind us, as fireworks are a mere hundred minutes away!
Disappointingly, Simon has fallen asleep. Passing crowd members are laughing. I nudged him awake a couple of times, but he grunted and ignored me. A little concerned that police will mistake him for a homeless man and move us both on, since the mutters of “tramps” have only become more frequent in the last few hours.
I suspect the slight smell of urine isn’t helping, even if no-one noticed at the time.
The hour is coming. I finally woke Simon after ten minutes by punching him in the face. Desperate measures, perhaps, but it has been a long seventeen-ish hours of isolation, and I found this to be strangely lonely without a friend or a book.
In our modern society, I think we take our luxuries for granted, it’s easy to forget how difficult it can be when all is stripped away, and I think we’ve proven something here. Even if we are escorted out by security now, it was not all in vain.
(N.B. Obviously, I’d still rather we were not.)
A mixture of hope and heartbreak in recent minutes. As the time of explosions drew near, we rose from our seats, because the standing spectators in front threatened to impede our view. And no sooner had we stepped forward from the bench, a gang of nearby drunks leapt onto it and started stamping and chanting.
For a moment, I felt sentimental; after all, that bench had sustained us for all that time. And then I swiftly forgot about it, because the fireworks were about to start, and it was going to be gorgeous and loud. Immediately, I knew the New Year would be amazing.
If nothing else, it started with myself and my best friend wetting ourselves on a public bench after eating a McDonald’s breakfast, so couldn’t get much worse. And I hope you appreciate this last journal entry, as writing it whilst standing up was a right pain in the arse.
This exercise in mild satire and silly whimsy brought to you by me, copyright also me, if you link all your friends to it or re-tweet or something I will be forever grateful. If you somehow steal it, I will be less so. Email me to ask what I mean by stealing. This story dedicated to anyone who’s ever been to the London New Year’s fireworks. It’s a lovely display, but also one hell of a crowd control exercise.