Tag Archives: UK

Dressage Top Hat

dorothee schneider diva royal ger-dderosaphotoA requirement for safety helmets to be worn by riders in all equestrian shows is a good idea and, by and large, the helmets look ok.  But dressage needs something that is as elegant as the sport itself.  Something that looks like, well, the traditional top hat.

After watching the Olympics dressage, where some riders wore top hats and some wore crash helmets, I thought can’t technology come top hat helmet by l'Hiverup with a protective helmet with style?  I googled it and, yes, others have thought the same thing.

The helmet on the left looks good.  I’d like to see it on a human head to see its proportions and if it still looks good when on.  The dressage helmet below  does have the shape of a top hat and obviously the protective capabilities of a helmet. But its size, with that protection, makes it also makes it look kinda like The Cat in the Hat.

Megan Rust helmet top hatA serious head injury in 2010 by Olympics dressage rider Courtney King-Dye started the move for helmets for all riders in all disciplines.  Yes, it’s a good idea.  A horse cantering, no matter how elegantly in dressage, is still moving at a good speed and a fall can cause the rider a lot of damage.

But dressage, of all the equestrian sports, is also an art form.  Looks and beauty of movement on the part of horse and rider is an Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro 2012 Olympic dressageimportant element.  Riders wearing a standard shaped crash helmet may as well complete the look by wearing snowmobile pants.

In show jumping and eventing, the crash helmet somehow doesn’t look as bad.  These are more clearly “sport” even though there is artistry in what horse and rider are doing.

But in dressage, the athleticism involved is hidden from view so that the beauty of the movement can be seen.  Like in figure skating, circus performance and dance.  You know these are superb athletes but you don’t want to see the strain of muscles pumping.  You want to see the beauty and fluidity of motion.

If dressage riders are going to wear standard issue crash helmets, you might as well reiningdemand ballerinas wear knee and elbow pads.  Please, scientists, keep working on a helmet that preserves the elegance of dressage as well as the heads of riders. While you’re at it, a protective cowboy hat for reining would be good.  The look of that hat is important too.

Congratulations to Team GB for winning gold in team dressage and show jumping.  And thanks to all competitors for incredibly exciting and beautiful performances.

Dick Francis: A racing life

Amazon link for Dick Francis A Racing Life
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The back cover of Dick Francis: A Racing Lifea biography by Graham Lord, calls it “warm, affectionate, yet sharp and perceptive.” I usually read the jacket information before starting a book. This time I didn’t. I’m glad because I know it didn’t skew my impressions of the book.

The only word of that description with which I would agree is “sharp.” I found the book sharp to the point of nasty and petty. The first page puts the thesis forth that Dick’s wife Mary probably wrote the novels. Throughout 373 pages of text, Lord jibes and pokes about it at every chance.

The argument is that Dick Francis did not like or do well in school and that Mary did. Dick quit school as soon as he could to become a horseman. Mary went on to university, gaining a degree in French and English. Lord illustrates with facts and speculation what he calls “the most amusing literary camouflage since Marian Evans pretended to be George Eliot.”

An apparent fact is that Dick repeatedly said that Mary should be named as co-author.  But Mary and the publishers thought the books were more marketable under the name of a champion jockey. Lord does paint a picture of the personalities of both Dick and Mary. What I take from his portrayal of Dick is of an unassuming man who was honest as a jockey and in all other aspects of his life. The impression of Mary that I gained from Graham Lord is that, as they say, she wasn’t backward about putting herself forward.

Mary Francis – Researcher or writer?

There has never been any hiding of the fact that Mary did much of the research for the books. In Lord’s book, I learned that she turned many of the novels’ subjects into businesses or avocations for herself. She became a pilot and ran an air taxi service, she bought into a wine importing business and she took up photography to the professional level. All this was to better research Dick Francis books. With the literary aspirations that Lord says she had, I am amazed that she did not claim the credit for them if she believed herself to be the sole or major author.

Lord says that the physical afflictions suffered by characters are those suffered by Mary, not Dick. She had polio as a young woman, so does a character. She suffered from asthma, so does a character. Literary allusions are ones that would only be known to Mary with her education, not Dick with his. The portrayal of the male heroes and the female characters seem to be written more from a woman’s perspective than a man’s. It is Mary’s sensibilities, interests and afflictions that fuel the books, Lord says.

Racing and horses are central

Ok, but I would argue that those are story elements attainable through good research Dick Francis on Devon Loch 1956 Grand National and from drawing on experiences of others. At the heart of Dick Francis novels is racing and horses. You are riding in the Grand National with the book’s hero.  You know the horses as sentient beings through the eyes of jockeys or grooms.  And that is not Mary’s experience. She didn’t particularly like horses or racing. And physical afflictions? The descriptions of broken collarbones and dislocated shoulders are from Dick’s experience.

