I had always watched the New Year celebrations on the television – as a youngster, at home; and later, at the pub! – and always wanted to be under Big Ben when he chimed the New Year in. Finally, I decided to actually get on and do it in 2011-12; it was particularly convenient since New Year’s Eve was a Saturday and I would not need to take the day off work. It also turned out to be a good one weather-wise, being one of the mildest days you could wish for at this time of year.
Arrival in London
In the end, as I would be staying with a friend in Lee Green, SE12, I travelled up on the Friday evening, although it did look as if the weather would not be so kind after all as I made my journey!
Daytime on New Year’s Eve
This meant that I was already in London when I woke up on 31 December, so we ventured into the city for 2ish, just to gauge how busy things were getting.
We found out that the roads were not going to be closed until 5pm, so we decided to have a quick look around the sales in Oxford Street to while away the couple of hours that we had.
This would turn out to be a mistake because it definitely contributed to our feeling of utter exhaustion when we finally arrived home in the small hours.
Arriving at the viewing area
Returning to Westminster at quarter to five, there were plenty of people milling around – there was no space along the parapet of the bridge itself – but the roads were only just about to close, so we took a few pictures …
… and retired to a nearby pub before returning at just after 6.
The road was closed by this point and people walked freely across the carriageways usually so busy with traffic of the motorised kind. We easily found a spot literally only a few yards into Victoria Embankment from Westminster Bridge and decided that we might as well stay put there. In the hour or so that followed, the area would steadily fill.
We were still over 5 hours away from the big moment, but we soon befriended a couple who set up camp on the tarmac alongside us and the hours slowly passed. At about 8:30 I needed to use one of the many portable toilets which had been put up in Bridge Street. It was easy enough getting to the queue and it was quickly my turn, but by the time I came back out, the crowd had thickened considerably and it would take the best part of 45 minutes to be reunited with my patch of tarmac. At one point, I was squeezed so tightly among people that when the man in front of me spoke I felt the vibrations of his voice-box on my chest. A text message came through on my mobile but it was impossible to get it from my pocket, let alone hold it out to read. And then it rained!
Fortunately the rain, although fairly heavy, was shortlived and the last hour and a half of 2011 was dry. The presence of the Radio 1 broadcast helped to get people into the party spirit and the time started to fly rather than drag.
The big moment
The actual climax, of course, came at midnight when loud cheers and the 10-second countdown almost entirely drowned out the chimes of Big Ben.
The twenty minutes that followed can only be described as spectacular, with a magnificent fireworks display, emanating from the London Eye and seen on television screens all around the nation, to which a selection of seven photos can hardly do justice!
The journey home
The camera’s memory card was 99% full but I did take a few photos of the aftermath. We knew there were trains to Lee until 1:30am from Charing Cross so that seemed the logical place to head for.
However, it soon became clear that the crowd was so dense we would not be on one of them! We finally made it past Charing Cross and, as well as a full memory card, a depleting energy bank and diminishing sense of humour were apparent as we slogged to various underground stations – Leicester Square, Covent Garden and, finally, Holborn – with heavy feet and light everything else.
Holborn was also a potential place to catch a bus – or a taxi; we would gladly have jumped in one and never mind the cost! – because the roads hereabouts had remained open. But there wasn’t a cab to be seen and we were advised to head for Waterloo for buses to south-of-the-river destinations. So one final hike along Aldwych and Waterloo Bridge and, rather than seek out a bus, we followed throngs of people down to the Jubilee Line where the screens told us that two successive trains were about to arrive. It was 3.01. We didn’t fight to get on the jam-packed first and the second was far less crowded. We did have a sweltering 10-minute wait while a ‘passenger disagreement’ on the earlier train prevented us from arriving at London Bridge, but we soon found ourselves at North Greenwich and headed for the taxi queue, which lengthened steadily immediately after we’d joined it as the O₂was just chucking out.
We were handed one final misfortune – the taxi ascended the slip-road onto the A102 whereupon we were faced with a serious collision, closing the road entirely, leaving us with nothing to do but watch as the meter went up and up! We finally got to my friend’s house at the stroke of 4:30 and I reckon we were in bed, zonked, before 4:31!
A fantastic atmosphere and well worth experiencing. The crowds were good-natured and the police and transport staff, all liberally deployed, were without exception very friendly and calm and helpful. We saw no fisticuffs or potential troubles. But if you decide to go, do little during the day and arrive perhaps a little later than we did. Public transport is free from 11:45pm to about 4:30am but do not underestimate how tiring it is standing around for hours, nor how severely busy it will be and therefore how long it will take you to travel back to wherever.
I’m very glad to have done it and, having fulfilled an ambition, fairly glad not to have to do it again!