A couple of friends invited us to join them for the Bonfire Night in Battersea. So we thought: “Why not? This can only be better than last time anyway.” Last year indeed, we tried to attend to the free fireworks at Victoria Park, but this was without taking into account the crowd and traffic so we ended up arriving after the bonfire had ended… not a great way to start an evening out…We thought this time we’ll avoid being caught into the same trap again. Battersea, is closer to where we live, and with a little bit more organisation and some basic logistics we managed to make it on time. The event was within Battersea Park and a non-negligible expense, all the more reason not to be late!
It was raining all day, but Uranus was seemingly in good mood, so the sky cleared in the evening. The event’s website suggested to wear wellingtons, we decided to wear our hiking boots; very classy! Having booked and payed for the tickets a week in advance, we were certain we could get in. Indeed, when we arrived at 18:30, we found out the event had been sold-out for 2 days! That’s £11 for what amounts to simply being allowed to enter the park. Inside the park there’s at least 10 food stalls that welcome the crowds but the long queues are a real challenge for empty stomachs. The fireworks are set to start at 8pm sharp, so we decide to split from our group of friends so that each one has time to queue on their chosen stall and then reunite before the show. The first stall sells Tartiflettes, and either by luck or because the locals don’t know what it is, there’s barely any queue on this one. It takes a few minutes for me to grab one, a small aluminium tray of the stuff for £7. Not the best one I’ve had, but at least I can put something in my mouth while everyone else starve themselves through the queues. A huge bonfire is lit as tradition imposes, warming the crowd up literally as well as metaphorically. Myself and Roxane decide to go through the sea of people towards the other side of the park, hoping that the crowd will dissipate. We wish… I have to keep my cool in the queues while Roxane makes part of my Tartiflette vanish, and ends up getting a mulled wine at £4.50 for a tiny cup. At least she says it is better than expected before joining the queue for the churros.
You might wonder who Guy Fawkes is? And why is there a bonfire night in his name? The story is less simplistic than one might think… A political opponent of his time, he had the end of a terrorist following a plot against the government and an attempt to blow the London parliament. It is therefore the plot’s failure that is celebrated on the day. On top of the fireworks everywhere around the country, effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned on big bonfires. If you want to read more about the subject, head this way:
Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes, Gunpowder Plot
However, he is also perceived as a defender of liberties ready to sacrifice himself for his cause. He was the inspiration for V for Vendetta (cartoon animation and ensuing film) the mask of which became the symbol of the Anonymous movement, in the fight for freedom of expression.
Despite the fact the 5th of November is a major celebration in England, it is not a bank holiday.
And then, it strikes us… the fireworks start! It’s too late to join our friends, and anyway, it’s virtually impossible to locate them. This leads to a Cornelian dilemma: should we stay in the queue to get these holy churros, or mix with the crowd in the hope of a better spot from where to enjoy the firework. I manage to convince Roxane to move closer to a better spot, she can get churros at the end of the show, and anyway, a table is booked for dinner afterwards!
We spend the next 20 minutes admiring the fireworks, lighting in tune with the music. It’s a wonderful show that elicits the admiration and emotions of the joyful crowd. As soon as the final fireworks bouquet has started to fade, we rush back to the churros queue, while at the same time contemplating the human tide making its way to the exit. After another 25 minutes spent waiting for 10 people to be served it’s our turn to part with another fiver in return for a cup with 7 churros, that’s almost a quid per churro… the pleasures of living in London! Roxane is delighted to finally saviour her precious booty, so we head out guided by the last few strollers that took the time to dodge the agoraphobia inducing jam. We meet our friends just outside the park’s gate and start walking all together towards the venue they’ve booked.
Following a good 20 minutes’ walk, we find ourselves in a street full of shops specialised in lightning and interior design. We take a left at the corner of a big green building, follow a small alleyway, and at the end of a steep stairwell we discover, through the dimmed lighting, the famous Jak’s.What a concept! The tone is set for a hype night in Chelsea. The interior has a shabby-rustic-upcycle feel to it, a mini tractor, a colourful vegetables stall, tables that look like they’ve randomly come out of a medieval banquet or a school canteen, an open kitchen, dishes showcased behind a glass counter, a crowd as heteroclite as the setting, loud music. Roxane feels a bit out of her depth with her knitted gaiters and hiking boots, only noticing the girls wearing loads of makeup, night dresses and high-heels… we clearly didn’t come here to flirt!
The eating area is on the right side of the stairs, and on the opposite side is the bar: a dark den that seems to suck well-dressed people and spit them, teetering, a few moments later. This place is fascinating. We spend some time being introduced to some more acquaintances that joined us directly at the venue, and getting ready to order. The £12 a piece cocktail menu is extensive, but our neighbours on the table, that have already tried a few, don’t recommend them. In the end, we go for the buffet. We pick the main we want from the glass counter together with a choice of two sides. Depending on the dish, the prices vary from £13 to £25. Roxane picks a vegetables and goat cheese quiche with a side of stuffed aubergines and artichoke salad. The quiche is excellent and so is the aubergine but the artichoke salad is found wanting. I get a halibut, oven baked aubergines with parmigiana and spinach with sesame that prove to be absolutely delicious. It’s impossible to follow a conversation with such loud music. The bill is split, the guests start leaving the table. We follow suit. The way out suddenly becomes a real labyrinth, we need to cross the smoker’s patio, then another bar before we find ourselves on the street. Time seemed to have come to a standstill in this atypical place. We’re suddenly back to real life: the fatigue, the noise, the thermal shock combine to give a sensation of dizziness despite the fact we only drank water. We stroll through the empty avenues of Chelsea and Kensington to get back to the car. It’s almost 3am, and a nice feeling of life in the parenthesis is settling in; nothing extraordinary happened, just the ambiance, a somehow special atmosphere.
For a more general overview, have a look at the reviews and pictures on Tripadvisor.