You may, one New Year, be tempted to come to London to see the midnight fireworks. Don't bother. However much Mayor Ken may trumpet the excellence of the spectacle, however much Visit London may plead with you to attend, don't waste your time. Stay at home, party with friends and watch it all on the telly instead. Because that was the biggest pile of pants I've ever not seen.
Q. What time should I arrive for the fireworks? Experience in previous years suggests that you be at your chosen vantage point by 23:00, to avoid any last-minute rush. Note that Westminster tube station will close at 21:00, so don't leave it until the last minute, as you may be disappointed. Other nearby stations may close temporarily if they become overcrowded.
If I can get to Temple station by 22:30, I thought, that should work nicely. But no. I was forced to abandon my train at Blackfriars, along with a platform-full of drunken revellers, because the three subsequent stations were closed due to overcrowding. It took ages to escape from the platform, and then I had to negotiate the madding crowds on the Embankment. This was not easy, not least because several idiots had chosen to bring pushchairs to the event and were trying to shove their sleeping offspring through the barely penetrable throng. Never mind, it wasn't quite 11pm and I was closing fast on Waterloo Bridge.
As I watched, a temporary metal gate beneath the bridge suddenly clanged shut, blocking access to the remainder of the Embankment. The good half of the Embankment, immediately opposite the Eye, was now inaccessible. "Sorry, we're not letting anybody through any more," growled a security guard. "Not until the event is over. But there's still a decent view of the fireworks back the way you've just come. Anywhere between here and Blackfriars should do." So I turned round and headed back through a mob of people still pushing forwards, unaware that the road ahead had been closed off. There were no re-direction signs, no public announcements, no clues that they were completely wasting their time. It was like watching lab rats scurrying blindly towards an experimental dead end.
I took up position just along from Temple station, close to the river's edge. I knew that this would be a good place to watch the fireworks because the London Eye was clearly visible, and the spot was marked as an official viewing area on my official map in my official leaflet. Great, there was now 'only' an hour to wait. It turned out to be quite a wet hour, and I was worried that my view might be obscured by umbrellas wielded by wimpy boys with gelled hair. Thankfully the deluge stopped with minutes to spare. I was also stuck directly behind several 6-foot-plus blokes, one of whom had the temerity to wear a woolly hat with a floppy bit on top (a bit like the teat on the tip of a condom) which blocked my view even further. Still, at least I had a better view than the ten rows of people behind me, including the Polish youth jamming his rucksack into my side as he attempted to steady his video camera in readiness for the imminent extravaganza. Eagerly the crowd counted down the final 60 seconds of 2007.
Bong! Boom! The first fireworks of 2008 exploded from the rim of the London Eye. Oooh! Aaah! Hmmm!?! Where had the fireworks gone? A cloud of billowing black smoke had rapidly obscured our view, so utterly and so completely that only the sound of distant explosions told us that the display was still continuing. It was a bit like being in London during the Blitz - all smoke and bangs and blackout. The impenetrable darkness continued, minute after agonising minute, with only the occasional high-flying rocket trail visible above the glowing cloud. The crowd and I stood unmoved in muted disappointment. Even the Polish guy stopped filming after the first five minutes. Were we really going to see absolutely nothing at all? All that hassle to get here, all that standing around, and all for eleven minutes of invisibility. The organisers had forgotten to mention one very important additional key fact - never stand downwind of a firework display.
Bollocks. The hundred thousand of us standing on Waterloo Bridge or on the eastern half of the Embankment had a good view of the London Eye yet saw virtually no fireworks whatsoever. We'd been herded by officialdom into a viewing space which turned out to be worse than useless. Our journey to central London had been a complete waste of time, money and energy. We saw nothing. And to top off a miserable night we still had to face the nightmare journey home, creeping slowly along packed streets trying in vain to find a sideroad up which the police might eventually allow us to escape. No fun. No fun at all.
Best Fireworks In London The event, organised by the Mayor of London and Visit London, promises to be one of the best fireworks displays in Europe.
I think not. Not from where we were standing anyway. I only discovered what I'd missed when I got home and watched the whole smoky event on video (and, even then, I've seen better). So please, don't bother coming to London to see the 2009 fireworks next year. Celebrate well away from the centre of the capital, and spend your money somewhere more welcoming instead. And then, just maybe, there'll be room for me to squeeze into the proper viewing area in your place...
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.