The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration is in full swing this weekend.

Her Majesty is the toast of the town with daily celebrations to stoke the jubilation.  Sunday was the historic flotilla down the Thames.  Monday night festivities include a huge public concert at Buckingham Palace.  Tuesday will feature a procession of the royal carriages after mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

There have been countless articles describing the historic flotilla, but my friend Jill summed it up best:  “It felt like Thanksgiving Day.  We woke up and everyone was on holiday.  The weather was typical of late November: cold, windy, rainy, and gray.   We sat glued to the TV watching a parade and cooking in the kitchen.”  That about says it all!

The last time there was a royal flotilla on the Thames was over 300 years ago for “one of the King Georges“, as a British woman explained to me.  Those who watched it on TV definitely got the better view.  But I couldn’t resist the chance to actually “be there” and be a part of history.  We were lucky enough to get invited to a party at a pub aptly named the Oyster Shed, decorated like Nantucket but situated on the Thames.  Without invitations, no one was allowed to walk down to the river’s edge.  Police secured the entrances to the river, corralling the mobs away from the action.  Even on the edge of the Thames, it was impossible to see as the crowd was easily fifteen people deep.  Umbrellas and flags further obscured the view.

Our pub had a second floor from which the view was unobstructed.  I quickly ascended the stairs and claimed my spot, not moving for over two hours while I waited for the royal barge to approach.  Jeff and the girls worked shifts bringing me food and beverages as I stood my ground, literally.

A steady wind worked against the tide, making the task of rowing for one and a half hours more arduous than expected.  Before the Queen approached, dozens of small boats suddenly filled the Thames, and oars were furiously flying in every direction.  Even Jackie’s eyes grew wide in wonder at the sight, and a grin spread across her face, “This is so cool!”  My favorite boat was the wooden canoe filled with large shirtless men wearing face paint.  They were quite a contrast to the jauntily clad seamen on the fancier boats.

The countdown seemed endless.  Finally, the Queen’s royal barge emerged from the bridge, an enormous vessel decked out in roses.  It was absolutely immense, and dwarfed every other boat on the river.

The mob lining the Thames, crowding around open windows, spanning the bridges, and standing on rooftops erupted in a roar of applause as the boat came into view.  Church bells rang and clang.  I got a clear shot of Charles waving next to Camilla.  Will, Kate, and Harry were facing the other direction.

As the crowd crushed in, the best I could do was get a blurry shot of the Queen bedecked in all white and bundled against the bitter cold while Prince Philip gave the royal wave.

At this point everyone toasted with champagne and started singing,  God Save the Queen.  I did not realize that the British National Anthem was sung to the same tune as our America.  I kept singing to my own bastardized lyrics, “My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, God Save the Queen“.  Very confusing.

Everything was red, white, and blue, and it felt a bit like the Memorial Day parade in Old Greenwich.  Instead of all the kids holding the Stars and Stripes and waving at the firemen with the sirens blaring, here the kids held the Union Jack and waved at the big boats with giant bells clanging.

It was great fun to be part of such a historic moment and feel the frenzy and excitement sparkling in the air.

I did have my own close encounter with the Queen…

Her Majesty looked quite “snappy” at our local print shop, Snappy Snaps.  She also looked quite a bit happier in her cardboard form than in reality on the day of the flotilla.  I think she was freezing.  My friend, Peter, proposes that her stern grimace revealed what she was really thinking: “I can’t believe I have to endure another two bloody days of all this celebrating!  I wish I were sitting next to the fire with my corgis!”  Perhaps he is right.

For now she is center stage, holding court for the entire country.  Not bad for a spry 86 year old.  Whatever your nationality, you can’t help but be a Royalist this week.

God Save the Queen!

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