Saturday, 7 May 2011

Up the Hill Backwards: My Royal Wedding Experience

Having never experienced a Royal Wedding before, I am afraid that I really have very little to compare it with. The fuss and furore that accompanied the wedding of the current Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer rather passed me by, chiefly for the reason that I had yet to be born and was at that stage, still a mere glint in my father’s eye. Despite having seen many pieces of archive footage of the pomp and ceremony of that grand occasion, non of it surpassed the fantastic pop-up book entitled ‘A Very Windsor Wedding’ which my uncle produced to wowed guests at the lunch table on Easter Sunday. Forget the spectacle of Charles and Di waving at the cameras from the balcony of Buck Palace, much better to repeatedly pull on a directional tab and control the waving movements of the happy couple yourself. I suppose for me, like the pop up representation of the Queen’s aged corgi jumping over a gate at Balmoral, none of this seemed that real!
I had been reading the build up in the media which had started since last November and by the time the wedding was upon us all, I had become thoroughly bored with it. As the 'gutter' press and a few ‘gutter’ channels started making snide remarks about Kate (sorry Catherine) being a ‘commoner’ an outsider might have been excused for thinking that this was nothing but an update of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As Easter passed and the event loomed great on the horizon, the bunting went up, the flags were raised and all those bored women in the hairdressers were a-gossip about which of the extravagant dresses Catherine would be wearing as she recited her vows to the beaming Prince William. It would be safe to say that London was in a great sense of anticipation.
Having been invited to a party by a good friend of mine on the day in question, I was charged with making a contribution to the food and drink. The theme was British summer and the days leading up to the nuptials had not disappointed. Getting home from the office a little earlier than usual I set to making a range of finger sandwiches that would end all finger sandwiches. Foodies look away, for there was nothing in those sandwiches which had the merits of fine gastronomy. When catering in bulk and on a budget for others, considerations about homemade bread, Bradenham Ham or hothouse cucumbers are all thrown out the window, the food on this occasion was to be fuel and would be treated as such. The phrase ‘Supermarket Own Brand’ would not be out of place in this tale and to go with all the groceries I had purchase I had also procured a bottle of Richmond Gin and a bottle of Pimms.

And so the sandwich cutting began, until the work surface was strewn with crusts, crumbs, offcuts of wafer thin processed ham and waxy cucumber peelings. Of course, throughout these trials, where the top slice slipped of the filling mid cut to bread sticking to the knife I was aided in my travailles by a generous jug of Pimms and an episode or two of jeremy brett's fantastic portrayal of sherlock holmes.

Waking up the next morning to the hearty cheering of my housemate I went downstairs for my morning coffee feeling a little the worse for wares. I had seen friends the night before and the scotch and cigarillos cosumed were sitting less than comfortably as I tried to prepare myself for the lashings of booze which were to frequently punctuate the day ahead. I was asked if I wanted some breakfast, hearing an egg drop lazily into a pan of hot oil. 'I think I'll pass' I said reaching for an orange and my rallying cup of coffee. Besides, thought I, there would be plenty of time to stoke up as the day progressed.

Wimbledon station was buzzing, people were waving union jack flags being distributed by a mobile phone company who thought that they would cash in on the occasion. Yet another renaissance had occured, where the public had once again embraced the royals in their proverbial bosom. And so it was that I arrived at a block of flats in the Clapham area, clutching my provision and hotly anticipating an adventure.

I was buzzed in and directed to the 17th floor only to find the party in full swing - it was only 10 in the morning! Seeing some of the fancies on offer and the huge amounts of booze under which the table noticeably sagged, I felt that my offerings were somewhat paltry. But I needn’t have worried, I was in good company and there was plenty of good cheer. We ate and drank as we watched all the foreign dignitaries entered Westminster Abbey to the cheers and shouts of Britain’s finest. The king of Tonga deserves a special mention here for turning up looking like Mohammed Al Fayed, decked out in a costume similar to the doormen at Fayed’s former business Harrods.

Then a roar went up from the television as our plucky royals arrived in a show of pomp and ceremony. As Harry swaggered down the aisle in his military regalia as if he was on a night out on the Kings Road we all knew that the moment of the day was about to arrive. Soon it had come, the organs went up and the blushing bride, followed by a string of bridesmaids including her sister Pippa, whose understated dress – dare I say it – rather upstaged that of her sister’s!

As more and more bottles went clink-clonk into the recycling bin I could detect that people were getting decidedly tipsy (that is not to say that the author wasn’t enjoying himself to!) and in tandem the food was disappearing rapidly. My cucumber sandwiches had gone down a storm except for the rather soggy specimens which had not enjoyed their train journey that much and were now limp, bready piles of spongy mush. Pimms supplanted the Champagne and numerous toasts went up as the ceremony ran its course. Before long it was all over and as the newly-weds exited the church a massive cheer went up from the crowd on what was indeed one of Britain’s finest hours for a long, long time.

‘Ally-oop!’ said one of the hosts to the merry rabble that was spilling alcohol and fizzy pop all over his carpet, ‘for we now embark on a pub crawl along the Northcote Road’. Another cheer went up as all and sundry filed downstairs. This was my cue, I had been invited to another party and I felt this was as good a time as any to make my excuses and make the hazy and frankly wearisome journey to Hammersmith.

Trains are mercurial beasts and fate is rather more accelerated when a certain amount of Pimms has been consumed. I wanted to get to the other party as soon as possible and so it was that I ran to the station and jumped on what I thought was the right train. It was only when the doors had shut and I realized that I was bound for Staines, Berkshire…

Luckily the train stopped at Wandsworth Town so I was able to jump out and take stock. The one way system, in spite of the many roads that make up this particularly ugly part of London is not the easiest place to hale a taxi especially on a day when I imagine most were in the middle of town. After half an hour of fruitless haling and just as I was about to give up hope, a golden Hackney Carriage turned up to take Cinderfella to the Hammersmith ball.

On arrival, I found the party spilling out into the leafy street and procuring a bottle of Champers from the kitchen, I went out to find my chums languishing in the garden, discussing the day’s events. Wild opinions, smutty jokes and patriotic cheers were the order of the day and I settled in to another few hours of merriment. If there had been a republican in that party there is no doubt that he would have been promptly ejected from the party with a swift boot to the behind. The sun was making great efforts to make itself known that day, but each time was thwarted by another band of grey clouds. But who cares if it was overcast, to my mind the British mentality is at its best on a grey day and it is correct to say that we as a nation are unique in celebrating come rain or shine!

Again it was time to move on, and placing a call to a good friend, I was duly informed that there was a small, select shin-dig at his pad down in East London. Stopping for a cheeky couple of pints at the Phoenix pub (which was a hive of activity) with a few mates, I was afforded a rare sight. Now, the reader must forgive me as by this time I was a little 1 over the 8, but I am sure that I saw James Middleton. When I claimed this to my friends, they have all scoffed claiming that the brother of the bride would by then have been at Buck Palace. Well I stick by my story!

For the sake of keeping this blog post to a reasonable length, let’s just say that I ended the night about £50 the poorer, due – in part - to the overpriced lager at the off license and the scorching (and inedible) doner meat and chips that I purchased as I summed up the celebrations in Stepney Green. But let me just say that it was a fantastic day and leave it there. The city was buzzing with throngs of tourists and locals all very much enjoying an excuse to have a party and for once, in such bleak political climes, the whole of Britain seemed united in the pursuit of having a good time!

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