As a young man I always treated New Year’s Eve as a special event. As a student I used to attend the biggest celebration of all in London, the Chelsea Arts Ball. This was an enormous event and one which was great fun. I always chummed up with a few other people to create some sort of tableau. I remember, the last time I went, it was as â€˜Tramersmithâ€™ — the last tram to run from Hammersmith. We built an almost full scale model of a tram that was suitably decorated and those of us who travelled on it, I seem to recall, wore Edwardian costumes. Why this choice I cannot recall other than the fact that it was more amusing than just wearing modern dress.
This wild party tradition rather died on me when I went to Australia and found myself celebrating New Year’s Eve on a beach with a â€˜barbieâ€™ (BBQ). It simply did not feel like the New Year as it did in the UK with those dark evenings and snow-covered streets. However, my interest in celebrating was revived when I went to Aden and found that Union Khormaksar Club, which I had joined, went in for fancy dress New Year’s Eve parties in a big way. I remember that we all took our servants along to ensure that we had a plentiful supply from the case or two and champagne that each of us provided. Everybody, just everybody, was in some form of fancy dress and the highlight of the evening was the parade and prize giving for the best outfit.
I remember one year I went as a Masai warrior. I was very slim in those days; nudging six feet tall with a 29in. waist. My costume, or rather lack of it, comprised a Masai headdress, a beaded belt who in which was stuck a dagger and little else. For the reader who does not know I should explain that the Kenyan Masai very tall, slim and elegant and, more often than not, totally naked. You will often see these splendid warriors standing elegantly tall, frequently on one leg, in those National Geographical Magazine type photographs of natives in Africa. In order to achieve the right effect I had my entire body painted with orange ochre and dyed a very small pair of briefs in the same colour, so that, too all intents and purposes to the naked eye, so to speak, so was I. The effect was completed by a full-length ochre coloured cloak and a spear taller than me. It was thus attired that I joined the Grand Parade.
One obviously short-sighted elderly lady, or so it appeared by the lorgnette which she held firmly to her eyes, hissed “disgusting” each time I passed her by. Nevertheless I am pleased to say that the judges did not share her concern, as I won first prize in the individual section.
Most of these evenings finished with a cooked breakfast at four o’clock in the morning and then an early-morning as a sun rose over the horizon. Great memories.
Another year, probably around 1962, 30 of us went as ” The Pillâ€. It must have been the time when the contraceptive pill was making headlines. A large number of our party comprised the typical Victorian family, all in splendid costume. The children in sailor suits, both boys and girls, some with hoops, under the beady eye of a well-dressed stern looking nanny. This group contrasted with, and was followed by, the modern family, two badly dressed parents with one baby in a pram (which was me). The whole parade being led by one of our members dressed in a six-foot diameter pill costume. My attire on this occasion was, predictably, a large nappy, made from a full-size bath towel (I think I must have put on a little weight by then) a knitted bonnet with blue ribbons, some matching bootees and a dummy made from a piece of cardboard and a half inflated balloon. I really was a sight for sore eyes.
I cannot remember whether we won a prize in that particular year but what I do recall was an incident on the way home, something like 6 a.m. on the morning. I was driving the car down Maalla straight and we came across a group of seriously inebriated Scottish soldiers who was stoning a taxi driver who was crouching behind his cab in an attempt to avoid the rocks which were being hurled at him. I had no idea what the altercation was about but it was quite clear that had I not intervened there was a severe danger that these young men were going to do something about which they would have been eternally sorry. I jammed on my brakes and leapt out of the car in all my glory, nappy, bonnet, bootees and all and shouted, in my best military voice “what on earth is going on here”. The voice alone, thank goodness, seemed to do the trick and the soldiers suddenly looked shamefaced and put down their rocks.
I then said that they would all be on parade the following morning and sent them packing. Thank goodness, in my disguise, they had no idea who I was and clearly mistook me for one of their commanding officers, or at least some sort of officer.
What I would have done had they decided to mete out the same treatment to me as they were giving to the taxi driver, I know not. However, I think is rather belies the old saying, that, â€˜ clothes maketh the manâ€™.