Wednesday, 6 June 2012


Jubilee souvenirs at the Garden Centre
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee crept up on me, rather.  It's not that I didn't know about it - we were getting an extra day off work, after all - our neighbours were organising a street party and we were going to a bit of a "do" with friends where a beacon was going to be lit.   And on a visit to the local garden centre we'd discovered an amazing display of Jubilee souvenirs for sale (I had to persuade my husband that we didn't need a "dress up Princess Kate" book or any other bit of tat). But it wasn't until I was walking along the banks of the Thames from Blackfriars  to my office at Southwark Bridge last week that I realised it was really upon us.  This part of Bankside has been under renovation for months, and  suddenly the workmen had picked up the pace - but surely it wouldn't be ready for the Jubilee Weekend?

finishing touches, Bankside
© Teresa Newham 2012
Day by day I watched as things progressed.  New bench seats arrived and were installed.  Trees appeared.  Tarmac was laid and railings painted.  The steps to the Millennium Bridge sprouted new balustrades.  A massive flower bed was filled with compost and planted up.  It was like a soap opera:  will they won't they finish in time?  One morning I found myself thinking what a shame it was that the Blackfriars railway bridge (not due for completion until July) was still covered in scaffolding - by the evening much of that scaffolding had disappeared.  Clearly this Jubilee was going to be a Big Deal.  Some photo reportage was called for!

red, white and blue at the Founders Arms, Bankside
(Blackfriars rail bridge in the background)
© Teresa Newham 2012
By now bunting and flags were in evidence everywhere. Red, white and blue was the order of the day - and not just in shop windows and floral displays, either. My colleagues had already suggested that we wear red, white and blue to work on the Friday prior to the Jubilee Weekend; the local primary school had the same idea.  I felt a bit self-conscious on the train until I saw a chap in navy blue trousers and navy blue and white checked shirt casually carrying a red sweater.  And a man in a navy blue suit, white shirt and navy tie wearing red socks .  .  . decorations went up in the office and a whole raft of portaloos appeared outside as crowd barriers were assembled on Southwark Bridge.  Something about a River Pageant, apparently . . . which was going to be HUGE!

flags pretty much everywhere!
© Teresa Newham 2012
We found out almost by accident that there was going to be a fair on Harpenden Common on the Saturday.  Sure enough, despite the cold wind loads of people had turned up and many of these were wearing red, white and blue . . . 

red, white and blue on Harpenden Common
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Local History Society exhibition in a nearby hall was also pulling in a crowd.  It showed how Harpenden had celebrated various Jubilees during the 20th century; and the Queen's Coronation.  Fancy dress parades with a fairy theme figured extensively - including some extracts from Gilbert and Sullivan (Iolanthe, presumably!).  The white ensign from HMS Harpenden was on show - she was mainly active during the First World War and decommissioned in the 1920s.  

White Ensign (folded), HMS Harpenden
© Teresa Newham 2012
There was a  massive amount of local memorabilia, including one of the original street decorations from the Jubilee in 1937 - glass jars painted red, white and blue on a wire frame.  The local Scouts had to light them all one by one!

street decoration, 1937
© Teresa Newham 2012
The Society chairman had dug out the breeches and shoes he wore as a choirboy at the Coronation, along with a photo of his fifteen-year-old self running (late) to a rehearsal.  And then it struck me.  This wasn't just any old royal event.  We were witnessing history.  That was why so many people were here at the exhibition with their kids.  Few amongst us (apart from the very young, maybe) would see a Diamond Jubilee again.  Suddenly the idea of a souvenir didn't seem so tacky.  So it was straight round to the shops for a decorated tin of shortbread (me) and a book of photos of the Queen's life (my husband can't resist a book!).  We're not ardent royalists or anything.   We weren't going to spend our weekend in front of the TV, oh no!!  But we could recognise history in the making.

choirboy's Coronation breeches and buckled shoes
© Teresa Newham 2012
Of course, in the end we watched pretty much all of it.  The stunning Thames pageant had us glued to our seats most of Sunday afternoon - incredible, despite the rain  (now I understood why they'd spent two years painting Southwark Bridge).  Monday  however was for socialising; that street party (under gazebos, in the rain) gave us the chance to finally meet most of our neighbours; and was such a success that we might do it again next year.  It was intended to finish around 3.30pm, but in fact only a final downpour at 5pm drove us indoors, and then just to get changed and go out again for the evening.

flags, fancies and favours
© Teresa Newham 2012
Red, white and blue was the theme again as we danced to our friends' vocal harmony group at their local village "do" - the village had been partying all day.  We were grateful for the hot meal on a chilly night, which warmed us enough to go outside to see the beacon lit at 10.26pm precisely -  more dancing, then back at our friends' house we started to watch a recording of the Jubilee concert.  Which is why the two of us were creeping into our house at 3am the next morning, still clutching our Union Jacks from the party!

lighting the beacon
© Teresa Newham 2012
So we spent Jubilee Day itself very quietly, watching the service from St Paul's Cathedral on TV; the procession; the balcony appearance and the fly-past by the Red Arrows.  Frankly, we were exhausted.  And unexpectedly rather proud of our Queen, who's life really sums up the meaning of the word vocation.  And now we have those Union Jacks hanging in the window, they might as well stay there for the duration of the European football.  And the Olympics.  It's going to be quite a summer!

the partygoers sing "Land of Hope and Glory" as the beacon is lit
© Teresa Newham 2012

1 comment:

  1. An excellent summary of a weekend that was more moving and dramatic than I had expected. Really interesting shots of London.