Well, what a day I had! I got in to London a little earlier than I thought I might - but that turned out to be just as well, as almost all of the tube lines out of Paddington were closed, so I trekked across Hyde Park once more. After a bit of confusion - the queueing instructions were very clear about those starting to queue on Friday night, less so for those arriving on Saturday - I signed in at the Stage Door just after midday to be 164th in the queue. It was eerily quiet around the Hall, as people were allowed to leave until 3pm, when a roll-call would be taken, but with no tubes to speed me away, I just ate my lunch and read. The queue of "hopefuls" wasn't that big, and it turns out that for the past few years it hasn't been too difficult to get a ticket on the day - if you're happy with a position towards the back of the Arena, of course. Probably most of the season ticket holders don't go to the Last Night (though all the diehards were there, of course), and apparently the six-concert Last Night tickets are quite hard to come by. As the crowd reassembled and sorted itself into order, raffle tickets were issued; there was something of the atmosphere of a rather exclusive street party at the front, as people left in their rags and returned in black-tie, knocking back the booze all the while. I had a couple of polite enquiries about my flag; it turned out that the retired couple ahead of me in the queue (who were going for seats at the back) had a Wessex flag, so I was in good company for the ancient kingdoms of England!
Finally, the queue began filing into the Hall at 6pm. It was quite funny that so many season ticket holders were disoriented by going in on the "Day Ticket" side; and I got probably the best spot I could have hoped for - dead centre behind the conductor, about six or seven rows back. Hurrah!
Of course, balloons and beach balls aside, the first half of the concert was (almost) like a normal Prom concert (if there is such a thing). Shostakovich's Festive Overture was a great start to the evening, and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky was clearly an immediate hit with the audience with arias from Borodin, Verdi and Rubinstein. Colin Matthews' Vivo was tolerably short for those watching on the TV who have no inclination for contemporary music; Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No 2 passed by without much reaction, feeling surprisingly like filler. The first half ended with a very appropriate and delectably choral Entry of the Guests from Wagner's Tannhäuser.
During the interval, those in the Royal Box made the mistake of putting out their Union Flag upside-down, which led to an amusing chant: "Arena to The Queen's Box: You Are In Distress!"
The second half programme was really well chosen, too: starting with Eric Coates' Calling All Workers - conspiracy theories abound on BBC lefties selecting this one for its title; Bizet's Toreador's Song; the balalaika-accompanied Moscow Nights; and a spectacular tango, Bullanguera, that showed Viktoria Mullova was in fact awake, after all.
Unaccustomed as I am, my flag had a tendency to wrap around itself the first couple of times, but it's amazing how you can fix this whilst simultaneously listening intently to the music, bobbing up and down to the beat, and holding the programme, if you put your mind to it. As well as Union and St George's flags, there were quite a few Welsh flags, but only one or two Scots; there were a couple of gay Union Flags (should that be a Civil Partnership flag?) and a fair number of German tricolours - I wondered whether we would be singing Rule, Britannia or shouting Sink the Bismark!. Among other unusual ones, there were Cornwall and Devon, and a couple of Skull and Crossbones came out for the Fantasia on British Sea-Songs, sadly I don't think they were spotted by the TV cameras. Of course with my position, the Northumbrian flag was bound to be seen, though there was another flag with the same colours somewhere quite close behind it. I thought Mark Elder handled the whole concert very well: headmasterly, disapproving yet indulgent. Linking up with the Parks concerts was interesting: very little sound from Hyde Park or Manchester, but Swansea were very definitely there - leading one bright spark behind me to shout, "It's the only Proms in the Village!". Most of the usual numbers worked well, though Jack's the Lad (the Hornpipe) definitely comes over better on the TV, and whilst the bugle calls worked well, I'm not so taken with the additional songs to make the piece more inclusively "British": they're rather arty in a suite comprising mostly hearty music. After Jerusalem, and two verses of the National Anthem (well worth getting, that programme), I managed to dodge Auld Lang Syne before a speedy exit through Hyde Park, getting to Reading around midnight.
I shall, of course, be making a new icon shortly ...