Friday, June 08, 2012
Only the English can put on a public show like the three days of Jubilee celebrations in London. As far as we were concerned, the best way to see it all was on television – and to be warm and dry. However, one of the highlights for us was a very modest St Peter’s Grove street party. This started, for me, at 6 in the morning when I rose to make a cake and a large mince pie. Shortly after 11 in the morning we looked out of a window to see our neighbours across the way (from the house that Margreet rented when we met) fixing up an awning to protect a round table of food and drink from the elements. So, with cake, wine, and glasses in hand, we joined a dozen or so St Peter’s residents with more children of tender years that we ever imagined lived in our street. The children enjoyed themselves greatly, running wildly away down the street whenever possible, with parents in hot pursuit. When I came to live in St Peter’s Grove some 24 years ago, I knew almost everyone in the road. At the street party I met neighbours who I didn’t even know existed. This was a splendid outcome from a day of celebration. With the Thames being so close to us, we went several times to the bank of it, hoping to see the Armada of ships jockeying for position. But we either chose the wrong time or tide, or they were mustering down river far from our sight. But on the brighter side of one walk, we discovered a pub that sold excellent hot sausages. The procession of some one thousand boats took place mostly in the rain – rain that had been falling for some weeks already. Yet with all this water falling from the sky, a regional hosepipe ban to conserve water was still in operation. Impressive was an elegant canopied vessel (Gloriana) propelled by many oarsmen. Its kind featured in Canaletto’s famous depiction of an 18th century river pageant, seen and imagined by him from across the river opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. The Royal Barge was, well, a barge with bling on top, comfortable no doubt, as it needed to be. On it, the Royals looked cold and wet, masterfully showing interest and warmth toward their people. One wanted to go aboard and give them all a stiff and warming drink. On the following evening a concert took place for the great and enthusiastic crowds of well-wishers, conducted from the Victoria Memorial roundabout in front of Buckingham Palace. From sunny day to clear evening darkness, notables from the international field of entertainment strutted their stuff, with ill-equipped stand-up comedians to fill in the gaps as one group took over from another. This eclectic mix was an outdoor Royal Variety performance, conducted with truly admirable stage management. Image projection on to the Palace façade was brilliant. Then there were fireworks. On the third and final day of celebration, there was a televised service at St Paul’s Cathedral, luncheon with speeches, and an impressive procession of gilded coaches and mounted horses moving from Westminster Hall, and then along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Once again, we witnessed on television the massed crowds proceeding down the Mall behind a thin line of marching policemen as they walked in slow procession to see the upper Royals appear on the Palace balcony. The crowd could then see the Queen waving at them and were able to wave back. The climax for such royal occasions is a fly-past of old and newer aircraft. This is also a highlight for me, as it is whenever I have a chance to see an Avro Lancaster bomber again. In 1943, while training to be a pilot, I flew in the rear turret of one. I was stationed at RAF Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln, when a “Lanc” was to have an engine test before leaving for a bombing raid on Germany that evening. I was asked if I wanted to go along to Scotland and back in the turret with its four, fully armed-up Browning machine guns to fire at the press of a button. Sadly, although we watched for the fly-past from a top window of our house, only a formation of Red Arrows and the sole Dakota ever came into distant view. But that was only a small disappointment in a few days of fascinating obeisance to a long-lasting Queen. Long may she reign.