By five o'clock, I had filled in a cut-down version of the application form (it's been a long time since I've done any Rock Steady work) and managed to find a jacket I could wear over my coat (already stretched over cardigan, shirt, tie and t-shirt). With that lot, plus gloves, wooly hat under baseball cap, and more or less waterproof overtrousers, I was - I thought - ready for anything the weather could throw at me. There was then nearly an hour of hanging around, chatting, drinking lemsip and ducking out for the odd fag.
We had our briefing at six, when it was mentioned for the first time that maybe the party could get cancelled (I'd already heard of tarpaulins and banners blowing off a number of structures, and seen the sudden increase in rain and hail when going out for a cigarette). Then, in a scene reminiscent of something from Blue Planet, the supervisors circled the crowd of stewards (maybe only a hundred or so of us - some Edinburgh folk where already deployed, and the out of town stewards (from as far away as Lancashire in some cases) were deploying from their coaches near King's Stables Road) cutting out people for their teams. Not having been around for a while, there weren't many folk I knew, so I stuck with the few I did, and ended up being allocated a role on the First Aid team.
This isn't actually a First Aid role, though, but it meant being one of the two stewards at each First Aid station: the idea being to ensure that each patient only brings in one friend or relative (Arresting Officers, it seems, count as relatives) and that there's no bother from punters inside or out.
Just before seven, we got a lift up the road to Waterloo Place and then walked the length of Princes Street, deploying people as we went past each of the stations. One of the stations was already showing signs of wind damage (but I missed seeing that in detail due to seriously wet glasses).
Eventually, after being almost bowled over by a flying bin, and belted by a few passing bits of wood or plastic bottles, not to mention half drowned in driving rain, we got to our station, at St John's Church hall at the west end. The guy I was working with had drawn the same duty the year before, so already knew some of the Red Cross crew, and was able to fill me in on what needed doing.
First off, this was finding and filling the tea urn, and then more hanging around and waiting until nine, which was when we were to start the "one inside, the other outside" rota. During this time, the weather was getting steadily worse, and the duty officer was in contact with the police and the event management staff, who were having a series of meetings to discuss whether or not the party would be cancelled.
Eventually, just before nine, the news came through that it was all off (we'd already heard that virtually everywhere else in the UK had cancelled - this turned out to be not quite the case, as some places still had their fireworks at midnight). Of course, from a stewarding perspective, cancellation didn't really mean much - if anything, it'd mean that we'd take longer to get away as there was no obvious end to the night, and punters would insist on hanging about. Still, it did mean that perhaps the First Aid people would have less work....
It wasn't a completely quiet evening, though. As the weather got worse, the First Aid stations inside the "arena" were closed down (combination of weather damage and lack of punters), moving their staff to the three stations outside the zone: us, the Undercroft on George St for the east end, and St George's Crypt (which was more "second aid" - somewhere between our set up and a full-blown portable A&E). To prevent overcrowding, the Red Cross started sending their out of town volunteers home, but the plan was still to staff our station until midnight.
We did get a little bit of excitement: the entrance to the station was just around the corner from the gates into the arena, and slightly sheltered, so it was a prime location for punters to try and grab a little privacy in.
Every now and again, one of us would pop out and clear away any punters from the entrance - they were usually pretty good about not coming back. However, we did have one couple who not only wouldn't go away when asked, but started getting rowdy. They were up from Liverpool, and (understandably) a bit pissed off at travelling all that distance for a cancelled event.
The first time they went away when asked, retreating round the corner to stay clear of the entrance. Half an hour or so later, I went out again (the wind and rain had calmed just enough for a cigarette break) and they were back. Sitting quietly, admittedly, and "not doing anyone any harm, sitting here in My Father's House" (the centre was a church hall). I said to them that they were still potentially obstructing the area, and that they'd have to move if we got busy or the Red Cross folk asked them to. "No problem, mate - and can you spare a rizla and some baccy?" (Lord, but these folk just kept asking for stuff, and then claiming discrimination when we didn't give them cigarettes, or whatever), and off they go again.
Not long afterwards, they're back again (by this time there's been a rumour that the fireworks will happen after all). This time, they refuse to go when asked, and insist that they'll only leave if personally told to by the Red Cross duty officer. Protocol for this situation is to avoid physical contact (this has applied everywhere I've ever stewarded) but to escalate by increasing numbers. They don't seem to notice that there are suddenly three of us, but start getting verbally aggressive when two senior supervisors arrive - again, it's discrimination (we can't make them go and join the crowd of racists out in the street - they didn't seem particularly non-white, especially in the dark, but there you go), they weren't harming anyone (the Red Cross duty officer had asked us to move them), and the Police had said they were all right where they were (an outright lie). We suggest that they pick up their stuff and leave right now, please, and they begin to get somewhat stroppier. At which point, the senior supervisor gets out his radio and calls the Police. The punters up and leave, muttering the while about everyone hating them just because they were from Liverpool....
It's approaching midnight by now, and the Red Cross people are starting to dismantle the screens and trolleys in anticipation of closing down when we get a message that there will be an abbreviated firework display from the Castle at midnight just to indicate that everything is actually over. There's also a strong hint that it's easier and safer to use the fireworks on the other hills rather than either try to dismantle them in the weather or to leave them out overnight (they'd have needed guarding, at the very least).
So, as the fireworks are happening, we're staying in place "just in case". We're also able - almost all of us - to step outside the hall and see a reasonable bit of the show (with the Castle fireworks truncated, and the other hills not being very visible from where we were, it's not really as good a show as at the end of the torchlit procession, but it's definitely better than nothing).
It's also when we finally get some patients: people very much the worse for drink and the weather begin to appear (in one case, a paramedic had found someone crashed out in a nearby gutter), so we end up staying open a bit longer. In fact, one of the remaining two first aid stations closes at one, and some of their staff come and join us, allowing another batch to leave (I think their stewards were either stood down, or ended up joining the ones on the barricades, still trying to clear the arena). By two o'clock, the last of the patients have been dealt with, and we're clearing up, but no sign of instructions to stand down. It's getting rather boring by now, and the weather's come back on again, so we're just sitting around waiting to be let go (and hoping that no more patients appear).
Finally, at about half two, we're stood down. Out comes the flask, but the only folk left are driving, so back it goes again, and I head down towards King's Stables Road to hand in my jacket and sign out. This took longer than it should have done because of running into lost people looking for directions, and then having a spot of bother finding the van to sign out at (almost everyone had gone by then), but I managed to find a supervisor to take the jacket off my hands and finally, almost ten hours after starting, that's me finished.
From there I headed across the Grassmarket, and up past K Jackson's (still undemolished - they really should have just let it stay open) towards Stuart's (WINOLJ) party. Ran into a reasonable number of the usual suspects and had a very pleasant "evening" until about sixish when everything gently fizzled and I headed for home. I surprised tigermoth by arriving in not long after seven, said "Happy New Year", and then failed to surprise her at all by going to bed and crashing out until quite late in the afternoon.
It was a good Hogmanay, all told, although I suspect I'll try to get a different position if I'm doing the stewarding thing next year: in years when the party's not cancelled, it can be as late as four or five in the morning before the First Aid stations finally close.