Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Gawd Bless Yer Ma'am!

Can you see Anything?
I’m too much of a liberal to be a monarchist but I’m grateful for an extra day off work this week, and in general think the Queen has done a reasonable job of the rather peculiar role that she was born to. Can you imagine who might have been able to be President in her place? Without patronage from the political parties or from the landed classes? Without corruption or self-interest? Answers on a postcard please…

So as one of her majesty’s loyal subjects I travelled to London on Sunday to watch the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, where over 1000 boats sailed down the River Thames to accompany the Queen to celebrate her 60 year reign. The last monarch to celebrate such a lengthy reign was Queen Victoria 115 years ago, and it is plausible that we may have to wait as long again until the next diamond jubilee. It’s a shame there was not a visitor guide for this year’s flotilla, so I have prepared a handy cut-out and keep guide for the next one, perhaps in 2127.


A Visitors Guide to the 2127 Jubilee River Pageant

Getting There

In 2012 we used a train to get to London. I guess in 2127 you will also be using trains as the last drops of petrol will have long been wrung out of the planet and even the rich will not be using cars. Our 09:23 train had its last spare seats filled at Winchester, and many had to teeter and sway for the over an hour. I guess the situation will change by 2127 and there will be no seats at all on standard class tickets, because at the moment I can’t see any increase in the size or frequency of trains. First class will no doubt be wonderfully sumptuous, and affordable by only those sorts who these days use Range Rovers and Mercedes as their commute-to-the-station runabouts. Everyone else will get the opportunity to feel dirty and poor as they are beaten and squeezed, bullet train fashion, into standard class.

Finding a Spot to Stand

Yes, But Where is the River?
If you caught the 09:23 in 2012 you were already an hour late to catch the last free spaces on the walls of the Thames. In 2127 you will have turn up the day before to grab a spot, but it is likely that by then all public spaces will have been sold off to corporate sponsors, as were many of the bridges this year. True, access to these bridges was also granted to invitees of the riparian boroughs, which is much the same but is funded by the public purse. This year there were only three bridges that could be crossed on foot, once you had your bags checked. Judging by the queues these must have been manned by the UK Border Agency practising congestion tactics for this year’s Olympics. Visitors from Winchester are advised that if you want to view the pageant from the North Bank in 2127 then please travel via Oxford to get to a suitable railway terminus. Let’s face it, there’s no point trying to watch the river pageant from the South Bank unless you are right up by the wall. Better to be on the North Bank where the elevations are higher and you can get longer sightlines around the curve of the river.

Meeting Friends

If you would like to meet up with friends and family to view the event please first invite them to your home and travel with them. Any movement along the South Bank was cleverly designed to eject you from the riverside into a confusing maze of roads in the surrounding area, only to be denied access back to where you started. We spent over an hour trying to get from the Tate Modern to meet friends at London Bridge only to end up back at the Tate and even further from the river wall. Our daughter, down from university for the weekend, nearly didn’t complete her rendezvous. One of the great innovations in policing in recent years has been kettling, a method by which the police help ordinary people to make new friends if they share a common interest, such as free movement about the city to visit their families, a situation in which my daughter found herself. It’s a bit like being friended on Facebook, except that you are stuck behind metal barricades and can’t get unkettled. Unless you have a mother who by shear persuasive force can wear down unflappable stone-faced policemen until they become meek little lambs and let you through.

You will naturally meet a lot of new friends at an event like this, especially if you have a marginally better vantage point than they do. People will naturally sidle up to you, become part of your personal space and assume that you are only there to reserve a position for them. It’s all very friendly.

British Rain Needs a British Brolly

Watching the Event 

If you are more than four deep from the wall you won’t be able to see anything, so you need to get extra height. People were, in 2012, standing on bins, benches and dangerously narrow bollards. Flimsy trees and appropriated chairs and tables were pressed into action. It was as though the thought of a thousand small boats had induced some sort of warped Dunkirk spirit and plucky subjects found novel and potentially lethal ways of watching the spectacle.

Is the Queen on that Boat?

We spent about four hours perched on the plinth of an ugly fibreglass anatomical statue outside the Tate. Although far back, the height of the plinth and the slight slope up to the Tate gave us a clear view of the surface of the river. Well, it did when we got there. By the time the flotilla passed us the tide had gone out and the level in the river dropped by two or three meters. Which meant that we saw two-tenths of bugger all. Thank god the Queen was in a tall barge, and we got to see her. As far as we were concerned the flotilla was only made up of six boats. We were amazed to see so many craft in the television news reports later that evening. It looked like a different event.  My advice to spectators in 2127 is to do what the tradesmen did this year; turn up with step ladders and decorator’s platform and get one up on your fellow visitor. Or take along a mini scaffolding set with you. Fortunately, by 2127 global warming will provide you with an extra couple of meters of sea level which should help a little.

Getting Home

Seeing Getting There (above) only in reverse, plus being very cold, very tired, and very wet.

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