Yesterday was definitely a day of contrasts. Before nine I was out of the door, clutching parcels heading for the local post office. I walked, getting part of my allegedly needed 10,000 steps a day. It was a blue sky day not even a wisp of clouds, the air was clear and the breeze brought a crisp morning coolness. Not bad for the main South Circular and I was first in the queue.
The post master was from the Indian sub continent and on the wall behind him he had a wonderfully framed picture of Mother Theresa. I needed to fill in a form and the pen on a chain didn’t reach far enough so the man behind me in the queue gave me his pen and actually gave it to me to keep as my transaction took longer than his.
Next was a 185 bus to Lewisham alighting right in the middle of the market which at 9.30am was lightly populated but the stalls were stacked with produce from around the world, bananas and plantains, yam and sweet potatoes, cumquats and mandarins, pomegranates and Pamilo, Lady’s fingers, Scotch Bonnet and Jalapeño Chillies, Capsicum, Cantaloupe and squashes of every size, shade and textures, avocados, fresh fish laid out on mounds of ice, as well as the everyday fruit and vegetables that we grow in the UK. It was awash with colour, vibrant in the sunshine, it could have been virtually any country in the world and mirrored the diverse languages that can be heard in the market. Despite the scarcity of possible customers the stall holders were still calling out, extolling their wares, but it was not raucous and there was a lot of banter with those who stopped to linger. I noticed how clean the street was, no mean feat for an everyday market. No one was rushing, we were all just enjoying the atmosphere, the normal stress and litter of the day would come later. It reminded me of the Covent Garden scene in My Fair Lady yawning and stretching wouldn’t have been out of place.
My errand was quickly executed and the 185 dropped me virtually at my door.
In the afternoon we would be playing hooky but I had a list of tasks to complete before we could escape. And until 12.30pm I was very industrious. We didn’t want to arrive at the palace hungry so we sat in the garden eating avocado and caramelised onion humous, enjoying the sunshine, the bird song, which will always sooth and lift the spirit, and the rustle of the leaves in the cherry and plum trees. We lingered too long and had a rush to shower and get our posh togs on. Anyone who knows me knows this is where I struggle. I am not a party animal, but the instruction accompanying the invite said lounge suit for Ian, frock and hat for me. My dear friend had helped me through the subsequent shopping ordeal, thank you Rachel.
The taxi arrived promptly and we set off and I breathed a sigh of relief everything was going to plan but the Metropolitan police had other ideas and as we crossed Westminster bridge they diverted us off onto the embankment and we snails paced along and watched the minuets tick by. The only comfort I had was that we were not the only one responding to the invitation as we came parallel to a VIP Rolls Royce clearly heading for the same destination but going in the wrong direction. Her hat was much more splendid than mine.
Tumbling out of the cab into the inevitable crowd, equally diverse as Lewisham Market, who were peering through the wrought iron palace railings trying to get a glimpse of our regal resident, we had to push our way to the front, show our invites and two forms of ID to the gun toting police officers at the gate, who kindly assured us that we were not too late their HRH’s were not due for five minutes, and we headed to the courtyard and up the stairs leading into the palace. As we entered a whole bunch of VIPs converged on us and we were conducted together through the building and out of those French windows, that we have all seen on television, and paused momentarily on the terrace overlooking the lawns. Unnervingly our entrance was watched by approximately 7500 people and I sent up a silent prayer that I wouldn’t stumble going down the stone steps in front of us. Letting the VIPs go off to their specific destination Ian and I endeavoured to blend in with the crowd and just found a small gap in time to hear the National Anthem which heralded the arrival; of Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and Princess Anne.
Lanes had been formed through the expectant throng by the beefeaters in their scarlet array, those fortunate few who would meet the HRH’s were positioned strategically waiting expectantly as the rest of us strained our necks for a better view.
We caught more than a glimpse of Prince Charles and Princes Anne but it was Camilla that was to command our attention. Along with her chats with the designated few she would also turn aside to talk to someone in the crowd a very elderly and frail lady she spoke to was so delighted and there was no doubt it made her day probably her year.
The rest of the afternoon was so relaxing, pleasant and delightful, quite idyllic, clear Wedgwood blue sky, sunshine and a gentle breeze and it couldn’t have been more British we were glad to be there. The gathered throng was just as diverse as the crowd in Lewisham Market and equally as colourful, with scarlet cassocked clergymen, saris and kilts, uniforms and national dress. Hats of every shape, colour and size, pagris and head wraps; one young lady had a dress all made from Gentleman’s neck ties, very distinctive. The bands, at different ends of the garden, young and old, male and female musicians, instruments gleaming in the sunshine, played tirelessly. The Boy’s Brigade and Girl’s Brigade, St Johns Ambulance Brigade your local bobbies all waiting to help. It wasn’t Ascot but just as vibrant and attractive, My Fair Lady came to mind again.
The Strepsils in my bag came to the assistance of a lady who had a tickly throat, which brought on a coughing fit. We managed to chat to several couples a bricklayer and his policewoman wife from Liverpool, an IT expert and his wife from Nottingham, but originally from India and the elegant Indian lady in the most fabulous Sari, bangles and earrings, who works in the visitor’s shop at Windsor Castle, who with her husband shared our table for tea; serendipitous meetings I thought after my postmaster in the morning and just as we were leaving a very smart uniformed officer and his wife who out of the blue offered to take a photo of us.
We walked, more of my 10,000 steps, around the perimeter of the garden, and the lake definitely wildlife friendly, in flower were Wisteria, Rhododendrons and their cousins the Azaleas, lovely Foxgloves and swathes of Lily of the Valley. Majestic trees, their spring fresh leaves fluttering in the breeze baffling the noise of the city just over the wall and Canada Geese and Moorhens completely unfazed by all these suits and frocks traipsing around the Queen’s Garden.
We may not have seen Her Majesty but we enjoyed her hospitality, our tea was wonderful, Ian got his favourite egg and cress sandwiches, all cheerfully and patiently served by the palace staff, the queue is still alive and well in Britain, at least at Buckingham Palace, that is. We saw our coughing lady again completely recovered and enjoying her day. On the stroke of six the band played the National Anthem and the HRH’s departed and we all, regretfully, wandered home like Cinderella after the ball.