Sunday, 1 January 2012

Silent New Year

And now this is the first day of another year in Aberdeen. Happy New Year everyone. 

At the sounding of the midnight bells and the ringing-in of the new year with a toast to loved ones, down in time every year from when I was a young boy in Aberdeen, one of the things I first remember about Hogmanay in this town was my dad taking me out into the back garden and us listening together to the boats in the harbour sounding their horns. For fifteen minutes or half an hour they blared their airhorn hoots in paradoxically mournful salutation of the celebration. The droning tone of these horns blown for joy fitted the duality of the Hogmanay festival, which marks the funeral of one year and the birth of a new one. All the streets in the double-estuary-amphitheatre of our maritime town resonated to the different tones, and the people of the town listened in wonder - cocking an ear to this freighter and that anchor-tug, this supply-ship and that tanker. Which tone went with which sort of ship? Which was louder, and which shriller?

And every Hogmanay since, the ships' horns sounding out in the harbour at midnight at the turning of the year has been one of the things that has marked the season for me. An annual punctuation, something to expect, a tradition; personal and civic. And a few years ago, the tech embodied in the horns evolved - and the Hogmanay sound across town changed from being that saraband of pneumatically driven hoot to a more upbeat polka sequence of digitally-generated beeps and tones, not an unwelcome change. Rather than the mysterious mourn in slow-time darkness, the soundscape of our town on Hogmanay came to resemble more the climactic sequence of tone-communication depicted in Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, fascinating and other-worldly; a sensory impression reinforced by the recent fashion to use firework displays to help mark the turning of the new year.

But suddenly, oddly, this year, no boats in the harbour or ships in the bay horned their toots or beebed their blare for Hogmanay. No sound came from the basin to accompany our celebrations as 2011 turned into 2012. The harbinger of this new year was silent - foreshadowing shame? Boding infamy? Presaging an ill-starred fate? We don't know why this traditional aspect of Hogmanay was absent from our town this year. Maybe there's a good reason, maybe just a trivial one. Maybe it's trivial of us to complain. But one thing is for sure, it's another one of the little erosions which bit by bit leave us with fewer and fewer reasons for remaining here. It signifies one of the many many Zeno corrosions which little by little threaten to burn away this town's soul. What other little denudations have passed us all unnoticed?


Anonymous said...

Yes, the ships were missed at midnight this year. There were two or three plaintive horns sounding from the town side of the harbour but only for a couple of minutes - nothing like the usual cacophony which could extend for almost an hour. Why did this happen? I'm not sure, but the days of holding the phone out the window so relatives in foreign parts could partake in the annual ritual appear to have long gone!

Kynon said...

I was, until now, completely unaware of this feature of Hogmanay/New Year in Aberdeen, being as I have never spent that part of the year in Aberdeen - I have always been either a few miles down the coast, partaking of (or, in the case of this year, participating in) a traditional fire-swinging ceremony, or else further afield.

Elahe said...

I'm so glad I found your blog. Recently moved to Aberdeen and I am very interested to know more about the town. Keep writing please.