On the way to the train station a young man frantically hauled a piece of wheeled luggage behind him in an awkward, desperate jog. He was late. And he was getting the hell out of London.
It was hard to blame him. Two days ago I gave in to morbid curiosity and visited the site where our future king would wed, Westminster Abbey, in all its Gothic glory.
The sidewalk was a sideshow. Television news reporters set about broadcasting eleventh-hour observations across the country and the world.
There were more satellite dishes than there ever were, I imagine, in the yet-to-be successful SETI project. There, they were searching for extra-terrestrial existence. Here, those sorts of life forms could be found, in their thousands, on concrete pavings camping out in makeshift tents sprawled with makeshift signs and makeshift cardboard cutouts of the soon to be married.
“I’m not crazy,” read the back of an old woman’s outdoor chair, “I just want to see Kate’s dress.”
History, it seems, is forgotten in such times and in such places. Never mind that colonists fought wars over stuffy high-taxing monarchs more than 200 years ago.
Americans love it. One such woman said she was 14 years old when Diana was married. She woke at 4am, Iowa time, to get up to watch that wedding. And when the former princess died, the Iowan promised herself that she would come to watch her son walk down the aisle.
So now here she was, her first time in Britain, draped in a Union Jack, holding an unofficial wedding programme, sitting next to an auction house placing bets on what colour the Queen’s hat would be. Yellow was the front-runner.
Down the road, outside the houses of Parliament, the more stable street dwellers looked more disenfranchised than usual. Their protests of continuing “corporate war crimes” in the Middle East no longer were the object of tourist camera flashes and the news media microphones.
Two men in orange overalls briefly argued about which of them was going to spend the next few hours standing on a black wooden box, handcuffed, with a black bag over their head.
A US cable news anchor was speaking to her camera out the front of the Abbey. She repeated the same line a few times with different emphasis: “Now Kate only has one more day to wait before she walks through that door,” she said, gesturing toward’s the Abbey’s western entrance.
Enterprise springs forth in such times. Flags pasted with supermarket chain logos. Masks pasted with the facial features Kate, Wills and the Queen.
Such a family, now 3 pounds poorer, walked down The Mall away from Buckingham Palace. “I think you should ditch the grandma,” heckled a passer-by. The “Queen” shook an angry, dainty fist.
There is something about the monarchy. I am tempted to frame it in the terms of celebrity. Celebrity transcends. It gets people up at 4am to go to camp on a tiny patch of grass for six hours. It makes people travel around the world, or even from Wales, to catch a glimpse of something – a flash of red coat, a dash of lace veil.
My uncle tried to convince me that the whole thing wasn’t utterly ridiculous. That it was ingrained in people’s DNA. There was a deep historical affection for this bunch of people in their colourful hats and copious medals. I thought that the wedding would be like the Wellington Sevens – people dressed up in silly outfits, drinking heavily, not really paying attention to the score. Great day out, though. So I went.
Hyde Park began to swell early yesterday. Crowds soon gathered around three large television screens. Estimates varied from 100,000 to 300,000. Two billion watching around the world. Soon you couldn’t move. Soon the prince would make his way to the Abbey. Then he did. Cheers and flag waving.
There was something in the air.
“An air of excitement,” BBC presenter Huw Edwards called it.
“We suspect it to be a matter of seconds … seconds now …” and then Kate emerged: “A limited view but a splendid view,” Edwards said.
The girl in front of me was already crying. “I really feel for her,” she said.
I met with friends and new acquaintances from New Zealand who were also making the most of the day off. Scones and parma ham and Pimms and quiche. “Just making the most of the occasion,” 28-year-old Nelsonian Kyle Thomson said.
Historian Simon Schama waxed on about a marriage not only between two people but between monarchy and the people. Guest David Beckham appeared to have had a blow-wave.
The crowd followed every word. They sang every hymn – with even more gusto than Elton John. They cheered when the couple said “I will” and gasped when it appeared William was struggling to squeeze the ring over Kate’s loose knuckle skin.
Couples kissed and cuddled. And I swear the sun came out when Kate started walking up the aisle. The crowd danced during the suitably royal peck on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The band began to play. The crowd quickly morphed into a conga train. I grabbed on and followed it out.