Pussycat pussycat where have you been?
I’ve been to London to see the Queen
Pussycat, pussycat what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
Story goes that the cat belonged to a lady in waiting of Queen Elizabeth the first. The cat was wandering around Windsor castle and got under the feet of the Queen as cats are wont to do. Instead of saying, ”Off with its head” the Queen said it could stay as long as it caught mice.
In May 2012, I too went to London to see the Queen. Not in person of course but I do have connections that go back to my childhood. Growing up in South Africa we were subjects of the British Empire. We sang God Save the Queen at national and local events. We read stories about the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in magazines. The Royals toured their empire and in 1947 the visited South Africa.
I was five at the time but I have clear memories of it. They visited Pietersburg, a town about 100 miles from Messina. My father, a prominent lawyer and city council member, received an invitation for he and my mother to attend the reception. My parents drove to Pietersburg but I remember going on the train with the school kids, although I wasn’t in school yet. My parents met us as we lined up in the grounds to watch the motorcade drive up to the town hall. I have a very clear picture of my father putting me on his shoulders so I could see the princesses waving at us from the open-air cars.
As I watched the Katie Couric special about the Queen on ABC TV last week I remembered that thrilling feeling of seeing the actual girls and not only their pictures. I also realized that Princess Elizabeth turned twenty-one on that trip and did a radio address pledging herself to her subjects, “being my life long or short” Fortunately the length of that life has blessed her, her subjects and the world as she fulfilled her pledge.
In 1997 I happened to be in England and this is what I wrote in my journal.
“September 6th is a gray, drizzly day in the Lake District on the morning of the funeral of Diane, Princess of Wales. I sit in the drawing room of the one time country home of Beatrix Potter, now a country inn, with the other guests, watching the sad procession. Millions of people line the route from Kensington Palace, but all is quiet. The only sound is the clip -clop of the horses, drawing the gun carriage on which rests the coffin.
In most Inns and B&B’s a false intimacy forms between the guests, usually at breakfast where people share histories. But on this day, in this place, at this time, there is a different bonding. We come together connected to one another and more than a billion others throughout the world, brought together by technology and a beautiful princess.”
Fifteen years later we returned to a London preparing for two happy occasions, the Queen’s Jubilee and the summer Olympics. The town was bustling with road repair, new buildings and a new subway line to prepare for the crowds. Although it was only May the tourists had arrived.
We visited Kensington Palace, which has been renovated and was open to the public with wonderful displays about Queen Victoria, the only other monarch to reach her Jubilee. We visited the Kings and Queens’s chambers. On the Palace grounds is a tent that looks like a huge meringue in which the C.S Lewis play, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” will be performed. The double decker busses carry banner adds congratulating the Queen. Souvenirs flags and bunting is available everywhere. Celebration was in the air.
While in London we had dinner with cousins who attended one of the three garden parties the Queen holds every year. The palace sends invitations to charitable and non-profit organizations. My cousin works for an organization that assists the elderly. When the invite arrived she was chosen to attend the party. She said it was lovely. She and her husband dressed up and yes, she wore a hat. People wandered around talking and eating. At a certain time the Queen and other royals came out and walked among the people, shaking hands and chatting. Although there were about 8000 people it did not feel crowded. We laughed at the turn our lives had taken, never imagining when growing up in South Africa that Royal garden parties would be on the agenda.
After a few days in London we went to a medical conference at Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon. Dartington Hall is a country home that goes back to the Thirteenth century. In the 1920’s it became a non-profit that still works for the advancement of the arts, social justice and sustainability. One family occupied it for hundreds of years and although they were close to the crown no reigning monarch ever visited. It is believed that the two Katherine’s, Henry the Eighth’s wives, stayed here.
It took until two years ago, 2010, for the first reigning monarch to visit Dartington Hall when Queen Elizabeth came to lunch. Apparently after lunch she wanted to have “a little lie down” so they gave her room 5 on the ground floor of the West Wing, which consists of a large living room, bedroom and bathroom. It is like a small flat. We were fortunate enough to be given room number 5 for our stay and as it turns out, Queen Elizabeth, rested in the same bed.
After the meeting my husband and I spent some time touring Cornwall. There were two places we wanted to visit, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project.
We only had time for the Eden project and that is a subject for another blog post. In 2009 the Eden Project created a program called the Big Lunch. It is held in the summer on one day when neighbors get together to have Sunday lunch. They feel it creates bonds that cross racial, ethnic and religious lines. It is a time when people can have fun, do projects and perhaps start talking about the issues that divide. This year they decided to turn it into the Jubilee Big Lunch. So on June 3rd, 2012 as the celebrations begin with the flotilla of boats on the Thames neighbors will join neighbors to celebrate their Queen and heritage
Congratulations on your Jubilee, Your Majesty and thanks!