Scotland in winter. The snow has melted, leaving dead, saturated grass, brown leaves turning to mush, tree branches bare sketches in a grey, dark sky. Stained concrete and grey harl of housing weeps with water. Roads are lined with crusty piles of old snow dirtied by salt and grit. Brown rivers dash down gorges, too dark to photograph easily even at midday. In the city, a white-haired drunk sits in the Rose Street gutter amongst the stag parties and bargain hunters, singing to himself "if you hate the fucking English clap your hands."
The way through the ever-present reminders at this time of year in Scotland of death, decay and mental illness is to do something colourful or fun. In Edinburgh on the 30th, a torchlit parade snakes its way down the Mound, bound for Calton Hill:
This is all part of Edinburgh's commercialised New Year festival. Not so long ago, a crowd of perhaps a thousand gathered spontaneously at the Tron kirk on the Royal Mile for the bells. Today, around eighty thousand buy tickets for a concert and fireworks show held on Princes St, which is pedestrianised for the night and accessible only to ticket holders. It is so successful - and more exciting than the old, organic celebrations - that people come from abroad to experience it. Other cities across the country host more modest events. Glasgow's 2003 George Square show with the Proclaimers was a personal highlight, especially as Edinburgh's Franz Ferdinand show the same year was cancelled due to high winds. Shadenfreude is not an exclusively German emotion.
Wherever you spent your Hogmanay, I hope it was a good one. For me, another year closer to death, it is a time of reflection rather than celebration. It is a time to quietly assess the last year and ponder the coming one.
Here's to a good 2011.
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