in the summer of 2000 when the London Eye was brand new on the South Bank, I went with a friend to take a ride. I can’t believe it’s that long ago! I was days away from moving to the States, met with friends, strolled through London, did my last errands in preparation. My brother visited me a few weeks before, although the London Eye wasn’t on my “map” at the time and I showed him around London to the typical “old” London sites. The only high-rise building then was the NatWest Tower in the city and the highest was the Canary Wharf Tower in the Docklands in East London where I first lived when I came to London. (London’s Skyline throughout the years.)
When I went with my friend to take a ride, the price was £8 which of course now is over £20, close to £30 I guess. But when I purchased the ticket, a former colleague of mine was sitting in the ticket booth and gave us a complimentary ride! So, my first and last ride was for free. I must say that at that time I was not too impressed with the view, but I think now since a few years the view has immensely changed due to the new high rise buildings in London.
I never imagined that the London Eye would become the focal point of the New Year’s Eve fireworks display. The first time I saw it live on Lambeth Bridge was after I returned from the States in 2006. I’d see the fireworks by the river since then every year until 2014 with one exception in 2011 or 2012. I saw it from different views, often on Lambeth Bridge with friends, one time even from directly opposite the Wheel on the other side of the river, other times from behind the wheel. But I would not recommend to be that close directly opposite as most I saw was just smoke and overwhelming bright flashing of white light. I would have needed sun glasses to see properly and not get blinded and smoked in. Things really do look much prettier from afar sometimes! That said, it still was an amazing experience, if not just for the atmosphere with friends and strangers alike.
London Eye where are you?
Since January 2015 with all that happened and all the trauma and nightmare, I never saw the fireworks live up close again, partly also because over the years it has become too crowded, and since a few years they charge tickets to control the crowds as well as getting funds in as they blow millions of tax-payers money into the air. I used to be ambivalent about the fireworks and the money that could be used for other projects. But in a rare occasion I since take the same approach as most people, that life is short, let’s just enjoy something as gigantic as this display of colour, sound and energy, uniting friends and strangers for a few hours and minutes.
I have found that the best view is from a screen or my balcony where I can see a good portion of the Eye and fireworks. In 2006, 2007 etc. it was still very easy to leave with friends from a party close by Lambeth Bridge 20 or even 15 minutes before midnight and still get a good spot on the bridge without being squeezed. And it was free to watch up close without any fencing and boarding off the view! But since these last few years, if you don’t go to a certain spot HOURS before after having purchased a ticket, you have no chance for a reasonable space anywhere. Plus they fence off certain spots with high wooden boards so that those who don’t have a ticket have their view blocked.
The only thing I am not keen on with the fireworks is that they put music in the background since a few years now. The idea is to use only music by British artists, which makes sense, although this year they seem to have chosen a mix of international artists as a statement with Brexit at the door. But in the early years of the fireworks there was no music and you could just enjoy the pure display of light and sound which I always called the “Big Bang” at the Big Ben.
Like with most things, everything becomes commercial. When I worked in the city until 3 or 4pm on New Year’s eve, I had to rush to get over the river to the south side where I live, as they started to close down streets and bridges in preparation for the crowds. If you missed it you were stuck on the north side and had to take the cramped underground home. But I always try to avoid having to take the Tube and either walk or take the bus, anything to stay over ground.
The last time I saw the fireworks by the river was from behind it in 2014 into 2015. I didn’t pay much attention that I didn’t receive a text message from my brother as this was not unusual. Sometimes on New Year’s Eve he would text me to wish me a happy new year as Germany is 1 hour ahead of England. Other times I would text him when he was at a party having forgotten to text. Other times we both didn’t text or in the early years of mobile phone where we’d call for a minute. And oddly enough the only text message I still have was his reply in early January 2013 to wish me a happy new year. I always deleted text messages from everyone and regret that now. But this one text I still have.
I watched the fireworks for the last time live up close on 31. Dec. 2014 not knowing my brother has died weeks prior. It didn’t worry me that there was no message from him as this was always random over the years. In January 2013 he even replied to my New Year’s greeting a few days after 1st January. Other times he texted on the dot of 12 midnight. Other times not at all. We were never very traditional in our family and communication was completely free of expectations. But I did sent my brother and friends the YouTube link to the fireworks on 01. January every year. He loved fireworks, and in Germany people do their own on the streets at midnight, and my brother was always the first and last to blow up rockets fearlessly!
Would I want tradition now? I don’t know. A certain consistency and predictability is always good I think. But my focus now is just taking one day at a time and always know that life can change in a second.
I just enjoy the fireworks from afar on a screen and from my balcony.
Happy New Year to everyone, where ever you are. May this year be kind to you, and if life hits from all directions or an unexpected angle, may you find solid footing to have strength and eventually peace.
01.01.2019 London Fireworks
Plus, a little beautiful behind the scenes look at the logistics and preps for the fireworks. Fascinating how detailed and precise planning of many brilliant minds can make something like this happen:
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