diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Would you like to see the fireworks in London tonight? Well you can't, so bugger off and watch them at home.

That's the New Year message being heavily pushed by the mayor, the police and TfL today, in an attempt to make sure you don't come into town thinking there'll be something to see. There won't, the authorities have been very careful to ensure this, not unless you've got a ticket. And there are only 100,000 of these, and they've all sold out, so sod off.
"Central London is very crowded on New Year's Eve. We would strongly discourage anyone without a ticket from travelling to the area of central London where the fireworks display is taking place on New Year’s Eve."
The problem is that the New Year fireworks at the London Eye have become a victim of their own success. When first introduced in 2003, only a hundred thousand people turned up and the display was only a few minutes long. The following year spectator numbers increased by 50%, with the pyrotechnic spectacle upped in line with London's bid for hosting the Olympics. Before long the event was so popular that gates were erected to ensure that crowds on the Embankment didn't reach crushable proportions, and people were having to turn up at stupid o'clock simply to bag a space. Last New Year's Eve around half a million people turned up, most of whom ended up in the backstreets, hence the need for this year's reboot and attendance figures reduced to 2003 levels.

Tickets for the 2015 fireworks went on sale in September for £10 each, providing a total income of one million pounds. The money's solely to cover the costs of policing and security, we're told, plus the expense of dispensing and checking tickets at the various entrance points. Revellers will be expected to show ID before gaining entry, which could be seen as a simple way to limit resale by touts or alternatively as a despicable invasion of privacy. Back in the day this million quid would have been found from local taxation, but this year's display has shifted to the philosophy of 'user pays' and the rest of us are no longer wanted.

A huge amount of effort is being made to ensure the smooth running of London's New Year fireworks. They're a crucial part of the capital's global branding - maximum exposure for minimum outlay - and chaos on the Embankment isn't what worldwide audiences want to see. Roads closest to the river are being closed to traffic from 2pm, as in previous years, with an exclusion zone running all the way from Buckingham Palace to Blackfriars. By eight there'll be no traffic allowed anywhere from Vauxhall Bridge to Holborn, in part to give crowds somewhere to disperse, but also so that rowdy drunks can vomit safely once the West End's New Year celebrations are underway. And pedestrians in the riverside zones without tickets will be asked to leave before the proper punters turn up, at their designated times, as what used to be casual fun becomes rather more serious.
"If you arrive after your entry period you will not be able to access the event, even if you have a ticket. Although the arrival times may seem early, they have been set to ensure that the running of the event is smooth and to ensure attendees have the best event experience possible."
Although a riverside bend provides an excellent viewing area for the few, a wall of buildings almost completely obscures the spectacle from further back. That's bad news for anyone who turns up on spec, of whom there'll be rather more this year now that audience numbers in the approved area are restricted. Stand in the Strand and you'll see nothing, stand in Trafalgar Square and you'll see nothing but high level flashes - there are no big screens for the masses this year. And you know that area at the east end of St James's Park from which the London Eye pokes up fairly obviously above Horseguards? Don't get any ideas about standing there, they're closing that off from 4pm too, because the unpaid must not be allowed to congregate and watch the show.

Other public viewpoints are of course available, assuming you don't mind the fireworks looking rather small. But be warned that they may also be a lot busier than in previous years as thousands of people displaced from the Thames venture forth for an alternative view. I'm particularly concerned about Primrose Hill - half-empty in 2009 but last year packed, despite the rain - and I fear this may be the New Year its slopes are finally overrun. There's also Parliament Hill, although only a thin sliver has a decent view, or The Point in Greenwich, if you get there early enough, or... well, nowhere holds a candle to the Embankment, to be frank, and you're not going there.

You could easily have gone. Not all of the tickets were sold in one go, some were held back for dripfed release during the days before Christmas, and it really wouldn't have been difficult to get your hands on one. But that would have involved forward planning, none of this waking up on December 31st and thinking "Hey, where shall we go tonight, tell you what why don't we wander down to the Thames to watch the show?" And if you didn't plan ahead, so have no overpriced pub or club in which to celebrate, nor any friend's party to raise a glass to 2015, then you have only yourself to blame.

So what else to do? The Mayor recommends "you can always enjoy the best seat in the house for free by watching the event live on BBC1", and he's probably right. That way you get to watch everything in the warm near a plentiful supply of alcohol, plus there are aerial shots and audible bongs, plus there's no need to hang around for hours beforehand nor to walk a mile afterwards to find a relocated bus hub or functioning tube station. You'll be watching a few seconds behind the revellers on the Embankment, thanks to digital delay, but so will the rest of the country, and they'll probably be too tipsy to notice. So here's to 2015, wherever you end up, in a capital city that's increasingly not for you, so get used to it.

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