“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot,
I don’t really remember New Year’s Eve growing up, until I was old enough to babysit overnight and make a lot of money. As an adult though, I look forward to it no matter what kind of year it’s been. But this year, being away from home, we had a decision to make. A quiet night in? A club? A big party? Themed? On a boat? On land? In a pub? There are SO MANY CHOICES in this city! Which is amazing and also super overwhelming! We decided to leave it to our visiting friends, H & K, to set the tone. We figured that it was our first of two NYE’s here, so if this one was quiet, we’d go big next year. But as it turned out, we were all on board with an all-out dress up London party and that’s exactly what we did.
We bought tickets for the Riverside Rooms, located in County Hall, which was the site of England’s government for many years. It’s an iconic building, in a perfect central London location.
Ordering the tickets so far in advance had one disadvantage: months of waiting! Finally, our friends had arrived, the 31st was here. It was time! Dressed in my new champagne and black lace dress (thank you French Connection for having such a great sale on when I bought it), with my red suede heels on and my hair up, I was ready. My date was pretty spiffy too, in his black suit and matching bow tie. We made our way into the city around 6 and found the venue- which was (as the name suggests) right beside the Thames, directly behind the London Eye and overlooking the Palace of Westminster (and of course the iconic tower where Big Ben resides).
While we waited in line to check coats, drinks and canapés were brought round. What kind of canapés, you ask? The ones we tasted were: a guinea fowl ballontine, wild mushroom, truffle cream & pancetta; ras-el-hanout marinated candy floss prawn with saffron and lime yoghurt; and black sesame seed cone filled with artichoke puree, quince jelly & truffle shavings (this one sounds better than it tasted, sadly).
Coats hung, we had some time to relax in the lounge, where the atmosphere was set with purple lights, simple white furniture and glass tables against a backdrop of floor to ceiling windows facing the river. Ever the social butterfly, I was first in the room and found the one empty seat at a table with a group of strangers. T, H & K joined me, and we chatted with the people around us while we waited to move to the dining room, where we discovered that we’d surrounded ourselves with quite a multi-cultural group!
At our table, we discovered that it was truly an international event. Most of the people we met don’t actually live in London (hilariously, I think only T and I live here of the group of us!) and so we had: our friends visiting from Canada; an America couple who live in Germany; a woman from Kazikstan and her boyfriend from Thailand, who were headed to live and work in Thailand; another couple- wife from Mauritius, husband from France; a group from Australia; and a few people at the end that we didn’t chat with.
But let’s talk about what really matters: the food. We sat down to a gin and cucumber iced granite with lime and mint salsa (granite, according to wikipedia, is a Sicilian dessert, “made from sugar, water and various flavourings”).
The appetizer, it must be said, tasted better than it smelled. It was a delicate crab salad, beautifully presented and served with pickled black radish, beetroot bavarois, apple sticks, dill and fennel vinaigrette. The star of the evening was the main course: a succulent and flavourful slow-cooked daube of Hereford beef with rosemary infused dauphinoise potatoes, green beans, chantenay carrots, jerusalem artichoke puree and port jus. Dessert was a light lemon meringue tart with a fresh blackberry compote. It was food heaven.
Miraculously, I wasn’t too full for dancing. When the music started, I was ready to move. Nobody else was, but I cared not, and took to the dance floor completely by myself! A couple of ladies on the edge of the dance floor joined me, then T came up to dance and suddenly the floor filled and the party was in full swing! I can now say I’ve started a party! lol. We met some great people, including a lovely couple who was there with a group of friends- T lovingly named them our Pride of Gays- they were all fabulous and full of energy and so much fun!
My personal highlight was meeting a lovely older gentleman. Raised in England, he moved to Australia where he met his wife and had a family. She’d always wanted him to bring her to England to see where he grew up, but with a family to support and busy lives, they never got the chance. Sadly, she passed away before he could make her wish come true, and so this year, his son, daughter, and nephew brought him to England to celebrate the new year. In his wallet, he keeps a little card, with a pencil-written list of his favourite songs to sing. In the hall, he serenaded me and taught me one of the shorter songs, which we sang together as he clasped my hands and held my gaze. His son wandered by at one point, warning me that he’d talk forever if I let him. Well, I didn’t mind. He reminded me of my Grandpa Rowley, so British despite decades away from home, with a stern countenance but a warm heart, and kind eyes. I thought of what I’d give to listen to my Grandpa’s stories.
Just before midnight, we all grabbed our coats and went outside to watch the fireworks. Sadly, our view was a bit cut off by the corner of the building as we were at the back corner of County Hall, away from the river and behind the London Eye, but what we saw was still phenomenal. Thousands of fireworks came shooting out from the London Eye itself and from all around. The sky was completely alight with shimmering colour for several minutes, making for quite the midnight kiss! We stood there, staring at the sky, tuning out the crowd around us and soaking in the experience of being in the middle of London, along the Thames, part of it all, as we joined in with Auld Lang Syne. Though Robert Burns (who wrote the song in 1788) was a Scot- there was still something so perfect about singing it here in the UK (to be fair, by then, Scotland had been part of the the UK for more than 80 years, well before Burns was born). Then, it was back inside for champagne, midnight snacks and more merriment before the night wound down.
Song was the theme of our evening- we began hearty goodbyes around 1:30 am as we were all ushered out of County Hall, taking photos and hugging. We walked out with the gentleman and his family, while I sang the Canadian Anthem (because why not! ha!) and in the entryway, at the top of the stairs, I sang a bit of the aria I sang for Grammer and Jim at their wedding. It was my tribute and farewell to a remarkable man I’ll never see again- and now I can say I’ve performed for an intimate group in London’s county hall, so how’s that for a bucket list kind of a night?
As we left city hall, the goodbyes and merry-making continued. We eventually wandered back toward the main tube station, which was closed. We were sent round to another (also closed) station. We walked for some time, with T wishing EVERYONE we passed a Happy New Year, K wanting to give the police officers money to buy treats for the horses, me stopping in the road to put my nylons back on (we walked a long way come to think of it. No wonder I was so cold!), and H just happily walking along. We eventually found an open tube station farther out of the city, and completed our journey home sometime around 3:30 in the morning. I called some friends and family in Canada around 4 am (a respectable 8 pm back home) and shared more good wishes before eventually stumbling into bed.
Hello, 2017! You look fabulous already.