A good day to be English

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

First things first – I know it’s been approximately a decade since the last new post, but this has been one of those times I warned you about at the beginning.  I was a bit busy doing 140 hours of work in two weeks with nary a day off in sight, so you can understand that it was all I could do to manage to keep myself clothed and fed, let alone bang out a few thousand words for you lot.  Sorry, but that’s how it goes now that you’re dealing with a more-than-full-time worker and part time blogger.  Now on to today’s post:

I know it’s ancient history now, but you may have heard we had a little wedding over here a few weeks ago.  In fact I suspect 99.87% of everyone on the planet heard about it, the only exceptions being a few undiscovered tribes in the Amazon rainforest, and even they probably saw the sky-writing speculating on who designed Kate Middleton’s dress and were scouted as a possible honeymoon location.  Over here at the epicentre of it all the media saturation was total.  You could not move, blink or breathe without encountering some kind of Royal Wedding coverage, meaning that everyone in the UK had a choice to make on that day – to watch or not to watch.  I wouldn’t call myself a staunch Royalist or anything, but I do have a soft spot for the Royal Family in general and for William and Harry in particular.  After all, I saw their mother’s wedding on a tiny black and white tv in the dining shelter at the Pike Lake Guide Camp when I was 12 years old.  How could I not get out and try to take part when the next chapter was happening right on my doorstep (and in my time zone)?

So I told them I was taking the day off from work - yes, it was a Bank Holiday, but there was a lot of work to be done so there was a full complement on duty (“The show must go on” and all that crap…).  And I pored over the Evening Standard’s coverage of who would be seen where and when, and I made a vague plan. 

(Brief aside about the coverage of all that “who would be seen where and when” stuff.  It was really precise.  I’m just recalling this from memory, so don’t quote me on these times, but it was something like this:

10:44am: Prince William and Prince Harry depart from Clarence House for Westminster Abbey
10:46am: The car carrying Prince William and Prince Harry passes through the arch at Horse Guards
10:48am and 45 seconds: Prince William and Prince Harry arrive at Westminster Abbey’s Great West Door… and so on

As I was reading this I was thinking to myself, “How can they be so accurate with these timings? I mean the traffic around Parliament Square is always a nightm… oh… wait a minute… there won’t BE any traffic.  That car will be the only vehicle moving in about a 2 mile radius.  So yeah, I guess that would be about right…)

Anyway, my vague plan was this:
  1. Take the tube to Green Park station (near Buckingham Palace). 
  2. Walk around trying to find a spot to see something from.
  3. Try not to get frustrated when this did not work out.
  4. Repair to a nice pub to watch the whole thing on tv.
The crowds at Green Park tube were not bad, and I saw a few people dressed up including a whole gang of about ten women wearing the famous blue dress that Kate Middleton wore for the engagement announcement and dragging little wheelie suitcases.  And I bought myself a Union Jack flag to wave at appropriate moments (only £1! I was expecting to get fleeced for much more than that).  Then I started walking, trying to make my way towards The Mall (pronounced, bizarrely, to rhyme with the the diminutive form of Albert) (I’m not kidding), which was where all the comings and goings would be.  Of course the streets were blocked to vehicle traffic, but I was really surprised to see that they were also blocked to pedestrians as well.  Any access point to The Mall or Whitehall or any other street where important things would be happening was attended by police who warned that the entire area was closed off due to safety concerns because of the size of the crowd.

(Another aside: “safety concerns” is more commonly heard as “health and safety”, or with the right accent “elfin safety”, which always makes me picture a band of tiny sprites kitted out in hard hats and shoes with curled up steel toes.  There is much much much more to say about the Health and Safety culture here, and the sometimes crazy lengths it’s taken to, and the backlash that usually comes with these lengths which is always accompanied by at least one quote from an irate member of the public claiming that whatever he’s cross about is “Health and safety gone mad!”. But for now let’s just remember those sensible pointy-toed imps and get back to the wedding.)