Amazon link for The Sport of Queens
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Lord is disparaging toward Dick about his respect for the Royal Family. As an example of what he sees as Dick’s fawning, he says that Dick asked the Queen Mother’s permission before entitling his autobiography The Sport of Queens. Why, Lord asks, should Dick think it necessary to ask permission to use that phrase? Perhaps because the phrase is actually The Sport of Kings? By changing it to Queens, Francis was making direct reference to his riding career. At that time there were two Queens and no King. As well, he rode for the Queen Mother. Perhaps he was just being polite.

Writing process

Graham Lord makes much of Dick saying that writing was hard for him. Hard to believe, Lord says. Maybe, but I’ve read more interviews with best-selling authors about the difficulty of writing than those saying oh, it’s a snap. There’s also cringe-making recitations of interviews with Francis by writers for literary journals where Dick could not discuss concepts of formalism or semiotics in literature. Oh, for heaven’s sakes, not being au courant with literary analyses is hardly proof that someone can’t put pen to paper and write a good story.

Before and after reading Lord’s book, I did not think that Dick wrote the books entirely on his own. Why wouldn’t Mary contribute, edit, add her own words? Especially with their long symbiotic marriage, it seems they became almost inseparable. Their son Felix also became part of the writing machine. But at the core of all Dick Francis books are horses, racing and jockeys. Neither Mary nor Felix lived in that world. Dick did.

Graham Lord better on James Herriot

Amazon link for James Herriot bio by Graham Lord
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In 1997, two years before A Racing Life, Graham Lord published James Herriot: The Life of a Country Vet – the “warm but incisive” biography its cover promised. Dick Francis: A racing life is not. At 262 pages, his Herriot biography is the length  A Racing Life would be if Lord cut out the waffle. That would be most of the first three chapters and the long descriptive word lists throughout. I began skimming very early.

Francis Family Books

If you had the sad job of picking the topic of the last novel you would write, I don’t think you could choose better than Dick Francis did. Crossfire, co-written with son Felix and published in 2010 by Michael Joseph, is the final book in his long and illustrious career as a mystery novelist. Dick Francis died in 2010 at the age of 89.

Amazon link for Crossfire by Dick Francis
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Crossfire is a great story and a family effort. You don’t need to google anything to know the experiences of three generations of the family are in it. The horses, stables, races and racing industry amongst which Dick Francis lived are there, as usual. But our hero is a wounded Captain in the Grenadier Guards, recently returned from Afghanistan.

The authors’ thanks are given to Lieut. William Francis, Army Air Corps and Grenadier Guards, for his assistance. He is the grandson of Dick and son of Felix. So the horse and racing elements of a Dick Francis are there, as is information and insights about a different topic. This time, that other topic is the Afghanistan war and the physical and psychological realities of being injured by an explosive device. You see the trauma of being back home but having to deal with the injury and the sudden loss of your career and your passion – soldiering.

Dick Francis and family

banner photo from Grenadier GuardsThe book is a tribute to Lieut. Francis and his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan and elsewhere in war. It is also a tribute to Felix for carrying on his father’s work so well. And, of course, it’s a tribute to Dick Francis, master storyteller and steeplechase jockey. In his racing and writing, he has probably taught more people about the intricacies of horseracing than anyone else. And no matter what the villains of the piece do, the love Francis has for horses and his respect for their abilities and heart is always apparent.

Dick Francis’ books were written with the help of his family. His late wife, Mary, helped with research, writing and editing. Her interests and knowledge, such as in photography, were also reflected in the plots of some of his books. Felix, their younger son, helped his father with many of the books, taking an increasingly active part in the creation of Grenadier Guards Band on Horseguards Parade, Anon. 2008the latter ones. The last three Dick Francis books are published with both Dick and Felix as co-authors.

After his father’s death, Felix has continued writing under his own name. I have not read his solo efforts yet but, based on the co-authored books, he learned well from his father. And with Crossfire, I feel I have got to know the family better. I am glad that they let me see the post-war feelings of a wounded veteran. They did it with a deft touch, put in here and there in a very good story of chicanery in the racing and investment businesses.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Dec. 4/11)

Marriages of Convenience

“For generations, the cream of British aristocracy and the crowned heads of Europe have Mary saying the Royal Family burnt their bridges with herintermingled to produce a bloodline like vintage champagne.  Then what do they go and do?  Pour in a quart of brown ale.  I’m surprised they haven’t booked the Rovers for afterwards.”  I have not heard such a wonderful summary of the debate over royalty marrying non-royalty as Mary gave about William and Kate’s wedding in Tuesday’s episode.

Coat of Arms of Catherine, Duchess of CambridgeLike many, I have a favourable impression of Miss Kate Middleton, purveyor of party supplies, now Catherine, HRH Princess William of Wales, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus.  However, it will be hard to think of her again without picturing a quart of brown ale.

