All right, so I’m a spoilsport.
I had planned to spend today hiding in my flat, and catching the River Pageant on the television news. I just have never been a fan of crowded, public celebrations of anything. I still carry the trauma of a New Year’s Eve spent on Waterloo Bridge, a few years ago.
I successfully parried most of my friends’ attempts to lure me to Pageant-watching-picnics by the river, or Pageant-on-TV-screen with a pint, in a pub. The last friend, however, ambushed me with a weapon against which I had no defence. It was her birthday, and she wanted to be a part of the national celebrations. She told me there had not been such an event since Queen Elizabeth I. That there would be 1,000 boats on the river. So she dragged me, mentally kicking and screaming, to the bank of the Thames, just by Blackfriars Bridge. Knowing I was on the brink of bolting any minute, she had come armed with a rucksack full of ammunition in the form of cheddar biscuits – in case I complained I was hungry, a soft cashmere scarf – in case I complained (as I did) that I was cold, a bottle of water – in case I complained I was thirsty, and so forth. True to my spirit of un-cooperation, I showed up in a short-sleeved T-shirt under a tweed jacket and a cotton scarf with flowers and peacocks on it, which was more for decoration than warmth. Still, as a token of self-preservation, I did take along a golf umbrella.
In for a penny, in for a pound. I tried to look forward to the event. A flotilla of 1,000 boats. I pictured a colourful painting by Canaletto, and thought of grandiose music by the Gabrielis. Perhaps there would be ancient ships, with gilt decks and candid sails tied to timber masts. I imagined the Queen wearing the crown Imperial, clad in scarlet velvet and ermine. I imagined, bugles, bagpipes, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, Elgar and Walton played with gusto, flowers tossed from the boats, floating on the Thames like a waving carpet, drum rolls, church bells peeling. I imagined pomp, circumstance, magnificence, solemnity, majesty. I imagined something awesome.
We could not see the river at all, all the prime viewing spots being occupied by people who had got out of bed at the crack of dawn. There were large television screens lined up at regular intervals. As we approached one, the volume was so high, I rammed my fingers into my ears, and contemplated escape on hearing health grounds, but my friend merely led me further away from it with patience and unwavering determination. The sky was grey and the air chilly and humid. At least, I told myself, it was not raining. There was a friendly, jovial atmosphere in the crowd. Union Jack flags on plastic sticks were waving from people’s hands, were stuck in people’s hats, and emerged from people’s rucksacks. Union Jack hearts were painted on people’s cheeks. Union Jack bags, towels, mats, T-shirts. In front of us, a dog wore a Union Jack coat and tried to chew his mistress’s Union Jack flag.
The Queen wore a white outfit. No regalia. There were boats carrying musicians but I could not hear them against the noise of police helicopters and TV screens. I was surprised by the relatively low-key style of the event. I kept waiting to feel the thrill of a sense of occasion, but it never quite came to me. Perhaps watching the event on a screen removed you from the emotion of the action. And then, the heavens opened, and it started to pour. Still, it is always lovely to see a crowd of people enjoying themselves, bonding and taking pride and joy in a happy event. I do not know why I had expected something sumptuous and lavish – almost magical.
When I came home, sneezing and shivering, the television newsreaders were comparing the event to a Canaletto. What a coincidence, I thought. I thought again. No. It did not look like a Canaletto. I guess that is the problem with imagination – reality seldom lives up to it.
Still, in these hard times, a happy day. At least I can say I was there.
© Scribe Doll