With no other option, I was eventually funneled into Trafalgar Square, which turned out to be just fine.  Considering I hadn’t been even slightly interested in camping out at Westminster Abbey from Tuesday onwards to secure a prime spot, I knew that chances of getting to see anything live were slim.  So Trafalgar Square it was, and it was packed.

P1080048 This is just part of the crowd in the main section of the square.  The digital sign off to the left is counting down the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds left until the Olympics!

They had two giant video screens set up – the larger one facing towards the National Gallery, and a smaller (but still by no means small) one facing vaguely towards the Thames near the Waterstones bookstore (You know, by the Pret a Manger… no… the other Pret a Manger…) (Ok, that was a joke for Londoners only, I think.  North Americans please substitute Starbucks for Pret a Manger and you’ll get it).  I did a circuit of the square, noted what tacky souvenirs were on offer, made a few purchases, and scouted out a place to get comfy.  I ended up standing with a good view of the smaller screen and by the time things started happening I was content to just watch and listen with everyone else, and wave the flag (literally) at all the right moments.

P1080059Flags, the big screen, and the happy couple

So technically I ended up watching the whole thing on tv just like everyone else except the few hundred people actually inside Westminster Abbey.  But honestly it was much better than sitting at home watching.  The crowd was big, but everyone was happy and friendly, and there was a nice buzz in the air despite the grey skies.  And when they got to the part in the ceremony when the congregation at the Abbey sang “Jerusalem” lots of people in the square sang along (“And did these feeeeeet, in ancient tiiimes, walk up-on Eng-land’s moun-tains greeeeeeeeeen….).  Some people (myself included) even had a copy of the service to follow along to the lyrics.  And there was lots of cheering and flag waving at all the right moments. 

And then, at the very end, they sang “God Save the Queen”, and that’s when it really hit me.  There I was, in Trafalgar Square, in a crowd of thousands of people, and it was all about being English and being proud to be English and being happy to be there and to be celebrating such a simple, joyful thing.  I don’t mind saying I got a little choked up as I was singing.  I’ve sung “God Save the Queen” hundreds of times in my life, but it never hit me like it did that day.

I took some decent video that day, but it ended up being in some weird format and it’s not downloading from my camera properly, so you’ll just have to watch this Youtube thing taken by someone who understands his camera better (except for the part where he zooms in and loses the sound...).  And though it looks like there aren’t many people singing, it really didn’t feel like that.  It really felt very very cool.

I stuck around a while longer after the ceremony was over, but there was no way I was going to hang about long enough to watch The Kiss On The Balcony.  Instead, I made my way over to Embankment tube station, and bought a few more souvenirs, and then legged it home and watched The Big Kiss from the comfort of my couch, with a nice cup of tea.  And then I went off to celebrate the 2000th running of the London Hash House Harriers, which is most definitely another story.


Kathryn said...

I'm so jealous! I would have loved to have been there. However, being 9 days after some big surgery, it was not to be. Instead, I had a Royal Wedding Breakfast & (later) Tea Party with my parents as we watched it all (on DVR - BIG time time difference here) on the 60" flat screen. I'll email you some pictures if you like.

daotalay said...

Hi Pam,

Hee, it's fun to know that I was there for the "poring over the Evening Standard’s coverage" part of this post!

I related your comment about "Oh right, they can be that exact about the times because there won't BE any traffic!" to others that day, too.

Also the observation that it must be quite interesting to be Kate Middleton's mother - "How's your daughter?" "Oh, fine, and yours?" "Oh, she's going to be the Queen of England." That still cracks me up, but apparently I don't tell it with your delivery...

I can now hereby attest that you're as funny in person as on the blogosphere.

Cheers from Berlin!

Laura C said...

Yay! Yay! Yay!
So happy you went, I'm all smiley again, I was all that day too. Yay!
(the girls pointed out this was the first wedding they had really seen, and I had to emphasize that they're not all like that. What a crazy perspective they'll have! They were trying to find you in the crowd on TV too. Like I said, no perspective!)

Post a Comment