The Queen’s Jubilee
It’s one of those things that everyone says they should do once in their lifetime. To join the throngs on the streets of London, to celebrate a Monarchic event... a wedding, a jubilee, a death even. It is something that unites Britain, a feeling of oneness in celebration or mourning. It brings together people of different nations, cultures, races and classes. That can only be a good thing right?
Hmmm... it also brings together people that you would never usually choose to spend time with. You are eye to eye with all sorts of unsavory types... similar to being packed on the tube at rush hour, but with flags up your nose and umbrella spokes in your eyeballs! No matter how filled with joy you are, at the prospect of seeing the Queen and the Royal family, once you've had a child kick you in the back of the knees ten times, or an obsessive fan knocking you in the head "accidentally on purpose" with their Union Jack handbag, things begin to get a little strained!
My three Kiwi friends and I decided it was our time. Time to go and see the Queen and celebrate her 60 years on the throne, most of us secretly thinking "...it’s probably not going to happen again, better go now!". Kiwi’s, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the 'non offensive' term of endearment given to our Commonwealth cousins from New Zealand. The Kiwi is their native flightless bird and it has stuck as a nickname since the first World War. My Kiwi friends, on reflection, were far patriotic and keen to brave the elements, than my British friends... who were mostly watching from the comfort of their flats and houses. Ok, the sensible ones!
Anyhoo, the Kiwi’s and I met very early on the day of the Jubilee Regatta (the event with over 1000 boats on the River Thames) armed with everything necessary for an enjoyable day out (I say through gritted teeth). These things include:
1. Layers of clothing.
Peeling things on and off all day long is quite normal for an English summer day. You are never sure the weather forecast will be accurate and have to be prepared for every eventuality. From bright hot sun to patchy cloud cover, overcast and grey, a bit misty, a slight drizzle, quite wet, a heavy downpour, torrential rain, force gale winds and storm conditions. Therefore, you cannot leave the house with just a smile, a pair of flip flops and a foldaway umbrella. You need waterproof combat gear. We thought we were being slightly extreme with wellies, waterproof trousers and golf umbrellas. We actually could have done with a wetsuit and snorkel. It absolutely poured, all day! And you simply would not believe what some people were wearing. High heels, sundresses, vest tops, espadrilles... and these were Brits not tourists, they should know better! No wonder poor Prince Philip got a kidney infection from the chill, some of these people probably got hypothermia.
2. Fold Up Chair.
I know it sounds like I'm 80 but standing up for 8 hours in the pouring rain is not much fun. Sitting down in pouring rain is much better. The night before, my friend had rung and asked if I wanted a fold up chair. They were in a shop, buying some for themselves and could get me one too. I said "Oh no, I'll be fine, I'll just sit on my tarpaulin on the ground." She said "Are you sure Jules, we're here, we can easily get one for you?". Me, "No, I'll be fine." Thank you a million times, oh wise friend, because she persisted and persisted and finally I said "Ok, that would be great." I can only imagine what hell it would have been without a chair.... oh actually I don't have to imagine, I just had to smugly look around me at all the poor standing people!
2. Food and Drink.
There seem to be staples to the typical British picnic, taken in bags and baskets to every event throughout the year... For food: Quiche, Pork Pies, Cheese & Biscuits, Cherry Tomatoes, Crisps, a Victoria Sponge and punnets of Strawberries. To drink: Wine, Champagne, and Pimms & Lemonade. Again, there were people around us that had no food and no drink and were eyeing us as we imbibed, with a mixture of jealousy and hatred that we were so prepared. As we 'clinked' plastic cups at noon (amazing that we waited so long!) and shouted 'God Save the Queen', I saw an American tourist behind me, flabbergasted that we were drinking alcohol so early! You could just hear her saying 'No wonder the British have a drinking problem!'
There could have been a disaster on the drink front, however. As I entered the park at 'horrific' o’clock on Sunday morning, a policeman stopped me to check my bag. No glass allowed. Thank God, I thought, for I had wisely decanted my lovely bottles of Prosecco into plastic containers before I left, on the off-chance bottles may be viewed as lethal weapons by our boys in blue. Behind him, almost 50 bottles of confiscated champagne and some very pissed off, but un-pissed people. It may have looked like a urine sample to my fellow revelers, but my Prosecco, in it's Diet Coke and empty milk cartons kept it's fizz very well.
