For Sadie and all those at Coral Bay
Well, by my calculations, as I write this the Royal Party at Clarence House should be just starting the last chorus of ‘Hi-ho Silver Lining’. For some unfathomable reason, this dreary, non-descript, infernal embodiment of crap as vinyl, courtesy of Jeff Beck, has come to signal ‘time’ for the revellers in discos, clubs and bars all over the Western world.
‘Hi-ho Silver Lining’ means, there’s one more song – the ‘slowie’ before lights up. So if you’re not already draped over some one of the opposite sex, or for that matter someone of the same sex, and vaguely interested – and you don’t want to leave alone, then you had better get a move on.
Through the spinning laser lights and the palls of dry ice which still hang in the air from The ViIlage People’s ‘YMCA’ I can just make out Prince Harry lining up for a final approach on Kate Middleton’s sister, Pippa, presumably building on the not inconspicuous ‘groundwork’ he had started on the balcony at Buckingham Palace –or possibly even before. He is a brave man if this is so, for his girlfriend Chelsy Davy is well known for her fierce temper. Never mind, if it goes belly-up I have it on good authority that he has arranged for a ‘first-light fried breakfast pick-me–up’ for all those of the Royal Party still on their feet. He sounds like good company over a few beers.
As far as the run-up to this ‘spectacle of Pomp, Pageantry’ was concerned, I am afraid to say The Royal Wedding barely registered a reading on my ‘Interest-ometer’. Throughout the preceeding two weeks it fluctuated between indifference and mild irritation. However, little by little as the morning has progressed, I have found myself getting ineluctably drawn into the watching of the television coverage of the event; and it isn’t long before I get to reminicing … reminicsing … reminiscing (which is a lot easier to do than it is to spell) about
‘Psssst! Fancy a drink later?’ another Royal Wedding many, years ago; and where I watched it from. In fact, it was Harry’s mum’s wedding. Lady Diana Spencer.
I had been indifferent to that too, The hullabaloo and media conjecture over this, that and the other largely going right over my head. Although, it did register with me – a little uncomfortably it has to be said – that we were soon to have a Royal that people actually fancied: a strange new concept.
We, (that is me and My Best Mate Aky) had resolutely decided to have nothing to do with it. We would gratefully accept the Bank Holiday thankyouverymuch (not so much of a treat in those days, because everything shut and there was bugger-all to do) but there would be no queuing at dawn on our part, no unseemly rush to grab a vantage point on the Mall, no straining of necks to get a better view of ‘The Dress’. No Sir!
I was too hungover on the morning of July 29 1981, for the irony of the situation to fully hit home as we (that is me and My Best Mate Aky) arose at 3:20am and soon after were out of our hovel in Stoke Newington to walk the one and a half miles to Finsbury Park tube station to catch a tube to Green Park in order to hopefully beat the queues at dawn and grab a vantage point on the Mall.
The plan was hatched in the Weatsheaf the previous evening. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. We were travelling light, if you ignore the 12 rusty cans of Double Diamond beer we each carried. In the Weatsheaf, the possession of such lethal weapons was hailed as the ‘masterstroke’ of the whole expedition. Perhaps I should explain. Aky and I both worked in Off-Licences. As a gesture of goodwill to mark the auspicious occasion of the Royal nuptials, we had been allowed to clear the fridges of all the ‘out of date’ and/or rusty cans and use them to complete our celebrations. Of course, this was back in the day when tin cans were tin and goodness me, they did rust. Not, however a cause for concern for two intrepid thrill-seekers such as me and My Best Mate Aky. Indeed it wasn’t long (in the Weatsheaf) before we realised we actually had an ingenious ‘dual-purpose’ gadget in our possession which could have been tailor-made for the very conditions we were soon to experience: contents served to quench thirst/provide hair of dog. Then the can, when empty, something to stand on, which if stacked double height, afforded valuable extra inches as one strained one’s neck to get a better view of ‘The Dress’.
And so it came to pass that instead of being tucked up, fast asleep in bed, like most normal people; 5:00 am on the morning of the Royal Wedding found me and My Best Mate Aky, emerging bleary-eyed from Green Park tube station to make our way down to the Mall. Our objective was Clarence House. Why? Because it was there that Diana would spend the night before her wedding, and from there the following day that she would depart for the journey by horse and carriage to St. Pauls. These were the only definite arrangements, aside from the ceremony of course we knew about with any certainty on this special day. So, we reasoned, if we were to see Diana, and take the last opportunity to shout to her that she was about to make the biggest mistake of her life and that ‘Here I was’ (Or ‘here he was’ in Aky’s case) then Clarence House had to be the venue.
