I have always loved history. It was a favorite subject at school and I stuck with it at university. Of course, it was a few years ago, but the interest never left me.
booked a long weekend in London a few weeks ago. It was in honor of his 25th wedding anniversary with Louise.
There were plans to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon lounging around Hampton Court Palace, looking at scenes that would have pleased King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, before heads began to roll.
Windsor Castle was on the list. Also the Tower of London.
I’m really no stranger to London. I lived in England during university so my regular weekend trips were short train journeys. This time, however, I knew that the morning flight from Gatwick to Belfast would put us both awestruck at the center of history, as it did.
And from the moment we stepped off the plane to be greeted by a huge image of the Queen, a small figure standing out brightly against an all-black background, it was clear that this was going to be a very different trip to the capital.
This was even more evident when we arrived at Victoria Station. We were one of the few who got off the train and carried bags instead of flowers. Saturday, a school holiday and families made the pilgrimage.
The bags were dumped at the Grand Royale Hotel, a building also steeped in royal history as it is said to have been commissioned by Edward VII in the 1850s as a London residence for his mistress, the actress Lily Langtry.
You soon realize that every corner of London has its own royal story. And whether you’re a royalist or not, you just can’t deny that London knows history so well, and it’s impossible not to be drawn into the event.
By 6pm we squeezed into the mall. We were not alone. A walk to Buckingham Palace dragged you on a warm late summer evening. There were only two thousand of us marching slowly to the tune of workers manipulating barriers and erecting scaffolding.
We stopped at the Queen Victoria memorial in front of the palace. To the right, the tent village was fenced off as members of the world’s media gathered. At the front of the palace itself, you could see flowers growing. They waited five hours just to leave their bouquet. This did not deter thousands.
There was a sigh of relief from those standing around us, those who were not moved from the grass and ordered to move on the path. A police motorcycle left the scene. All the phones came out and King Charles III was on the move. At the right place, at the right time, his car passed silently by where we were standing. Someone greeted, someone interrupted polite applause. People seemed to have no idea what to do. A wave hit the window as he passed and he disappeared.
Smiles broke out on the faces around us. Phones checked to see if they had captured the moment. You could feel they all just wanted to be here, to be part of the history of the moments that kept coming after the news of the Queen’s death last Thursday night.
With people swarming around Green Park, the retreat was slow. It was inhabited by people from all walks of life. Languages from around the world chattered quietly as we made our way through the night.
We returned on Sunday, just in case, joining the swarm buzzing around Green Park, where every tree was now decked out in flowers. Once you started going in one direction, there was no point in trying to turn around, you just had to go with the flow.
Every couple of minutes the merciless procession would stop as another Park Ranger pick-up truck brought flowers to be taken down from the gates of Buckingham Palace. Even more swarming when the trucks stopped and the people who were there at the time poured forward to help put the flowers in the explosion of colors that now lined the grass all around.
We didn’t want to cheat by putting other people’s flowers, so we left them alone, trying to get away from the park because it was hot, sticky and shoulder to shoulder. Some gates were closed, Green Park underground also due to overcrowding. After a sweaty hour we freed ourselves and went shopping.
On Monday morning we thought. We will never have this opportunity again, was the verdict. It was on its way to Westminster, where King Charles III and Camilla were due in the House of Commons at 10am, and after again dodging the TV crews – they seemed to have gathered in all corners of London – we stood right at the gate as the royal car. rolled around the corner. More waves, more phones high overhead. All done in less than a minute.
A leisurely day of wandering around Hampton Court can wait until next time. It will be anyway. But the sheer number of people was too strong. We walked down Park Lane to Piccadilly. It was September 12th, our anniversary, and we made reservations at the Hard Rock Cafe for that night because that’s how we usually go.
And the anniversary weekend is over, what I have to show for it is a 1971 lace t-shirt celebrating both the year I was born and the 50th anniversary of the Hard Rock Cafe, a short video clip of someone’s head as she screams “God Save the King” ” and a memory of being around London as the story unfolded every minute.