|Swiss Cantonal Tree - Leicester Square, London|
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I’m a sucker. We know this. Underneath the cynicism is someone who cries at movies, reads trashy novels and loves overblown ceremony. It’s true. I’m not ashamed (well, not too much).
My friend and I applied to go to ‘The Queen’s Garden Party’ at Buckingham Palace months ago. Members of the Commonwealth living in the UK can apply to go and their names may be picked to put on a fancy hat and join 7000 people in the place grounds.
My presence was requested by the Lord Chamberlain on perhaps the nicest stationary in the world. This invitation card scared me into dress shopping. Lots and lots of dress shopping and shoe shopping and hat hunting.
This frenzy of consumerism had some pretty good results. Your intrepid explorer actually scrubbed up quite well. London put on some sunshine after several days (weeks) of rain, A and I met up on the the train and headed to the palace gates looking very snazzy.
The back garden of Buckingham palace is quite unusual. It looks like someone’s backyard...though most people don’t have a backyard that will easily fit 7000 people in a small part of it. It’s lovely, and almost completely unpretentious - except for one small thing; the Queen’s tent. When tea is served and the anthem played, the royal party slowly makes its way across the lawn to a tea tent of their own. Here they meet VIPs (of whose numbers I was not, strangely) and get stared at like goldfish in a bowl. What a way to live one’s life.
There were cakes! Lots of cakes! In a survey of guests (me) I can safely say that the little cakes with raspberries were they best. The wee sandwiches with cucumber and mint were fabulous. The staff serving petit four was charming and didn’t look harassed at the never ending queues. Young men in yellow waistcoats took your plate with a smile. People began to relax and the antipodeans amongst the crowd gave up their chairs in favour of sitting on the ground. Ice-cream was served, two bands played show tunes and I ate more sandwiches (excellent sandwiches).
I can confirm, my friends, that Queen Elizabeth II is a real person. Yes, she is very small. Yes, she has exquisite taste in hats. Yes, Prince Phillip will spend hours talking to people. Yes, the palace is nice, but not as elaborate as some I’ve seen. Yes, I had a lovely day, in a lovely park, with lovely cucumber sandwiches.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
A very long time ago, in a land far away, I went to a football game. Japan 2002 – The World Cup Ecuador v Croatia (a terribly important game) in Yokohama. It was amazing. I supported Ecuador in the interests of geographic proximity. A few days earlier I had been to Toyota Stadium to watch the televised Japan v Russia game (just quietly, this was marred by a raving alcoholic flatmate – a story for another day). In that week I found out something I had hitherto not realised…football (or soccer for you Antipodeans/Americans) can really be quite exciting. It’s fast paced, the assorted throng is hilarious, in Japan people chant in harmony, there are hotdogs – and beer.
Another abiding memory of my time in Japan during the World Cup is my students – for the most part adults – being terrified by the concept of hooligans…generally English ones. The promise of these mad fans trashing cities, beating up the constabulary and running amok was all over the news and quite the conversation starter as I recall. I don’t remember any problems; it costs a fortune to get to Japan and even more to stay there. Promises of football hooliganism were happily exaggerated.
I have a point here somewhere…oh yes, I quite like football and one of these days I will go to a match in England. This weekend Fulham was festooned with flags and bunting in honour of Chelsea v Bayern München in the UFEA Champions Final. I get the feeling I'll be seeing a lot of bunting this summer!