An advantage of being seven months behind the UK broadcast dates is that this week we got to relive the Royal Wedding.  It was wonderful.  The banner in the Rovers, the commemorative plate in Graeme’s apartment.  It took me back to the all night television watching I did last April, and added some lovely twists.

Pontificating on royal and other marriages

It worked nicely into the Graeme and Xin immigration marriage Graeme in Kabin telling Mary she has destroyed livesstory.  Mary had pronounced that the primary purpose of Royal marriages is as alliances for purposes of bloodlines and politics. Of course, that flew right in the face of her earlier statement that marriage ought to be for love only.  When she had said that, she was justifying her reporting Graeme and Xin’s marriage scam to the immigration office.

When Rita questioned her inconsistency in argument, she backed down gracefully and admitted she Mary watches as Graeme talks to Xin - marriages of conveniencehad done wrong in turning them in.  She then, in her home on wheels, rode to their rescue.  She helped Graeme find Xin, and singlehandedly changed a flat tire while quizzing them on their knowledge of each other.

Immigration via royalty

But we weren’t done with pontificating on the Royal Wedding.  The immigration officer Bob Stephenson in Rovers saying he can't look at those two any longergave a republican view.  “I’d line the lot of them up against the – well, I’d favour an elected head of state,” he opined in the Rovers as he pointed along the wall where he could imagine them all lined up.  He looked at the royal lineage from the perspective of his position.  He made the valid point that his job is to “stop marriages of convenience, marriages that let undesirable foreigners into this country.  The Royal Family has been doing that for centuries.”

During the interview in the apartment of “Mr. and Mrs. Proctor”, Graeme quickly realized that hanging the Royal Wedding plate had not worked quite as intended – to show his and Xin’s patriotism.  He blamed its presence on a wedding gift giver and smashed it.

Immigration officer and Mary arguingWhat a treat Bob Stephenson from the UK Border Agency was!  I do hope he has to return to deal with Mary over the car crash they had – or anything (except Xin’s new visa being taken away).  He and Mary together are just wonderful.  I wonder if the Queen was amused by the episode.

The real deal, darling!

Audrey with Marcia and friends in barAnd speaking of queens, Audrey meeting “Marcia” and friends Friday was, well, priceless.  Please, can we see these ladies again?

Coronation Street 50th

Ena Sharples and Alf Roberts displays at museum Coronation Street 50thCoronation Street began due to a government mandate for home-grown television programming. A Canadian producer at Granada, the late Harry Elton, knew the popularity and longevity of American soaps and their production cost-effectiveness. He met a young writer at Granada, Tony Warren, who knew the stories and people of the North. Neither of them imagined their show would become part of the very fabric of the country. But it has.

Granada Tour

The biggest thrill in my 20 something years of fanship was going to Coronation Street to research British serials for a radio documentary (later a book) Other Worlds: Society Seen Through Soap Opera. I went to Manchester with an appointment with the Coronation Street publicist and nothing else. He showed me around the indoor sets and production facilities in the dedicated studio. He also took me on the Street itself for the taping of a scene with Mavis and Derek Wilton in their back garden.

taping Coronation Street scene with Derek and Mavis Wilton
I interviewed Carolyn Reynolds, then executive producer, writer Tom Eliot and Daran Little, then archivist of the show. I talked with actors Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn. Then I went to a location shoot at the high school that acted as the school attended by the McDonald twins at the time. In a trailer, I met Nicholas Cochrane who plays Andy McDonald and Judy Brooke, then Andy’s girlfriend Paula Maxwell. I talked to school kids who were thrilled to be extras in the scenes. Teachers and staff were proud of their involvement in Weatherfield history.

Manchester Tour

Coronation Street back door, old housesI also met the father of Coronation Street, Tony Warren. A half hour, maybe an hour I figured I’d have for our interview at Granada. But it turned into an entire, wonderful day with him, wandering the streets of Salford and into Manchester. We talked about the show and then about pretty much everything. His work as a novelist, the history and changes of Salford and Manchester, Newfoundland (where I lived) and Canada.

He took me to a pub in Manchester where there’s a beautiful stained glass window in the men’s room depicting a Grand Banks fisherman. He guarded the door so I could go in and look. We walked and talked until it was evening. He suggested a Chinese restaurant for dinner and phoned his partner to meet us there.

The restaurant was one that has been used in location shoots for Coronation Street and is a long-time favourite for many of the show’s actors. There are signed photos of Julie Goodyear and others on the walls and counter by the till. The meal was great and the conversation far-reaching and fun. It was a lovely day.

Street set tour, people in front of Rovers ReturnNear the end of my time in Manchester, I realized I’d yet to find an analyst – an outside ‘talking head’ to inform on the cultural and social significance of Coronation Street. I’d thought I could just go to Manchester University and throw a stick and hit at least one.

