On Hogmanay in my local shop I was asked, “How are you bringing in the New Year?”
“Quietly. A game of Scrabble, Horlicks, and bed by 9.30.” In the event, I stayed up for the Bells, flicking between Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and Susan Calman’s show on BBC 1. Sir Tom Jones is remarkable, as are Amy Macdonald and Hannah Rarity. Hannah did not murder Auld Lang Syne.
Thence to bed.
At dawn on New Year’s Day I walked the two miles from my village to Flanders Moss, a nature reserve of great beauty, and tranquillity. Me, the sheep, and the horses, we had the world to ourselves. A beautiful winter’s morning. There was a near full moon in the north-west, and I saw the sun rise over the Carron Hills in the south-east. (Next time I saw the moon, in the evening, it was an enormous bright golden sphere rising in the east.)
Back home, I tuned in to the New Year’s Day concert from the Musikverein in Vienna. Riccardo Muti was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, before an empty hall. That orchestra seems to be able to play the Viennese Waltz as nobody else can. Before the traditional encore of The Blue Danube, Maestro Muti gave a speech, in English, reminding our world leaders of the healing power of music and the importance of nurturing culture. Of his colleagues, he said, “We give flowers, not… things that kill people.” Maestro Muti is in his eightieth year, though to see him you would hardly believe it. When I was an LSO groupie I recall one of their first violinists saying to me, “Muti! Bastard! Absolute martinet!” The spectre of Toscanini was summoned. Yehudi Menuhin records in his memoirs that he rehearsed with Toscanini in his apartment at the Hotel Astor on Times Square, New York. During the rehearsal, the phone rang – three times. On the third ring, Toscanini rose from the piano, not to answer the phone but to disconnect it by heaving the electrical fitment off the wall in a tangle of wires, bits of wood, plaster, and dust. This the sort of thing you can do if you are a Maestro.
Well, I think Maestro Muti must have mellowed; his message was beautiful. For the gig, he was put up in Vienna’s old Imperial Hotel which abuts the Musikverein. He, and a handful of business men, had the place to themselves. Muti said he felt like the hero in his own apocalyptic disaster movie.
In Scotland, Saturday January 2nd was a sombre day, being the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster. 2/1/71 was also a Saturday, and the traditional New Year Old Firm match took place at Rangers’ home ground. It was by all reports a dull match played in dull and bitterly cold conditions. It only came to life in the last two minutes, when Celtic scored, and then Rangers equalised more or less on the final whistle. One all. In high spirits but in good humour, a crowd of 80,000 dispersed.
There was a crush on Stairway 13, a stairway at the north-east corner of the stadium leading down to Cairnlea Drive and thence to Copland Road, the nearest subway station, and in the space of just a few minutes 66 souls suffered death by asphyxiation or suffocation. An early theory was that the excitement of the late goals had caused the departing crowd to turn back, but this theory was later discredited. The event only took place after the final whistle had blown.
As with so many sombre events, the assassination of JFK, the murder of John Lennon, I remember where I was at the time. I had been at Arlington Baths, and I had got on a bus on Woodlands Road, heading west – so a 10, a 10A, or a 59. Somebody on the bus told me a major disaster was unfolding at Ibrox. My father, being a policeman, was on duty at the ground. It is a mark of my teenage zero emotional intelligence that I don’t recall thinking that this event would probably be the worst thing my father would ever have to deal with in his career. I wish I’d had the gumption to express to him my sympathy and to offer what modicum of support I could. But I guess I was just living on another planet.
Die Wiener Philharmoniker, und ich, wünschen Ihnen… Prosit Neujahr!!!