Saturday, 9 June 2012

Jubilee Weekend - The River Pageant

‘Hardcore Monarchist’ is not a title I would usually give myself, but after spending well over 8 hours in the cold and the wet beside the Thames waiting to see Her Royal Highness I feel this may be a title that now applies. Don’t get me wrong before this weekend I was proud to be British; I know the words to our National Anthem, I support England (however misguidedly) in the football, I happily watch other Royal events such as last year’s Royal Wedding, but I could never say that I had camped out in order to see the Queen.
The day began with a 4am start in order to be all sorted and ready to secure a great spot. Having checked the weather forecast the night before my friends and I knew full well that the British weather was not going to let us down and that layers and supplies would be needed in order to make the wait a little more enjoyable.
We arrived at the Thames a little before 6 am and were some of the first people there. After initially trying to see if we could get a space on Lambeth or Westminster Bridge we resolved that the next best thing was a riverside place opposite the Houses of Parliament. Luckily we also managed to find a spot that still had a free bench near it, something that came in very handy later on in the day once the tiredness began to set in. Being near to Parliament also meant that we had a direct view of Big Ben which worked out as a brilliant way to countdown to the start of the flotilla.
As the day continued more and more people steadily made their way to the Thames to find a space from which to view the River Pageant. Despite the off and on rain and the chilling wind there was a sense of excitement in the air. A feeling that this was no other miserable, grey day in London, but that something important was about to begin.
Time passed steadily and after marvelling at the view had worn off it was time to embark on what turned out to be possibly the longest game of ‘I spy’ I have ever played. My friends and I even managed to get some of the middle aged people from the group next to us joining in. It is also surprising just how many things really do begin with ‘B’ when you are stood by the river. There were also big screen at certain points along the Thames showing a montage of scenes from the Queen’s reign to keep us entertained and remind us of why we were here.
Throughout the day boats could be seen heading west along the Thames to the start point and people covered in Union Jack flags joined the expectant throngs lining the banks. Some of the spectators even managed to get a few hearty renditions of ‘God Save the Queen’, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘The Lambeth Walk’ going before Big Ben struck two and it was almost time for the flotilla to set off.
From our spot we had to wait almost another hour before the first boats reached us, but when they did the crowd went wild. The flotilla began with a procession of smaller boats displaying the flags of the Commonwealth being sailed by people from every age group. These were intermixed with larger vessels carrying orchestras and one playing a peel of bells, which had been specially commissioned for the Jubilee. Then the moment came and Her Royal Highness sailed past on the Royal Barge. Every flag in the crowd was waved manically, cameras flashed and a triumphant chorus of ‘God Save the Queen’ rang out. It was the moment we had waited over 8 hours for – the Queen was less than 150 meters away and was waving back at us.
The Pageant continued on with more and more boats lining the Thames, but as the narrow boats began to emerge from under Lambeth Bridge the heavens opened and the rain poured down. At times it rained so hard it was almost impossible to see the rest of the flotilla. It was at this point that I realised that I was totally soaked through and frozen to the core. Upon eventually arriving home it took a rather strong vodka hot chocolate, a very warm blanket and pizza to warm me up.
The weather was the only bad part of the day. The start may have been early and the wait in the rain long, but being able to stand right at the front and see the whole thing was priceless. This weekend has shown that despite the weather no one quite does patriotism like the British. It is estimated that over a million people braved the cold to see the River Pageant and wave at the Queen as she celebrated being on the throne for 60 years, as our anthem so correctly states ‘long to reign over us, God save the Queen.’

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