Standing in the queue at Tower Pier on New Year’s Eve waiting to be marshalled onto a Thames cruiser and listening to the chatter all around me, I realised that many people had travelled from all corners of the world to listen to Big Ben chime midnight and watch the subsequent pyrotechnic display erupting from the London Eye. In front, two Japanese girls shivered in the evening chill, and behind me a German father attempted to interest his bored-looking teenage son with a potted history of the Tower of London. Further back in the queue a group of either Swedish or Norwegian girls sang and jumped about to keep warm.
On to the boats we all shuffled, picking up a goody bag on the way. I could not help but make quiet sheep-like noises. Security was tight. Everybody scrambled for a window seat; but of course the youngest and fittest made it there first. Sam and I, being the hardy souls that we are, elected to sit outside straight away, as it’s always good to obtain photos that are not showing the illuminated lavatory sign reflected in the glass!
We cruised along the Thames, raising our arms to nameless bodies saluting us from the Embankment or hanging over the Southwark and Waterloo Bridges, and to dark silhouettes waving from a myriad of pleasure boats all drifting up towards Westminster. I am sure 2016 has been a record year regarding the amount of boats all jostling for position. The river police were out in force.
The announcer on the Embankment began his countdown at ten seconds to midnight, and of course it would have been rude not to join in. Fireworks began at the stroke of 12 o’clock, and my London exploded into a riot of colour and noise. The cumulative effect of crowds cheering, Big Ben’s sonorous chimes, and the foghorns on the river always cause my eyes to fill with tears. The foghorns remind me of being a young child in the East End in the 1960’s, and being woken up at midnight every New Year’s Eve.
Upwards of 150,000 people came together for just that 20 or so minutes of the firework display to create the joyous atmosphere that keeps Sam and I returning year after year. Okay, so my knees won’t let me stand on the Embankment for five hours anymore, but hey, being on a Thames pleasure cruiser is even better! There’s no security guard standing right in front of you and blocking your view, you get to sit down for the majority of the evening, and there’s even a toilet on board the boat with an illuminated sign that shows in everybody’s photos who are too cold to venture outside.
London, I was proud of you last night.