31 December 1999

Pick a year, any year -
and the chances are that I cannot remember
where I was on New Year's Eve
except this year. I was in the square
dancing with my mother who was
drunk for the first time since 1966.

I have no doubt that this memory will last.
It is not a matter of what happened
but the collective embrace in coming
to a corner of time. With an hour to go
I woke my son and carried him out
yawning in his night-clothes.
Raining as it was, one year old as he was,
it was his night most of all. One day he will be asked
were you there? as if by being born
he is a witness to another world
called 'Long Ago'. Fifty years hence
all dates earlier than this will seem
by definition, antique,
and nothing else will have the ring of age.
The houses will seem older;
the eighteenth-century pub will seem older.
Even schoolchildren will seem venerable
like those in dated-football photographs
from the 1890s.

And what did it amount to at the very
end of the day? Coats and champagne,
scarves, fireworks, and all eyes fixed
on the man on the stage.
Then a crackle on the radio,
and the bronze chimes of history
and nothing else but a great listening
to the most unstoppable heart.

Ian with the poet laureate, Andrew Motion,
on receiving a prize for this poem, 2000.


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