We had an early start this morning and headed into London for a very special occasion…my father-in-law ‘s investiture as an MBE for Services to the Arts at Buckingham Palace (or, as Catrin would put it, “Grandpa getting his medal at the Peen’s (Queen’s) house”). We left Charing Cross Station and stepped over the rivers of last night’s pavement pizza left by participants in the very British sport of binge drinking (possibly the only sport at which we could successfully compete on the international stage); I was pleased to see that, metres away around the corner, there was a queue of people waiting patiently for opening time outside Waterstones. London is a city of contrasts.
Outside the gates of the Queen’s house there was an eclectic mix of backpackers from Eastern Europe, Americans ‘doing England’, school groups and people who were also clearly there for the investiture. An orderly queue had formed at the open side gate consisting of people sporting top hats, morning suits, elaborate ladies’ headgear and gaudy pattern print dresses, eagerly clutching their invitations. My brother-in-law likened it to the buffet queue at a northern wedding. My family looked gracefully understated in their trio of Ted Baker suits and special hand-made feathery fascinator by comparison. The girls and I waved them off and headed to St James’ Park while the ceremony took place.
We watched the ducklings and cygnets scoffing bread and a heron glaring at tourists and, just as Catrin was about to start moaning about being tired, we found a playground (much to my relief). Within 15 minutes Catrin had made friends with 3 American girls and a Scottish girl and she was running around in the sandpit with her posse and terrorising the squirrels; every now and then she loudly declared to anyone who would listen “My Daddy is at the Peen’s house!”. I sat with Bethan, watching Catrin’s adventures and listening to a military band play James Bond themes nearby.
Meanwhile, in the Palace ballroom, the ceremony was in full swing and the splendidly bedecked groom’s party and a couple of bridesmaids received their awards for ‘Services to the Community and to Air Transportation in Papua New Guinea’; ‘Services to Energy Efficiency in Norfolk’ and ‘Services to the Hairdressing Industry’ (which was presented to a chap who happened to be completely bald). My mother-in-law and her two sons tried very hard to remain composed and not to laugh at three young children in the ‘audience’ expressing the epitome of boredom and dozing off, whilst watching what they could see of the ceremony through the continent-sized hat of the lady in front of them.
The girls and I headed back to the palace gates after a couple of hours. Catrin demanded to see the Queen. “She has a very busy job so might not be able to see us today.”
“I can wait until her job has finished.”
“Erm…maybe she can see us through that open window up there”
*excited jumping and waving* “HELLO PEEN!!!! IT’S ME, CATRIN! I’M HERE!!!!”
Catrin was impressed with Grandpa’s shiny new medal…so was a passing French tourist who asked what the medal was for and took many photos of my father-in-law holding it. We took some of our own photos too and, although he might have felt a bit awkward being centre of attention for once, we were all very proud of his achievements and, deep down, I’m certain he was proud too.
To celebrate we headed to Pizza Express for lunch…Bethan chose to feast on lettuce leaves and necklace. We then adjourned to Hamleys toy shop. This was Bethan’s first experience of the vast toy emporium and she had an expression of extreme confusion and fascination on her face throughout. Catrin perused the Build-a-Bear clothing department (which stocks all manner of garments, including satin knickers for teddy bears). She eventually selected a blue sequinned dress for the multicoloured teddy with gender identity issues which she had persuaded her Uncle Jonfun to buy for her on her last visit.
Our special day ended with a celebratory bottle of champagne and a sizeable jug of Pimms in the unexpected evening sunshine on the South Bank. Catrin spotted a giant sandpit beach which had been constructed by the river and dragged Grandpa & Uncle Jonfun to play with her in it. So the sun set on two figures in Ted Baker suits with beers in their hands, discussing work while standing in a sandpit in the centre of London, surrounded by small children decorating their piles of sand with a dazzling array of passing rubbish. It was a day to remember.