It has just occurred to me writing this years later that although both of us firm in our belief that we could each give Diana a better life than she could ever hope for with old ‘Big Ears’, we had no contingency plan, nor had we discussed what we would do in the event that she called a halt to her carriage, and holding onto her veil, jumped down onto the kerbside and ran into one or other of our outstretched and open arms. No, I think in hindsight it is just as well she stayed in her carriage. I can feel my toes, even now, curling up with virtual retrospective embarrassment, as I imagine myself face to face with Diana, standing on the Mall, somewhere in the region of a million people in the centre of London and a television audience of billions all listen and look on in hushed silence as I mumble to her something about not really being fully prepared, not having thought it through properly and that she might actually be better off with Prince Charles, in the long run after all.
See the guy in black? Standing on tins of Double Diamond
Now I don’t know whether you know this but in the City of London, if you are caught short, and find there are no public conveniencies, ‘bathrooms’ or pub toilets handy; if you shout ‘In pain’ three times, you are, under ancient by-law able to relieve yourself where you stand and the Old Bill – or to use their quaint nickname, The Metropolitan Police can do nothing about it. However, on the Mall, I did feel a little self conscious about doing so, given the numbers of people around. I was in pain, alright. After drinking twelve cans of Double Diamond and standing around doing nothing for five hours, I was in pain x 3. There were rumours of some temporary toilets in Green Park. Aware that to give up one’s hard-fought vantage point – if only for a short while – so close to the start of proceedings could spell disaster. (Worst case scenario being that after everything you have endured you hear the cheers of the crowds as the Royal family and its guests make their way down the Mall, but you are stuck in a queue for the toilets, too far away to see anything.) I had to make a move. So I did.
1981The Charles and Di periscope: No match for cans of Double Diamond
On my return, as I neared our ‘spot’ (on the north side of the Mall/Admiralty Arch side of Stable Yard Road if memory serves correct) I noticed signs of Police activity. This was bad news. They were cutting off Stable Yard Road in preparation for the exit of Diana’s carriage. Bollocks! I was right in the meleé here. I’d lost my good viewing point. And my cans! Bugger it! All that Double Diamond. And for what? Actually, the truth was that the cans weren’t such an innovation after all. As more and more of them were guzzled, standing on the empties, they became increasingly unstable. As did I. In fact I was begining to get quite unpopular with my fellow man, as on at least three occasions, my ‘tower of cans’ collapsed, to go tumbling all over the feet of those nearby. Closely followed by myself. With that dogged determination characteristic of those who have consumed too much alcohol, each time, I picked myself up and opened one of the remaining full ones, took a good slug before collecting the rest and re-building my tower. Finally a gentleman, possibly an ex-PE teacher or Police Officer who, getting more and more irritated by my shenanigans picked me up – a little more firmly than the situation warranted I felt, and simply said ‘I think that’s enough now’.
And just how did they get up there? Tins of Double Diamond
It is at this point that my memory starts to get a little hazy and my account of the next couple of hours begins to differ more than somewhat from Aky’s. In my version, I get stuck on the Palace side of the Mall. In Aky’s, he manages to get the Police to let me cross again before the coach leaves. In mine, all I get to see of Diana are a few white flashes from her dress, the rest of her, as she is seated on the far side of the carriage is obliterated by the sizeable frame and head (looking for all the world like it was made from plasticine by a child) of her father, Earl Spencer, Viscount Althorpe. In fact what I saw, very spookily is almost exactly this:
What did he have in the inside pockets of his suit? Tins of Double Diamond
Aky, on the other hand recalls that he too didn’t see much of Diana, because in his case, the Queen Mother was hogging window space.
Well, that’s Double Diamond for you.
What is for sure, is the three of them couldn’t have squeezed into the carriage – even if they had put the Queen Mum into one of the overhead luggage racks. Anyway, who cares? The point was we had gone to all that trouble and still not seen the star of the show. I have to admit, I felt slightly cheated. We’d had enough. We weren’t prepared to wait for the return of the procession from St. Paul’s. From that point, apart from bumping into my mate Keith, with who I shared a house with in Newcastle (see ‘Coat Tails #2’) and who, throughout the whole of the morning had been standing unbeknown, a matter of feet away; the day began to take on a fairly dismal typical ‘Bank Holiday’ air about it.
In an attempt to prolong the excitement, we decided to make full use the cheap London Underground travel cards that were available on the day.
‘Where shall we go?’
‘How about somewhere that has an interesting name – somewhere we’ve never been before?’
‘Gospel Oak?’ ‘Parsons Green?’ ‘Dollis Hill?’ ‘Kilburn High Road?’
Then as if from nowhere, an image from long, long ago appeared in my mind’s eye. A family: the parents and their three boys sit round a tiny blue formica-topped table, eating tea and listening to a spoof radio quiz show.
‘I know!’ I said ‘ …. Mornington Crescent!’
And so it was.
And the moral of this little tale? Well nothing really, except things aren’t always what you expect them to be. Charles and Diana’s wedding and my small walk-on part in it has always seemed an anti-climax. As for Mornington Crescent, fittingly the ‘I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue’ team had the last laugh because there’s absolutely nothing to get excited about there at all.
Except Mornington Crescent.
© Andy Daly 2011