Rain was predicted heading in to the weekend for Sunday, the day of the staging of the largest flotilla in decades to parade down the Thames in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The event was supposed to begin around 2:30 pm and start near Battersea Park, heading up river for Tower Bridge. All looked relatively calm on Saturday, although there always seemed to be a helicopter overhead, and police sirens kept rushing through the city.
I woke up to the sound of rain outside my window on Sunday morning, and rushed down to Piccadilly to see if I could score an umbrella. I did at the local newsstand for only 5 pounds. We’ll see if it survives the jubilee.
I decided the best approach for the day was to head over to Tate Modern Art Gallery on the South Bank. If it didn’t stop raining, at least I will have gotten to see the Damien Hirst exhibition. If it did, I might be able to catch a glimpse of the river parade.
Some poor souls were camped out on the banks of the river waiting for the pageant to begin. They still had over 5 hours to go before even a hope to glimpse a boat.
I couldn’t imagine. It was quite chilly, and a misty drizzle filled the air, but people were in a grand mood, and everyone seemed happy enough. Somehow the rain just made the whole day more British. I decided to wait it out in the huge Tate where it was warm…and had bathrooms.
I paid my fee for the special Hirst exhibit (many museums are free in London, but charge a hefty price for special exhibitions) and spent a long time lingering through the exhibition. Hirst had never been one of my favorite artists, but as usual, the Tate did a fabulous job of really explaining his career in this retrospective. I saw the diamond skull, and the shark in formaldehyde and the room of live butterflies.
I read the small booklet they gave me and saw the very expansive film with Hirst narrating, and walked away with a much better understanding and appreciation of the artist and his work. I was not allowed to photograph here, but take my word, it was very well done.
I decided to stop by for a quick lunch in the coffee shop (after realizing it was impossible to eat in the restaurant on the top floor which had a view of the river), and noticed crowds were already trying to command a position by the windows on this floor that faced the river. It was noon, at least 3 hours until the pageant would reach this point.
I returned to the galleries after my smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich, and saw a wonderful exhibition called “Energy and Process”. It had some interesting work that explored the use of new materials for making art, unheard of in its time. There were also some old favorites of mine of Cy Twombly that I had seen the last time I was here, but will never get enough of.
I spent time wandering through a few more floors, visited the book shop and finally decided to reclaim my jacket and umbrella from the cloak room and head out in to the throngs of humanity which had been building all day.
I could see this area wasn’ t going to work out, and I could tell by the crowds cheering watching the screen that the Queen had boarded the barge to start her trip up the Thames. There were helicopters overhead and bells were ringing.
I decided to head down river.
But everyone was in a great mood, and it had stopped raining, and there were lots of police controlling the crowds. If an area got too packed, they blocked off new people coming in and explained how to get around it…and people did. So civilized.
Finally, I made my way down to The London Eye at Jubilee Park.
Here there was another giant screen set up…and many, many people watching it. But it was on a hillside so it worked, and the river was in the background so we could hear the boats moving on the river with fire whistles and salutes. It was very festive to say the least.
And when the image came on the giant screen showing that the Queen’s barge was right behind us on the river, and you could hear the salutes, the crowd went wild. Flags were waving and people were cheering. The woman next to me said it made it all worth while coming out to see it live, and not sitting at home watching it on her tellie with a cup of tea.
Once the Queen’s barge went by, I decided (along with about a million other people) it might be time to head for Waterloo Station to get back across the river. It was growing darker and darker and the sky was looking a bit threatening.
As I came out of my station, it was pouring again but I managed to use my trusty cheap umbrella to get me in to my London room. As I passed the library on my way upstairs, I noticed the TV was on with other wet jubileers watching the ending ceremonies at Tower Bridge. They had been on bicycles and were quite bedraggled, but we all agreed it was a tremendous day. We sat down and shared a cup of tea to toast the Queen.
Monday night is the huge Jubilee Concert outside Buckingham Palace. I can hear them rehearsing across the park this evening. The forecast is for rain. We shall see.