I was 13 when the actual events took place; I didn't watch the Winter Olympics, but I'd still heard of Eddie the Eagle. A few months later, The Sun printed an article on April Fool's Day: they claimed that he was attaching rockets (jet engines) to his skis, because there was nothing in the rules that specifically forbade that. They had a photo, and I actually believed the story for a few weeks. Nowadays I'd be more sceptical, both about the date and the source! The point is that it fitted in with my general impression of who he was: someone who took part, had a laugh, and always came last because he wasn't actually any good at the sport.
The basic concept of the film (and reality?) is that Britain wasn't entering anyone in the ski-jumping category, so he got in by being the only person to apply. I've also taken part in a few world championships which had similarly loose entry requirements:
- In 2008, I did the World Custard Pie Championships; our team got through to the quarter finals.
- In 2011, 2012, and 2013, I did the Brompton World Championship. My results were a bit more respectable here, but I never made it into the top 100; my best result was when I came 196th overall (out of 600-700 people).
- In 2014, I did the Winter Swimming World Championship; I finished last (35th) in my age/sex category.
Going into those events, I never expected to win anything: I was happy just to take part. However, I was also never in any real danger. Admittedly, one person died at the WSWC, but he was doing the endurance swim (450m) and my longest swim was 50m. What struck me during the film is that ski jumping really is a risky business. Even if someone finishes last, it still takes quite a bit of skill just to walk away from the landing.
I enjoyed the first half of the film, but then I heard a ringing noise in the background. It was muffled and intermittent, so I thought that it was someone's mobile phone ringing inside their bag. Then the film stopped, the lights came up, and an automated message told us that there was an emergency and we had to evacuate the building. This wasn't anything too dramatic, but I think there are lessons to learn from this.
I was the first person out of my screen, and the message told us to use the nearest exit. If you're familiar with Croydon Grants, there are big (tall) double doors between the escalators and the screens. When I reached them, they were closed, which surprised me. I later noticed a sign on the wall which said "Automatic fire doors" so I assume that they're held open by electromagnets and then the fire alarm will turn off the electricity so that the doors close. Anyway, they weren't locked, so I went through. By this point, there were a few other people behind me, and we paused at the top of the stairs. There was a fire exit there; the door was closed, but presumably it would open if we pushed the bar. However, were we supposed to go out there, or should we follow the normal exit via the staircase? There were no members of staff anywhere in sight to give us advice, so I decided to go down the stairs; at least that way I knew where I was going (so I wouldn't get stuck on a balcony somewhere) and I could always retreat if I saw any flames.
We got down to the next floor (where they sell snacks and tickets) and there were still no staff around. However, I did notice some grey sheets hanging down; I assume that these were some kind of fire curtains, but they didn't go all the way to the ground. In fact, I doubt that I could have touched them, even with my arms stretched above my head, so I'm not sure how useful these would be to prevent the spread of fire. I looked again later (after they'd been taken back up) and you can see the bottoms sticking out if you know where to look.
Going down two more floors to ground level, the alarm bells were still ringing, and I saw that the bars had been evacuated too. So, this alarm covered the entire complex rather than just the cinema. We went out to the front (on the High Street) and then a couple of fire engines turned up. Someone spoke to them; he wasn't wearing any kind of obvious uniform or high-vis, but I think he may have had a small Nandos logo on his shirt (in the breast pocket area). I heard him mention the basement, then he led a few firefighters down there while the rest of them stayed at the entrance.
At this point, 5 minutes after the alarm went off, a few people turned up wearing high-vis vests: these were variously labelled as Vue (the cinema chain) or Croydon Grants (the complex). They asked us all to move around the corner to the KFC. Apparently this was to make sure everyone was ok, but I didn't see them do any kind of headcount there. As we moved, I saw a third fire engine turn up.
Apparently the alarm was triggered in the Virgin Active gym (down in the basement), and the Vue staff asked us all to stay put while they waited to hear how long it would take to resolve. They said that they would try to resume films (depending on how long was left and how many screens were available), but anyone who didn't want to wait could come back later in the week and show their ticket to get in without paying again. They didn't offer any kind of refund, on the basis that this was outside their control (as opposed to a projector breaking down).
We were evacuated at 19:55 and we got back inside at 20:25. I personally think it would have been a nice gesture for them to offer free soft drinks (from the mixer taps) at that point; based on my experience of bar work, it would cost them pennies and boost goodwill. However, I think this whole thing may actually have made a profit for the cinema, since a lot of people had finished eating/drinking while were outside and then bought more stuff when we went back in.
They announced that my film would resume where it left off, so I went back upstairs. They repeated the previous 5 minutes, and I think that was a good idea: it gave a bit of recap/context, and it also gave time for everyone to get back in their seats before the new stuff happened. All in all, this was a 45 minute interruption.
I don't know whether there was a real fire or just a false alarm, but I'm satisfied that nobody was in danger. So, in that sense the procedure worked. One of the cinema staff said that if it had been a Vue alarm then they'd wait 6 minutes to check it before they evacuated everyone, but once the Virgin Active alarm went off they had to act immediately. My concern is that there were no visible staff during the evacuation and nobody in an obvious position of authority to meet the fire engine. I wonder whether that's because it's a rare situation, so they'd all gone off to find their high-vis vests and look up the procedure in their manual. I think there should have been one person on each floor to direct people coming out of the screening rooms and one person outside; as soon as they heard the alarm, the designed staff (if not everyone) should have dropped whatever else they were doing, grabbed their high-vis vest, and gone straight to that location.
So, if you work for a company, do you know what the procedure is in case of fire? Who are your fire marshals? If you're a fire marshal, make sure that you know what to do without looking it up.