The Queen and I went to hear my friend Carla play her clarinet the other day. In a muddy field. In the Middle of Nowhere, Wales.
I arrived five hours early, in an ancient and none-too-clean Volvo, and was turned away from the main entrance by a policewoman with an incredibly musical voice. This despite the fact that we had the proper pass, correctly displayed on the dashboard, and were delivering six chairs and one clarinetist to the marquee in which the Brecon Town Concert Band was tuning up. Apparently a bus load of children were walking down the lane and “Health and Safety” would not allow a dirty Volvo and a gaggle of schoolchildren to occupy vaguely the same space at roughly the same time. Instead, we, our clarinetist and the six chairs were directed around to the back gate.
This, being a very large field, was easier said than done and a mere 30 minutes or so later we discovered that there was no way to get to where we wanted to go from where we were, what with those two tractors, large farm cart and fleet of helicopters being in the way as they were. And so, we parked the car and trudged, through ankle-deep mud, for miles, carrying chairs. Six of them. In the rain.
By the time we made our way past the venison burger vans, through the rustic woodworking exhibitions and around the military bomb disposal display unit, the band was beginning to panic a bit. Well, not all of them. Just the six still standing, and the entire front row, who were just starting to realise that the marquee was a tad too small and that someone was going to be out in the rain.
Still, heedless of the weather, they were there to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and nothing was going to dampen their enthusiasm, not even the damp. And so, finally seated, they valiantly launched into their repertoire. Perhaps not surprisingly, this involved a lot of diamonds. We not only heard that diamonds are forever, but we also found out that they were both a girl’s best friend and in the sky, with Lucy. During a rather strange interlude in which the band played Irish jigs amid dark mutterings about ‘political statements’, some 500 school children, and their insanely energetic choirmaster, suddenly appeared on the adjacent hill.
This was more than a little bit odd because, despite the fact that there was an overwhelmingly large number of supposedly-singing youngsters, you could hardly hear them. Perhaps they just couldn’t compete with the enthusiastic tuba player, or maybe the torrential rain didn’t make for good acoustical conditions or it might just have been that they were a tiny bit confused. After all, they were singing something called ‘Here We Are Again’ when it was blindingly obvious that most of them had no idea where they were, and that none of them had ever been there before.
At least, I don’t think they had. They were certainly looking around as if they were lost, and were definitely murmuring the word “where” fairly frequently. That, and poking each other with the little Welsh dragon flags that had come out from under their raincoats.
But, come to think of it, so were their parents. Except for the poking with flags part. Of course.
Before too long, all of that head swivelling, fidgeting and murmuring was rewarded, for soon a fleet of gleaming Range Rovers drove over the bridge, under the archway and into sight. Excitement levels soared. The music grew louder. The flags went wild. The choirmaster almost fell off her chair. And suddenly, there she was.
The Queen, and a little bit of Prince Philip
She may not have arrived in a dirty Volvo or been asked to carry chairs through the mud, but as she stepped out of her car and took in the scene, I could tell that we had something in common. For as the Queen looked across to my friend Carla, her band and all those children, I could tell she was thinking:
If you don’t know what I am talking about, click on the above link or on the picture. Either will do it. But, be warned.
Faced with the prospect of having to hum that song to yourself for the rest of your life, you or I would probably have dove right back into the car. But, no, being the experienced trooper that she is, the Queen simply stood her ground, smiled sweetly, chatted politely and eventually made her way over to a waiting helicopter.
Whereas I slowly trudged the several miles back to the car. Carrying chairs. Squelching in the mud. And pondering. About many things.
1. The Queen looks just like my sister-in-law. Well, not my sister-in-law as she is now, of course, but as she will be when she hits 85. Pretty, petite and poised. Not to mention very well groomed. I know, I was surprised too. Although not, I suspect, nearly as surprised as Jane will be when she reads this.
2. The Queen is much too old to have to do this sort of thing on an almost daily basis. Seriously, it’s asking a lot from someone who should be wearing her slippers and watching Judge Judy on daytime TV.
3. It wasn’t really the person everyone was anxious to get a glimpse of, it was the title. And the person holding the title takes her job seriously, very seriously. As a result, she matters to the people who were willing to wait in the mud for hours just to see her. Not being British, I can’t really explain it. Or understand it. But, I certainly can recognise it when I see it. The Queen won’t long remember a rainy day in Brecon, but everyone else in that field will. Forever. As inexplicable as that is.
Wet but happy in Wales
As I watched her helicopter take off, and while attempting to beat down the envy I felt as I realised she would be home in Windsor long before I got rid of those blasted chairs, it also dawned on me that being monarch is not for wimps, something the present incumbent could never be accused of being. But, then again, very few people of her generation could. I’m not sure the rest of us can say the same thing about our own.
Although, come to think of it, that tuba player seemed to be made of fairly stern stuff.
Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)