As soon as we settled in, stopped fighting and began to relax, Christmas was over. What is the deal with that!! Typical. Before we left London though, we had one last thing to do. I’d bought firework tickets for New Year’s Eve, back in November. They were for the last available area; across the Thames and just down the Embankment towards Temple.
‘Come on guys, we don’t want to be late.’ 7pm: extra socks, gloves and flask of tea.. in order to get a good viewing spot, we were going to need to get to the Embankment early.
‘We’ll be watching the Polish fireworks an hour earlier than the UK,’ my mum announced.
I nodded. Like we didn’t know. Ever since that Polish TV box had been installed, it was on. Wait, except for Grease, the movie. My grandmother had started watching it dubbed in Polish. Half-an-hour later she left the room.
‘American rubbish,’ she muttered.
The girls on the other hand, had got into the songs and were dancing around… so much that I found Grease on Sky and re-played it in English. Then Wanda came back into the living room and watched it with them.
‘This is really good,’ she said.
Huh? ‘You didn’t want to watch this five minutes ago,’ my mum pointed out, all reef-patrol.
Wanda smiled sweetly ‘The movie is much better in American.’
So Grease in American, but the news was still firmly rooted in Polish. This translated into a permanent panel of smartly-dressed men talking over each other in loud voices across a glass table. Arguing Polish men? A cultural eye-opener.
And London was too. At Blackfriars station, 9:30pm, we discovered a crowd of people from all over the world. Because everyone knows that real Londoners watch the fireworks on TV at home.
There were three ticket checks before the Embankment. Tons of security guards and police. The road had been blocked at every possible entrance so that only firework ticket holders were allowed in. It was pretty impressive stuff. Central London had been well prepared and many of her streets shut down.
We walked down the Embankment until we could walk no further. The crowds were becoming thicker than rope.
Delphine looked up. ‘How long to wait?’
Jack checked the phone. ‘Only two hours.’
Her face sank. ‘Oh.’
We found a little space to huddle. It was the last piece of central reservation in the road that hadn’t been taken. A sudden hot piece of real estate. At this point, we realised the trickery employed by people who’d been before. Little fishing chairs, even blankets to lie on.
‘It’s ok,’ I enthused, ‘I brought a flask.’
Not the reaction I was expecting. Eventually the scarves came off our necks and formed a little cold barrier between the pavement and our rectums. We took turns sitting on it. Except for Jack.
‘I don’t want to get piles,’ he maintained.
‘We have an hour-and-a-half to wait,’ Lulu pointed out.
He shook himself and did a little Rocky Balboa dance. ‘I’m good.’
This was the same man whose main position at home is lying on the sofa and saying, ‘Rub my feet.’ Go figure.
Midnight ticked towards us. Was the wait worth it? Hmmm. The pile cream was on mental order. The fireworks were magnificent though. Ten minutes of visual machine gunning. Not much can beat expensive firework displays for pure spectacle.
The second after they finished, Delphine turned to us with relief plastered over her face. ‘Can we go home now?’
We made our way with 200,000 other people to the tube station. It became gridlock midway towards Embankment station. We were penned in on one side by a metal railing. Buildings on the other. An awesome-looking little restaurant called Herman the German was doing a roaring trade. I stood on my tiptoes. The tube station door was being pulled shut.
A security guard stopped. ‘Tube’s shut,’ he said. ‘Train broken down on the line.’
The crowd around us swelled like a rising whale.
‘How much longer before they re-open the line?’ Jack asked.
The security guard shrugged. ‘Just stay tight.’
The girls swayed on their feet. 1am to 1:30. Hitting the 2am mark. With the security guards walking up and down, the crowd got twitchy. You could feel it pass as a wave of sweat. All someone had to do was panic and it would be mayhem. From my position I could see the security guard fiddling with the railing connection. An escape route. I could tell him that Delphine wasn’t feeling so steady on her feet. Ha! That was it. Use the blue-badge card.
Jack fixed me with a stare. ‘Hold on,’ he said.
I gulped a deep breath and did a three-sixty. Two small children were standing behind us. The little girl had fairy dust sprinkled through her hair. A woman held a baby three people away in a furry papoose. A family of four smiled at each other. There was no crying, shouting or even the slightest grumble. Happy New Year everyone.