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After my weird sleep patterns and full day of sightseeing the day before, I slept in a bit on Sunday morning. The mission of the day, however, was to get in position for the Queen’s Thames River Pageant, one of the first high-profile events of the Diamond Jubilee weekend celebration.
I had been watching the crowd build up at Tower Bridge on television, so I knew I didn’t want to go there. Tower Bridge was the end of the pageant, where the Queen would disembark to watch the rest of the procession. That = craziness. Instead, I got out at the Mansion House tube stop, a ways down the river. With the rest of the country. We all — gobs of children, teenagers, families and strollers — walked for ages down the barrier streets, looking for a way in to the river. But, security was tight and every building and establishment along the river had scheduled private, ticket-only events. I’d had the opportunity to buy such a ticket, for a cocktail reception at about $250 a pop. That seemed ridiculous at the time, but not so as I walked and walked to get a decent view.
Near Blackfriars, along the Victoria Embankment, I spotted a place at the top of an incline that was only, oh, 15 people deep. So I wedged myself in and prepared for the two-plus-hour wait for the boats to reach us. There were screaming children, moments of aggressive pushing/leaning and close quarters among people who had both traveled from around the country and camped out there for the morning. It was not what I would call ‘pleasant.’ I tried desperately to protect my tiny sliver of a view of the river anyway. I was also positioned across the river from the Tate Modern museum, where a large screen was projecting someone’s, probably BBC, television coverage. So we could see images of the royal family boarding their boats, and had a vague notion of what was happening elsewhere.
About 3:40 p.m., the first of the rowing boats reached us. And, just at that time, it started raining. Perfect.
Despite the weather, it was indeed a spectacle to behold as all the boats made their way together up the river. What I couldn’t see myself I watched through the viewfinders on people’s cameras as they aimed them over their heads.
Pretty soon, the crowd swelled with cheers, and the Queen’s boat came into view. Her barge was large, long, red, gilded and appropriately regal. Luckily, the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were on our side, while Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry were on the other. Yes, I just call her Kate, since we’d be friends.
A few other large, seemingly important boats passed. I continued to stick it out, but really, once the Queen went by, the whole thing lost its luster. The crowds were beyond annoying, and it was wet and freezing.
I departed and walked back towards the tube station. As did the rest of London. The rain and crowds put too much stress on the tube system, and there were major delays. So I just walked, drenched and miserable, my shoes squishing with water at each step.
I looked up and found myself in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, so I took the opportunity to duck inside. Most of the sites and aisles were cordoned off, but it was neat to think the royal services would be taking place there only two days later.
Back at my hotel, I changed shoes and socks and went out to meet my cousin Eric, who lives in London. Eric and I are actually second cousins, though we come from a family that’s large and friendly enough that all the generations know each other. That’s probably pretty rare. Our moms were always close, but I first really got to know his family when I was about 12 and his dad introduced me to my first midnight snipe hunt. It’s a lasting memory. Eric took me to an out of the way, neighborhood pub in Notting Hill with a promise of beer and homemade bangers and mash. (That’s sausages and mashed potatoes on our side of the pond.) The pub has a storied history in that it was built out of a ship or something, so to move between rooms you have to step through these small, locker-like doors. It was very cool, but I can imagine those being a hazard after several pints.
Unfortunately, the bangers weren’t available, but we settled in and ordered a proper Sunday roast instead — beef, yorkshire pudding, potatoes and vegetables. It was edible but I thought underwhelming, and Eric concurred. That’s okay, though, we had pints to keep us warm and nourished — even a special Jubilee issue at one round.
As happens in pubs, you end up talking to the tables next to you. And that’s how we met Ollie, a commercial real estate agent, who confessed that he was currently “between homes.” After Eric offered to buy him dinner, he laughingly corrected that he wasn’t homeless, but had just sold his flat and was staying with a friend in the neighborhood. He taught us how to play a card game called “sh*thead,” though I really think he was making most of it up. A group of girls in town from somewhere near Leicester arrived, having already consumed four jugs of Pimm’s at the waterfront. They were entertaining in the way that drunken people can be when you’re not. Then we turned to the young guy from Spain and his English girlfriend next to us — they were decidedly non-royalists, and they regaled us with stories of what to see while traveling in Spain.
It was a lovely, perfect evening — the way I like to travel, meeting the local people, eating their food and absorbing their atmosphere. Too bad it ended with last call at 11:00 p.m. 11:00 p.m., really?!?
I mean, to me it was only 6:00 p.m.