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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Aha: pictures

This is the very slightly less stupendously ugly 30's house into which Granny's family moved, the same year that the last picture was taken. (To be explained shortly.) It was the first house the family ever owned. Along with all the other pieces of Victorian baggage carried by Granny's father was the one that said 'Never borrow. Owing money is dangerous.' Something like that, anyway. So if you weren't lucky enough to inherit a family mansion - not always an advantage at the time; keeping them up became almost impossible postwar unless you also inherited scads of family money - and not always then - you rented. 'Mortgages' were invented by those friendly society/ building societies, located in the benighted north for the benefit of thrifty working and lower-middle classes. Classified as 'borrowing' they were not, NOT, utilised by southern gentry, like Granny's parents.

By the early 50's though reality had begun to kick in, even for financial, and relatively - in middle class terms - impoverished people like them. In the year of the coronation they vacated their rented 30's house, took out a mortgage and purchased this one. Where they lived until Granny's mother died. You can just see the rose garden in front where her father, a few years later, delivered his ultimatum to her Tribune reading boyfriend.

So to that picture; velvet kneebreaches, sword, tiara and all...... It was taken at 6 o'clock in the morning outside the palace of Westminster on June ?2nd (or was it the 3rd) 1953, the day of the Queen's coronation - and also, coincidentally, the day Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing climbed Everest, for the first time. A happy coincidence possibly. Or maybe not. (Neither of the pair were English, in spite of an Englishman, John Hunt, having led the expedition. This fact was not emphasized in the triumphant reports.) As a result of his clerk's job in the House of Commons, Granny's dad, along with his colleagues, was required to act as an usher inside Westminster Abbey, hences the kneebreaches and the sword. 'Usher' was, he said, afterwards, a grand word for lavatory attendent; he spent most of the day escorting ermine-clad elderly peers with prostrate problems to the loo. Even had he known how to use his sword it would not have availed him much in such a duty; unless they'd gone out in herds perhaps, when he could have used it to prod them like cattle? Dream on.

Granny's mother, meanwhile, as his wife, was given a seat in the Abbey. The downside of which was having to present herself along with him - she was no more an early-morning person than Granny. This was why she stood there in that picture, at 6 a.m, clad in her one and only evening dress (New Look you may or may not have noticed) and the hideous family tiara, kept normally in a bank vault - where it is still as far as Granny knows: the uses of a tiara these days, are limited. Thus she did see Queen without crown, but with large train of attendents processing up the aisle past her, did see her again a few hours later, escorted back down it, crown and all. She did hear the miked voices of the priests, the Archbishop, the thin small voice of the Queen, sounding pretty much like Celia Johnson in 'Brief Encounter' as she made her vows, she did hear the great shouts of Vivat Regina, the soaring notes of Zadok the Priest fly up into the abbey roof above her. But given the large screen between nave and chancel - only the ultra-privileged sat there - she saw nothing of the procedures in front of the altar. For that she had to wait for the film just like the rest of us. (The special blue velvet stools on which she and Granny's father knelt at appropriate moments remained the property thereafter of those who used them. They kicked around the family house for years. It's possible Granny's brother still has them.)

As for Granny and her siblings; as the family of an employee of the House of Commons, they were given seats in a specially erected stand outside New Palace Yard. Escorted by an obliging neighbour - not unnaturally she jumped at the chance - they watched the processions go past, before the Queen was crowned and after. The Queen of course was in her golden coach, much like Cinderella's coach in the pictures, Granny thought - though Cinderella's headgear was prettier. But that was the only part of the procession just as it should have been.

It rained non-stop. The big black busbies of the soldiers had to be covered, so did their scarlet uniforms. All the royals, all the foreign notables, went past hidden inside their carriages, reluctant to ruin their finery by opening up the covers. All except the Queen of Tonga, of course, adored by the British forever after. How the British do love 'a good sport' even if fat, black and a 'native' . Granny did wonder who dried out the Queen of Tonga thereafter. Granny's Dad? But actually she may only have been so rash as to soak herself on the way back from the Abbey. Granny doesn't remember.

She did write a piece for the school magazine about the adventure. She only remembers one sentence from it; about the new silver carriages on the underground train they took from Charing Cross station to Westminster. 'They seemed right for the day,' she wrote. Something she remembers whenever she rides on one now, dull, not shiny, dented, covered in the shadows of ill-rubbed-off graffiti.

PS. The first post about her parent's griefs is almost ready. Granny will post it later today or tomorrow before she leaves for Blighty. Can you wait?


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