The other thing to be very aware of, on a Celebratory day out in London, are the people. They come in all shaped and sizes but there are definitive types:
1. The Curious Tourist.
I'm not talking about the planned visitors from the Commonwealth but all the other tourists from any country that happen to be visiting London. These are the hapless people told by the reception desk at their hotels that The Royal Jubilee is an event not to be missed. The cruel receptionist probably smirks into her latté as she sends them into the elements with no food, no drink and no warning that they'll be standing in their Gucci loafers for the next 12 hours in order to see the forehead of her Majesty through the gap of two fat necked, flag covered patriots (see below)!
2. The Patriot.
Wearing everything red, white and blue, these people are slightly insane. They have Union Jacks on every item of clothing down to their socks and knickers. It is best not to make eye contact with them, in case they latch on to you and tell you their Royalist life story. We had one such man standing behind us. Let’s call him Special Friend. The saying is, 'the lights are on but no one's home' but in our Special Friend's case, he had forgotten to put the lights on, in fact I'm not sure he had electricity. At 9am (bear in mind the Royal Procession didn't start til 2:30pm) he shouted "I can see the Queen" over and over, causing some 100 people to forge towards the river wall. He was looking at an old rusty barge. His 'Queen' was some random barge captain. Our Special Friend had several hilarious moments during the day. He latched on to a bunch of scantily dressed American students, way too polite and confused to realise what was happening and he stayed with them all day. Later, as the Queen passed us, and for almost half an hour afterwards, he shouted "We love the Queen" over and over, until Passive Aggressive Dad (see below) said in a very irritated voice "Yes we all love the bloody Queen but you can stop saying it now!" Other hardcore Patriots like to tell you about their outfit, their horrendous journey, how excited they are, the time they had to wake up, their return journey plans and where they were for all other Royal occasions. Avoid them.
3. The Passive Aggressive Dad.
There is a point before proceedings where the crowd begins to get restless. As I mentioned, the four of us were happily sipping wine, eating quiche and sitting comfortably in our fold up chairs. We were only a few feet from the river wall. In front of us was Grant and his wife, a lovely older couple, staunch Royalists who had risen at 5am to be there but weren't covered in flags and were very much the quiet respectful types. The perfect neighbours. They too, were in chairs. About 2 hours before the event, a big family turned up. Bear in mind, we had already been there for almost 4 hours. The wife shouts in our direction "Excuse me, when the Queen goes past, do any of you mind if all our kids come to the front and watch?" We all looked aghast. There were about 5 children. A tricky dilemma. A few people turned away pretending they hadn't heard her but I tried to rationalise the situation with the Dad. He was already staring at me with cold wolf eyes, body blocking other people, ready to jump in my spot when I wasn't looking. I said "Um, well it's a bit tricky because some of us have been here for hours already, it's not really fair to just turn up and expect to go in front of everyone else." Ooooh, it was as if I'd thrown his children over the wall. The Dad spat out something about them being children and how selfish we all were etc. and guilt-tripped us into muttering that it might be ok. It didn't end there though. Passive Agressive Dad then begun sidling in between our chairs, moving forward, using his younger son as a shield. He pushed a trestle table into the backs of our chairs and positioned his Mother on another fold up chair, almost in my friend's lap. He would do all these incredibly rude and aggressive things and then say with a false smile "So where have you all traveled from?" or ask us a question about the regatta. He was vile. The four of us hated him. The kids looked like they wanted to go home and all he could do was give us nasty looks and edge closer. Every time one of us moved or went to the loo, he would creep. After an hour, he had maneuvered behind me and, joy of joys, next to our Special Friend.
Kismet is a beautiful thing. Passive Aggressive Dad, rather than lose his prime position, now had to listen to Special Friend for the next two hours. It was wonderful. But the tension was building elsewhere. We had to make a decision that we were either going to get trampled to death or have to pack up our stuff and stand. I had to shout "Can you be patient please" as we were almost ram-raided from behind. One woman on the other side had slid forward like a grass snake, hooking an ankle round a chair leg. It was like we were defending our fort, "Stay back, you peasants"! I wanted to shout.
And the procession finally came; the kids came to the front, the Curious Tourists looked cold and bewildered, The Patriots and Special Friend cheered with utter joy, Passive Aggressive Dad scowled, and we laughed. It was a wonderful day. But once is definitely enough.