The old man and I just returned from a two-week trip to the motherlands of our ancestors: England, Ireland and, of course, Scotland.
By sheer happenstance, our visit started in London on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th Jubilee Pageant. When I discovered this, I was elated. A lifelong Anglophile and Haley Mills wannabe, I was about to see a bucket list dream come true.
I fantasized about my Royal encounter: I’d be somewhere in the throng, wearing a fabulous but tasteful fascinator on my head. Her Majesty would approach me, holding out her hand, just like that scene in “My Fair Lady.” I’d curtsy demurely, offering her a red rose — her favorite flower — and a portrait of her precious corgis, handmade from Kansas sunflower seeds by yours truly. Completely charmed, she’d introduce me to Will and Kate. Kate would coo, “Marvelous millinery, my dear. Wherever did you get it?” Wait! Did Harry just give me a wink? Cheeky devil!!
Oh, it would be splendid. A jolly good time, indeed.
We touched down at Heathrow early Sunday morning. At my insistence, we rushed to our hotel, dropped off our bags then darted — dazed and sleep-deprived — to the 1,000-boat flotilla on the River Thames to see the Royals in their splendor. (Well, in as much splendor as one can muster in a bloody downpour. I’m talking torrents, mates!)
Commemorative Jubilee Oyster cards in hand, we squeezed into an Underground train with hundreds of Queen Lizzie’s adoring, flag-waving subjects, decked out in red, white and blue regalia. Think Union Jack scarves, tights, Wellies, slickers, umbrellas, tattoos and, of course, fascinators.
We surfaced from the Tube at the Blackfriar’s Bridge stop, making our way through festively festooned, if soggy, block parties in every car park and alleyway, just in time for the pageant to begin.
“I can’t wait to see the Queen!” I squealed from under my Gore-Tex hood. “And Harry, Willie and Charlie. I wonder what Kate will be wearing?!?” I was beyond chuffed.
Arriving at the bridge, we saw them. A sea of sopping souls. Hundreds of thousands, lined up 20 deep at the bridge’s railing, umbrellas obscuring the view even more. A man in Union Jack skinny jeans sloshed by with a stepladder roped to his back.
“Why didn’t YOU think of that?” I said to my husband, who seemed annoyingly nonplussed by my angst. (The man wasn’t about to go ga-ga over a British monarch. A Bond girl, maybe, but not an old queen.)
I dragged him through the masses, down toward the riverbank, in hopes of finding a bit of ground, a sliver of a sightline. But there were even MORE people! Think New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Yasgur’s Farm in August of ’69, Walmart on Black Friday — combined.
It was futile. There was no view. No way, no how. I was gobsmacked and gutted. My hopes and dreams were dashed.
Swallowing my expectations, I followed my spouse’s lead to Blackfriar’s Pub across the way where we watched the pageant on BBC with another hundred or so denied but dry people. (Dry, as in moisture-free, not sober.)
We ordered a couple of pints and watched the Queen, resplendent in white, braving the downpour with her signature stiff-upper-lip smile. At one point, she looked up at the heavens as if to say, “Really? Sixty years of service and I get a drenching?” Still, the sight of all those adoring Brits — more than a million, they say — must have warmed the old girl’s cockles. I know they warmed mine. (The whiskey didn’t hurt either.)
It was shoulder-to-shoulder in Blackfriar’s Pub that afternoon. Conversation was loud and lively. A man coming back from the loo bumped into me, spilling my beer. “Sorry, luv,” he said with a smile.
I smiled back and simply shrugged. I didn’t want him to hear my voice. I didn’t want him to know I was an outsider. I was crashing his party — their party — and loving every minute of it.
It rained into the night and just about every day after that during the rest of our journey. But, when it did, we simply zipped up our Gore-Tex, put on a stiff-upper-lip smile and — here’s the secret for a successful trip on the British Isles — popped into a pub.
It was a brilliant vacation.