Are you prepared for transport lockdown in central London during the evening rush hour next week?
Or let me put that another way.
How do you fancy brightening up midwinter with thirty giant illuminations as part of a free four-day festival of light?
It's called Lumiere, and it hits the centre of town after dark between Thursday 14th and Sunday 17th January. The event started out in Durham in 2009, where it's become a biennial treat, and has also been to Derry as part of the last UK City of Culture celebrations. Lumiere is now set to be one of the biggest events in London this year, and it's probably about time you knew all about it.
The idea is very simple. Several dazzling lightworks will be appearing across key parts of town over four consecutive evenings, and we're all invited to come along and take a look. The installations range from neon dogs to floating fish, and from giant plant sculptures to full-on front projection. Realtime data will be used to choreograph LED waves, a telephone box will be filled with swimming digital fish, and 13 projected dots will represent the active human form. These artworks are going to start appearing in your social media timeline from 6.30pm next Thursday, so why not be the one sending images to your friends rather than the other way round?
Away from the West End there's King's Cross, whose development arm are using Lumiere to try to prove they're up there with the big guys. They have more lightworks than anywhere else, and hope that thousands will turn up to discover a new part of London and then hang around and spend some money. Indeed the festival is very much a tourist-driven event, aiming to attract visitors to our capital on what would otherwise be an utterly dead weekend in mid-January by creating a Global Destination to sell empty hotel bedrooms and unoccupied restaurant seats. Hell why not, and if that means those of us who live here get to enjoy an amazing free spectacle during peak SAD season, all the better.
If you're intending to explore, the organisers have provided a website with further details of each of the 30 installations. Each appears on its own separate page with a location map, along with peculiar promoted tourist recommendations for nearby venues, many of which aren't open in the evening. The website also recommends you download an app, which turns out to be the official Visit London app, which while potentially useful for tourists has bugger all information regarding the festival. Indeed I searched within the app for Lumiere but all I got were results for a cafe in Hackney and a cinema in Kensington, so please don't waste your time. Instead what you really need is the official map, a limited number of which will be given away to visitors next week, or which you can download here.
Which brings me back to transport chaos. TfL have produced a dedicated page of travel advice which they yet haven't widely publicised, but ought to do soon because it contains shockers like this:
Driving: Closed roads in the West End will affect traffic across central London. If you can, travel before 16:30 and avoid central London after this time, especially on Thursday 14 and Friday 15 January 2016. Buses: On the event days, if you can, travel before 16:00 on the event days to avoid the road closures in the West End. Tube: If you can, travel before 17:00 or after 20:00 on Thursday 14 January 2016 and Friday 15 January 2016 to avoid the event crowds.
We've not seen full-scale weekday travel advice like this since the Olympics, with very large crowds expected and several major road closures in force. Almost half a mile of Oxford Street will be pedestrianised between 4.30pm and 11.30pm on each of the four days, as will the eastern end of Piccadilly and almost all of Regent Street. That's brilliant for those hoping to explore the area on foot, which is the festival's intention, but bad news for anyone attempting to travel home by road or find a taxi. Just look how widely TfL's zone of hell spreads out.
A total of 25 bus routes are being diverted or terminated early - details here - while Oxford Circus is the tube station passengers are being strongly urged to avoid. In what's almost certainly a first (and a good idea I suspect we'll be seeing more of), TfL are using their tube walking map to show which lines will be most affected, and how long it might take to walk between stations overground instead. On a less fortuitous note, the Jubilee line through central London will be closed throughout this particular weekend. It's the first time any Night Tube line has had weekend engineering work since the overnight service was supposed to have been launched in September, and alas it's going to make dispersing the Lumiere crowds that much harder.
But don't let any of that put you off coming, it's time to plan which night you might be heading down. Come on Thursday evening and you might be ahead of the crowds, or come at the weekend and bring the family, or come on Friday and revel in being able to stroll down key West End Streets during the evening rush hour. For four days only the heart of London is going to be given back to the people, with a world class free lightshow thrown in for good measure. What on earth else did you have planned for the second week in January anyway?