Thursday, 31 December 2009
The children stayed up to mark the moment when 1999 slipped into 2000. I think we toasted the new millennium. There was a crash of fireworks and a splatter of colour in the sky. Then came the sound of people laughing and singing. I opened the door and saw a dancing procession of neighbours and friends doing the conga round our cul-de-sac. We left the door open and joined in. Suddenly it seemed that the future could be filled with trust and friendship.
Before that, we'd been watching the celebrations from the new Millennium Dome and flashes from around the world. I recall Tuvalu, Sydney and Paris. I remember little of Britain's Millennium celebration. Tony Blair and his family were there, still glossy with the people's love and trust. I noted that, of all the celebrations shown from all over the world, ours was the only one with a guest list and entrance fee - others were free and open to the public. George Carey as archbishop of Canterbury had insisted on a Christian element to the event. He was a late addition to the programme and was squeezed in long before midnight. He stood in the centre of the vast dome and the words of the Lord's prayer echoed emptily. The audience seemed rightly embarrassed - religion was out of place in this monument to commercial sponsorship.
At some point before going to bed, I rang my brother in Canada. "This is the voice of the next millennium," I declared. Looking back on the 20th century, it seemed possible that I'd reached a better time. The Berlin Wall had come down, apartheid had ended and it still seemed possible that the divisiveness and hatreds of Thatcherism would be pushed back. The afterglow of the 1997 election still shed a little light, even though I hadn't brought myself to vote New Labour. I mistrusted the surface shimmer and worried about the number of times Blair urged the voters, "Trust me." Honest people rarely insist that they tell the truth - they simply speak.
On the morning of 1st January 2000, hope persisted. Nations and people could work together. If we couldn't save Tuvalu from global warming, surely we'd welcome its dispossessed people. Perhaps as a world we could learn to love the stranger, just as the dancers in the streets welcomed all comers, regardless of origin or ability. I chose to take the conga as my symbol of the millennium rather than that exclusive, expensive party in London which I'd watched at a distance through the glass of my TV screen.
I don't know when hope dispersed.
I'm not sure it's possible to recover that hope. But the people I meet are so much better than party politicians, gearing up for the election, suggest. There's much more to human beings than the hatred of strangers and blind pursuit of personal profit.
I don't think I'll be able to celebrate the new decade. But, when midnight tolls, if I'm still up, I'll toast it with a small glass of Jura malt, hoping for hope in 2010.