Saturday, April 16, 2005

A Royal Time in Windsor

Last Saturday I decided to pop over and visit my friends Charles and Camilla on their wedding day. I took the train from Stevenage to London Kings Cross, the tube from Kings Cross to Paddington Station, the train from Paddington to Slough (pronounced so that it rhymes with ‘cow’), and then a quick train ride from Slough to Windsor Exeter Central. By this time, it was getting quite late…nearly 9:00 in the morning.

My initial plan was to wander about the small town of Windsor for a bit to get an idea of what would be happening where. I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t easily find the Castle or the Guildhall from the station. Fortunately, just by taking a left turn out of the station, I found the castle in front of me and just a block or two down the street was the Guildhall. Of course, my search was aided a bit by the convenient barriers the police had erected to keep people off the road. I simply followed the barriers, the crowds, and the throngs of police officers and there it all was.

Looking to my left I noticed the Guildhall. I decided that I should probably just find a viewing spot and stay there. Even though the Royals weren’t due to arrive for nearly three and a half hours, I still wasn’t the earliest one there. Two women from South Carolina flew to England just for the wedding and the people next to them arrived Friday night and pitched a tent next to the barriers. There were also quite a few people who arrived that morning.

So, I decided to stand just across from the Guildhall. There was an open space along the barrier and only the press photographers would be in front of me. So, fortified with pre-cooked bacon strips and chocolate-covered digestive biscuits (um…that’s ‘cookies’) from Marks and Spencer, I began my long wait for the arrival of the Royals.

From my stationary position, I was able to watch the crowds pass by on the sidewalk behind me. There was an interesting mix…the flag-and-hat seller, the camera crews, the throngs of tourists, the police, and the guy with the large sheep on his head. Okay, I made that last part up…it was a large ram on his head. Really. It had those curly horns. And it was fairly large, too…about the size of a large dog.

From my stationary position, I also began to realize that those empty stepladders in the press photographers’ pen weren’t just there for decoration. Oh no. It seems that since the porch of the Guildhall has an iron railing, in order to get any decent photos from across the street, the photographers would need to stand on those ladders. No problem, I thought…I mean, how many people could they possibly put into that space? Heh. I was soon to find out. I should have taken a clue from the hoards of television crews filling each and every balcony anywhere within camera view of the guildhall. (If you were a police sniper, you got the top of the church tower…if you were merely a police photographer, you had to lean out from the roof of a building half a block away.)

I can now tell you how many photographers, stepladders, press officers, computer technicians, and security men you can fit into a space about 12 feet long and less than 4 feet deep: 10, 10, 1, 1, and 1. Plus all their equipment. But, all that’s keeping me from an unobstructed view of the Royal arrival is the four photographers on stepladders directly in front of me, the computer technician (who was uploading digital pictures live from the sidewalk), and about seven large bags of equipment. Luckily, the police officer (who, after ignoring everyone in this area for more than three hours decided to search photographers bags at promptly 12:26 pm…exactly sixty seconds before the arrival of the Royals) was merely next to me and not in front of me. Oh, and I also had two Japanese college students pushing and climbing over me.

But I digress. Here’s what happened… Just keep in mind that I was viewing all this from between two sets of photographers’ legs and stepladders. Really.

Just before 12:30, a small bus pulled up and several people arrived…I think there must have been Camilla’s family. A couple of minutes later, another small bus arrived bringing ‘all of the senior members of the Royal Family except for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh’ (that’s how they kept saying it) and Charles and Camilla. Since I don’t know who Camilla’s family members are, I wasn’t all excited about the first bus, but I could actually recognize people from the second bus: Prince William, Prince Harry, the Princess Royal…despite the frantic clawing of the Japanese college students, I was getting excited.

Then, at 12:30, Prince Charles and Camilla, accompanied by the frantic noise of thousands of camera shutters, arrived at the Guildhall (perhaps it was in the posh car that belonged to the Queen Mother, I’m not positive…sorry…you know…photographers’ legs, stepladders, clawing people…). They waved briefly at the assembled masses and entered the Guildhall.

After everyone went into the Guildhall (well, the thirty of them…the rest of us had to stay outside), there was a brief moment where we all looked at each other and thought, ‘Wow! That was it!!’ This was followed by a longer moment where we all looked at each other and thought, ‘Wow! That was it??’

And, twenty-seven minutes later, it all happened again as Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Windsor, left the Guildhall. The stopped, waved, and smiled. And for the first time, Charles actually looked happy.

Then they got into their car (at least I assume they did) and drove off (at least I assume they did…you remember… photographers’ legs, stepladders, clawing people…) and drove off to Windsor Castle.

That was it…all that waiting for two brief glimpses of the Royals. But I saw them, durn it! And it was worth it! Of course, I could have done without all the clawing….

So, I was left to find some lunch (it was after 1:00). I also had to find a loo (oddly enough, for all the thousands of people expected in Windsor that day, the only loo I could find was at the train station…and it was a rather small loo).

I also stopped at the post office to pick up a few of the new Charles and Camilla stamps. It seems they come as a small sheet of four stamps: two 30p stamps and two 68p stamps. You can get individual sheets, a presentation pack, and a first day cover. I got a presentation pack (basically, it’s the stamps with a somewhat sturdy folder and a plastic sleeve) and a first day cover (an envelope you address and a sheet of stamps you lick and stick on the envelope…then it gets a special postmark…I had a choice of several postmarks…how exotic!). Have you ever tried to lick a sheet of several stamps? There’s just no polite way to do it. Really. There’s just not.

Oddly enough, there were only two stores I saw that were selling the tacky (and somewhat expensive) wedding souvenirs. So I waited to get a commemorative spoon when I got back to London. It would like a nice Charles and Camilla tea towel though…

Anyway, it was a nice day. I ate some nice bacon strips and chocolate digestive biscuits, I rode eight trains, I saw the Royals…twice, and I got a spoon and some stamps. How’s THAT for a productive day?

As a side note: In England, it is very rare to see a gun anywhere. Even police officers walk around (in pairs) without guns. In fact, about the only place you normally see a gun is at the gate to Number 10 Downing Street. Of course, it’s a very big gun….

But I digress again. You could tell how important the people were who were in Windsor on Saturday: some of the police were armed. Yes, only some. Most of the police were without guns, except for a few officers in uniforms and some large gentlemen in suits. Not that you could see the guns under the suit coats, but you could see the bulge under their arms. Okay, look…I had three and a half hours to do nothing but check this stuff out. Well, that and the guy with the ram on his head.


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