31 May 2012

A Royal at the Door

There’s an awful lot of flag-waving going on in my neck of the woods at the moment.  It may not have escaped notice that we’re gearing up for the Olympics at the end of July– an event not without its shockwaves.  From a close reading of the map and the planned road closures for the long-distance cycle race, it looks as though this little patch of territory is going to be barricaded in, with no escape route other than swimming to the far shore of the River Thames. 

Which is precisely the body of water where a flotilla of ships will be bobbing by on Sunday in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the other noteworthy impending national occasion.  We are now heading into four solid days of unabashed jollity. 

When I was younger I used to have dreams in which I met the Queen.   It was all fairly ordinary stuff - she would drop in to share a hotdog (no mustard), or play Monopoly, or leave some ermine in the dressing-up box.  But in the intervening years, something has got very garbled on the aspiration front.  Nowadays, instead, I dream about meeting Simon Cowell.  It’s a recurring scenario.  There’s a mediaeval banquet taking place.  The entertainment is going down the pan – the lutes are untuned, the minstrels frankly appalling.  Simon Cowell is rolling his eyes and holding his head in his hands.  In despair he looks across the table to me, chewing on a beef shank and gulping mead from a tankard.  “So,” he says wearily. “Know any good tunes?”

I’ve never met royalty up close and personal, though I’ve waved at the Queen at the Cenotaph in Ottawa.  Oh and Prince Edward came to the college where I used to work.

The first surprise was that the large shiny Daimler with flapping union flag, chauffeur and insignia that pulled up outside the new art block, which was waiting to be officially opened, contained no Prince Edward at all, but the Mayor.  HRH parked behind him some minutes later in a comparatively unobtrusive black Mercedes with his minder in the passenger seat. 

The party of dignitaries detailed to greet him had already been in the refectory snacking on finger food.  (I can’t believe they produced Menu A, observed my colleague Pete Hinton.)  Then, the Principal, the Chairman of Governors, the Mayor and other bechained people escorted the Prince inside the art block while we, the indignitaries from lesser corners of the college, looked on - scarcely a throng, given the low-key advertisement of the visit, and the absence of students who, now that exams had finished, had shown a clean pair of heels. 

In my humdrum T-shirt and not-quite jeans, I tried to duck the sightlines of our head of department who had scrubbed up particularly well and was striding around in a trim suit.  Pete and I managed to breach the atrium and knocked back what Buck’s Fizz we could lay our hands on, while Prince Edward did the rounds, talking politely to staff, and to the handful of students who had been roped in for the day.  

After about 40 minutes, HRH reappeared in our midst, and the Principal gave a brief speech, claiming that the building would change in the region of 30,000 lives.  Prince Edward did not bat an eyelid at this number but did a minor comedy turn: the one about a prince well used to unveiling plaques to commemorate the official openings of buildings, who – you would think - should know what he's doing, but actually is still practising because anything could go wrong and did you see that gap in the makeshift stage that he might actually fall through?  And in any case, what did the people who’d already supposedly been working in this building think they were playing at since it was only today that the building was official?  It was good-natured and got the required laughs. 

He made his way to the front door,  knelt down to talk to a group of children from the staff nursery, gave a final wave from the driver's seat of the Mercedes and was off, followed at a measured interval by the greater pomp of the chauffeur-driven limo of the Mayor.

Pete and I finished the dregs of the Buck’s Fizz.

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