Every year, around this time in January, the general mood in the UK starts to plummet. Any evidence of ardently devoured mince pies has all but evaporated into the ether alongside the remnants of the festive-flavoured brandy creams once so strategically placed beside them. The reams of unread work emails that you shunned without guilt for a fortnight now adhere to your fingers like an unwelcome, lingering resin. And the glowing beams of Christmas lights that illuminated London’s skies throughout December have hibernated for the winter, leaving a darker, drearier backdrop for the New Year…or did they?
Last year, when the glistening Yuletide bulbs in London vanished, they left a blank canvas for the likes of the Lumiere London Festival to stain the sky with brazen neon strokes, showing Londoners and visitors alike that there is more colour to January than the blues.
In a month where we have a tendency to avoid eating out following a spate of food excess, when we haven’t yet committed to our travel plans for the upcoming year and when we shy away from cash-intensive activities, following the nation’s multi-billion pound expenditure over Christmas, I for one tend to spend most of January hidden indoors. I unashamedly traipse around in my Santa-like fleece boot slippers, boosting up the heating (when Pumpkin’s not looking) and downing large mugs of tea (usually whichever newest one I’ve been given for Christmas since all those around me are now au fait with my guil-tea pleasure).
But last year, one glimpse of the Insta-pics of Lumiere read of a newspaper article about the Lumiere London Festival gave me the impetus I needed to swap PJs and hoodies for jeans and gloves one Friday night after work, as I headed into central London to meet Pumpkin so we could get the lowdown on this unfamiliar light festival.
For that weekend only, various well-known areas of London including Kings Cross, Westminster, Leicester Square and Regent Street were brightened up with a series of light installations, light features, wall mural light displays, light sculptures and even light-based activities. Our immersion into this shining world was to begin before we even exited the station as we found ourselves following a crowd through this tunnel.
We found the bird-cage in Kings Cross cycling between colours like a child with a short attention span but most actual children (and adults like me) in the Kings Cross vicinity were more preoccupied with queueing for an opportunity to “write”and “paint” the tarmac beneath them with light sabers.
Iridescent hues splashed across Westminster Abbey giving the iconic location of 2011’s Royal Wedding a daring and boundary-pushing facelift.
Eerie human-esque figures peered down at around Green Park, free-floating somewhat menacingly from above.
Then, there was the elephant light feature on Regent Street, so true to form that it left us feeling as if we were involved in some kind of futuristic urban safari.
Whether your eyes are drawn to fashion pieces, to animals, to upcycled goods (check out the plastic bottles-turned-lamps) or more simplistically to colour itself (I am a sucker for a rainbow and all the tones encompassed within one), this was a festival that was visually striking to most.
With its late evening and weekend opening, its free entry and lack of ticket requirements, workers weren’t left out, families weren’t left out, tourists weren’t left out and it wasn’t an activity that excluded anyone by cost.
We gathered, by how many children were absorbed in the Lumiere Festival, that it was a most legitimate reason to bring your 8-year-old out to central London at 9pm on a wintry Friday night and the children we spotted were still going strong when our yawns started to take effect towards the end of the night.
Naturally, there were some crowds, neither unbearable nor unmanageable but if it’s a choice between facing them to see the innovative light inventions and art works rather than trudging through the masses to reach Primark on Oxford Street, I can live with that.
I had never seen a festival like this before and even the concept was a first for me, once again reminding me why this city still keeps me on my toes and why I love living within the contours of all this action.
Some took the festival a lot more seriously, completing challenges to compete over how many of the light features they could tick off in an evening. Some worked the Lumiere Festival with a systematic approach based on geography.
We, as per always, adopted a more laissez-faire approach, only deciding to go a couple of hours earlier, flitting between areas of the city in an ad hoc, disjointed manner.
Regardless of the way with which you were viewing it, however, there was no denying the sense of intrigue, curiosity, fascination and colour (both literal and metaphorical) that the festival was bringing to London in a month where it would be most appreciated.
So caught up in the web of colourful fantasia were we that 24 hours later, after spending a day meeting our friend’s new baby, we returned once more to unfold the colourful corners we had left unturned earlier. We still couldn’t see everything; the lively energy seeming to have no boundaries, transporting us from street to street under a canopy of vivid artistry.
Lamenting the lack of Lumiere in 2017
I needed no persuasion of what a welcome addition to a London New Year this festival would be but I had hoped that in writing this, I may coax you into visiting in 2017.
Unfortunately, it appears the festival will not be happening in London this year and from the sources I found online, that seems to be in part related to the scale of organisation required to host an event of this magnitude – a real pity, as I hoped it would become something of a regular feature to the city, the way the Christmasy Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park had done so many years ago.
Still, pondering whether to proceed with blogging about it or not, I realised I must. After all, I founded this blog with the purpose of crystallising our most unique and inspiring exploits, both abroad and on our doorstep and this, without a doubt, was one of them.
And whilst I may not have any authority or ability to bring the festival back to London, I hope at least to spread a little colour with my photos and recollections to help brighten up anyone still feeling the January blues. Alternatively, if you are nearer the North of England or willing to travel further, the good news is that Lumiere will be back in Durham later this year.
Did you make it to the Lumiere London Festival last year?