I can’t now remember who had the bright idea that we would go and look at the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but we were visiting my parents in south east London and it seemed like it ought to be done. We left their home in time to catch the 7.42 to Charing Cross. The train was packed and we got only one seat. At Charing Cross itself, the fact that there were barricades everywhere – not to mention police - should probably have warned us of the evening to come… We set off round the corner into Whitehall heading for Westminster Bridge and the river. Various lighted signs warned us that, once full, access to the river watching places would be closed. As we went through the narrowed (barricaded) entrance to the road beside the Houses of Parliament and leading to the bridge we found ourselves funneled into single file, holding hands, desperately trying to keep together. No more than fifty yards from where we’d entered we decided to retreat: it was too crowded and there didn’t seem much chance of actually reaching the river and the view. We had been advised that if we could see the London Eye we’d see the fireworks, and that meant getting to the river. Walking back up Whitehall we stopped just beyond the Cenotaph with our backs to a barricade and, looking between two buildings, a perfect view of the Eye lit up like a Christmas tree. It was 8.45. We were packed together with little wriggle room and a line of mounted police to our right directing people around the back of the barricades, though this didn’t stop a seemingly endless stream of people pushing passed us hoping for a better spot. We played a half-hearted game of I Spy but otherwise amused ourselves by people watching. There was a DJ from ten, but we couldn’t hear that. The evening was interspersed with the excitement of everyone putting hoods and umbrellas up because we were being rained on. Three hours later the muttering about whether it was going to be worth the wait had gone as the crowd was getting excited and the Eye lights were getting more varied and changing more frequently. At 11.50 the family next to us popped a cork: their eldest was about to be 21. We could just about hear the music now.
If you’ve been to a major firework display, or saw New Year ones on the TV, you may be able to imagine just how spectacular the 15 minutes of fireworks were! The noise was immense and the sheer size of the display was staggering. We were entranced! I have written before about enjoying the moment at the time of the moment. A surprising number of the people around us were filming the display on their mobiles which meant concentrating on holding the camera pointing at the sky: mad!
We agreed that the fireworks had been well worth the wait.
Walking back up Whitehall we found ourselves stopped by mounted police while they ‘emptied’ Trafalgar Square. We were eventually released to walk around the corner only to find that the entrance to Charing Cross was blocked off and we were being directed to a street entrance further down the Strand. The drunken crowd were getting bad tempered about missing the last train (at 1.30am) so we decided to see if we could get on a tube to Waterloo East or London Bridge. Well, of course, the queue for Leicester Square tube was ten deep and a hundred yards long… Ok, we’d head for Victoria.
The streets were heaving with people: cars were diverted all around the area. There were only four trains left on the board at Victoria, and none of them were going our way. We studied the bus timetable and headed back outside to join a queue for the bus to Lewisham station. No chance of the bus making rapid progress, not even once we were south of the Thames. It was clearly the rush hour whatever the actual time. At Lewisham we looked for a bus to Eltham: there would be one in 25 minutes and it would take 12 minutes to get to the High Street… we grabbed a taxi from outside the station and let ourselves in the front door of my parents home at 3.45am.
It was the soberest New Year’s Eve Husband and I can remember in recent times. It was the latest to bed too. The wait or the journey home was probably worth the fireworks: but not both. It was however an adventure! And, despite not getting a T-shirt, we don’t feel we need to do it again!