Tuesday, 1 January 2013

New Year's Eve.

She's sitting on the tube looking glam, a young woman in her twenties: glossy lipstick, hair up, heels high enough to rival The Shard, which we later glimpse through midnight firework-fog as we stand outside Somerset House on the north side of the Thames. Somehow she represents all that the night aims to be.

And, I suppose, this is also when we have our first taste of what the evening has in store for us, as we head north into town on the train and a group of revellers, exuberant Hooray Henry types, (remember them?) drunkenly do the conga along the carriage, their Union Jack billowing behind them, calling: “Mary Jane! This way!” Making so much noise that the glamorous young woman looks up briefly from fiddling with her iPhone to watch.

And so to the next morning, today, New Year’s Day, when I wake to glorious sunshine with a bruise on my bum, a hatred for all humanity and the almost certain knowledge that the woman on the train did not finish the night looking quite as she began it - much like London. 

Well, maybe that last bit is too strong. I don't hate all humanity and I'm speculating wildly about the woman, but what happened to London and the bruise on my bum are true enough; for as well as a damaged rear, I now have eyes that have been well and truly opened. Possibly forever. 

You see this New Year's Eve, instead of sedately playing charades with a convivial group of other middle-aged couples in our front room after a hearty buffet meal in the kitchen, as our combined gang of offspring roam the house and wade through our DVD selection, as we usually do, we ventured into London. And boy, was it an education.

There are people out there. Loads of them. More than you can possibly imagine. Crowds as big as oceans, all making an enormous mess. 

How did this happen? So many of us. Where do we all come from? How can it possibly be sustained? How do we all feed ourselves and clothe ourselves and get enough to eat and drink? It's not possible. It's all held together by a thread, which could unravel at any moment.

It's obvious, we should not be living in a terrace house in south London, wholly reliant on a myriad of services to keep us alive. We should buy a smallholding in Wales, grow crops and have chickens - and we should do it quick, before Armageddon sets in, which is surely very soon, possibly even now: New Year’s Eve 2012.

These were my thoughts anyway, as we were borne along at a speed not of our own making, on a tide of humanity's effluence on Waterloo Bridge, after the fireworks, our knees kicking against an unimaginable sea of litter. 

It's possible, I suppose, looking back, that these thoughts were brought on by the palpable sense that we were actually performing unwittingly as extras in a Will Smith doomsday disaster movie - but here I’m jumping ahead.

We weren’t venturing alone into town on the tube, we were with another family, and we didn’t go to join the melee in Trafalgar Square, or down on the South Bank, willy-nilly. Oh no, we had a plan, more crucially, we had tickets, to skate at Somerset House between 10.30 and 11.30 pm, after which we would be given champagne and allowed to stand on the riverside terrace to watch the fireworks at midnight away from all the riff raff.

“But how will we get back?” asked Husband, the day before, anxiously perusing the Transport for London website. “It says here expect to wait up to 90 minutes to get on the tube. The place will be mobbed. We will have five children with us.” 

Problem. Finding yourself cast adrift in central London on New Year’s Eve as a fully-grown adult is one thing, but some in our party would be only ten years-old, and quite small with it… 

So I formed a plan - for Husband to execute. He would drive car as near to traffic-free zone as possible in the afternoon, somewhere south of Waterloo bridge, leave it there for us to walk back to after midnight. He could put beloved bike in back and cycle home. 

It sort of worked, except that Husband decided not to take the bike because it was raining hard as nails, and he could not get very close to Waterloo bridge, only near the Imperial War Museum, and the whole operation took an hour and a half because he had to drive round and round waiting for a space to come up. 

Upon arrival in town we kicked off with a delicious meal at our favourite haunt in China Town, then moseyed over to Somerset House... and that was our second taste of it: the ebb and flow, the loud, and at that point quite convivial, crowd: men, women, children, tourists, Londoners, a pick and mix of life for us to pick our way through.

And because it was such a balmy evening (at this point only meteorologically speaking), even those not on the move were outdoors on pavements in their shirt-sleeves and mini-dresses, lending the whole affair an unexpected continental air. So far so good. But then as we turned down Wellington Street, heading towards the Strand, that’s when we saw IT for the first time, or rather, them. People. A huge number of them.

Just what precisely is it about a crowd, especially at night, that appears so alarming? Is it that we are instinctively afraid of stampede? Is it the peril of the mob? Do we fear we might become lost among them? We are, after all, part of it, at any moment at risk of being seamlessly absorbed into the mass...

The skating was good. A different crowd from usual, and fewer of them, possibly owing to the time and the exorbitant price of the ticket, and comprising quite a few floppy-haired young men - you know the type, scarves tied rather too carefully around the neck, jersey tops from Hollister. Hooray Hollisters, I suppose. 

Anyway, it was one of these who crashed into me from behind, sending me flying on to my arse, hence the bruise, and I pride myself on absolutely NEVER falling on the ice, it's a point of honour. So it was a double blow: pride and bottom.

After the champagne and all that London beauty to ogle at, Somerset house and the river at night, the fireworks (short and sweet), we started our long trek car-wards and it was then that I began to despise all humanity and ruminate on the sustainability of human life as we know it. 

“I don’t think I like London,” said Youngest, as we picked our way between pools of vomit and broken glass. So saying he encapsulated my thoughts out loud, as the young are wont to do. We were passing a young boy being arrested at the time, as yet another group of menacing, motionless young males looked on.

There was cheer in the crowd as well, of course, I don't want to paint it all black, and the view from Waterloo Bridge was spectacular, but the odd instruction to have a “Happy New Year!” mostly came from people so drunk they could not be relied upon to operate legs attached to their own bodies, let alone know what year it now was. 

And so, eventually, we made it to the car, parked near the Imperial War Museum, through the dirt and the throng, some of it benign, a lot of it vaguely threatening, most of it shockingly drunk, and at last to bed at some ungodly hour - two o'clock in the morning, I think.

London, like the glamorous young woman on the tube, had started so well: looking her best, full of promise, and ended rather the worse for wear: her make-up smeared across her pretty face, her clothes dishevelled, in need of a jolly good wash and scrub up before facing the harsh, unflinching sunlight of New Year's Morning, 2013.

The cleaning up begins



  1. That sort of chaos is absolutely normal in Britain and has been for the past 30 years, just on a bigger scale on NYE in London.

    Don't move to Wales, 5p per plastic bag is a nuisance, Cornwall is milder and grass grows all year round there. Hope to try the Chinese joint some time, Imperial China I take it.

  2. Yes, come with us for a Chinese next time you're in London! x