With only a day to find someone, I phoned the social sciences main number and asked if there was anyone anywhere available to talk about Coronation Street. The secretary thought about it as I plugged change into the payphone to keep the connection.

Political Science

She transferred me to Political Science, saying “maybe Professor Philip Crookes can help.” I explained my situation to him. He said “I’m not a sociologist, but I can talk.” So another lovely few hours with a very intelligent, funny man and discussion which started with Coronation Street and extended to British and Canadian politics and the socio-economic life of the North of England.

Replica Rovers Return working pub at Granada tourThere is a Manchester and Salford apart from Coronation Street. There is a history and economy outside it. But the production studios at Granada are a major part of the economy and Coronation Street is ingrained in its identity and existence.

You can strike up a conversation with anyone in Manchester and get a thoughtful opinion on the show. Whether they watch or not, it is a part of life. For those of us elsewhere, we feel a kinship with the cities even if we’ve never been there. We know its characters and places so well.

Meeting Jack Duckworth

In 1992 I went to Manchester to research Coronation Street for a CBC Radio Ideas documentary on British and American soaps.

Vera and Jack Duckworth in RoversAt Granada, I watched the taping of a scene on the street and interviewed writers, production people and cast members. When I was told the names of two actors I was going to meet, I was struck dumb with awe and terror – Bill Tarmey and Elizabeth Dawn aka Jack and Vera Duckworth.  Like pretty much everyone who has watched during the past 30 odd years, for me, Jack and Vera were Coronation Street.

Elizabeth Dawn

Vera DuckworthI went first into Elizabeth Dawn’s dressing room.  She and Bill had just finished their scenes for the day and she had to leave soon for a family function.  She was sitting in front of the mirror taking off her makeup when I kind of stumbled my way in the door.  “Sit down, dear, and don’t mind me.  We can talk while I do this”.  Instantly, I felt at home, felt like I was with someone I’d known a long time.  And I was in a way.

Liz Dawn was wonderful – not Vera, yet Vera.  She took off Vera’s makeup and put on her own. Then Vera’s hair was gone and she brushed out her own.  She looked Elizabeth Dawn in real lifedifferent.  We talked a long time, then she said she had to run.  She told me where Bill’s dressing room was and just to go on there when I was ready, then with a ‘ta-ra’ she was out the door.  Before I got everything picked up, she was back in laughing.  “I’ve got Vera’s coat on”.  She shucked off the familiar looking black cloth coat, grabbed another more stylish one, laughed, waved and was gone again.

Bill Tarmey

Then to meet Jack.  My nerves came back.  Hand shaking, I knocked on his door and a familiar gruff voice told me to come in.  He too was Bill Tarmey 2010removing Jack and becoming Bill.  When he finished, he leaned back in his chair and just talked.  He asked me a lot of questions, where I lived, what I did, about my family.  He told me about his family, pointing out who was who in the photographs around his dressing room.  It was nice.  He was an easy man to talk to.  So much so I would forget why I was there – to get him on tape talking about being Jack.

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey cd Incurably Romantic
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So he told me about Jack and him – how he came to be on the show, first as a short-term bad guy, then brought back as Jack when the writers created the Duckworths.  He told me about his career as an actor and primarily as a singer.  He said when the writers had Jack sing once – badly – he, Bill, found his singing gigs drop off and even bookings cancelled.  If that’s how Bill Tarmey sings, he laughed, they didn’t want him performing.

He wasn’t likely telling me anything he hadn’t told hundreds of interviewers before, but he made it seem personal.  Just him and me talking about stuff.  It wasn’t slick, like a performance piece, just good conversation.  He talked straightforwardly and was engaged in the discussion, talking and listening.

He reminded me of my father, as Jack Duckworth always has.  “Rough, tough and hard to Bill Tarmey, outside Rovers, upon retirementbluff” as my dad would say about himself.  That’s what Jack is like, with a lovely soft heart.  That too is what Bill Tarmey is like.  And my dad.  I can think of no higher compliment to any one of them than being compared to each other.  Bill, if you are reading this, you and Jack will be greatly missed.  I hope you have a wonderful retirement.  Cheers!

Bill, and Jack, on Amazon

Amazon link for Bill Tarmey book on Jack DuckworthSee my Corrie Scene Sept. 4/11 for Bill’s final episode. Click the image to left for an Amazon link to Bill Tarmey’s book on being Jack and the ‘Incurably Romantic’ image above for link to his music.

 

Hats off (or on) to the past few days!

It’s been quite a four days – perhaps best summarized with The Hat.  Everybody’s had a go at this new game.

The Hat – the inspiration

Princess Beatrice and The Hat at the royal weddingFriday was the birth of The Hat. The day was a bank holiday in the UK so that everyone could watch The Royal Wedding.   Millions of us elsewhere also watched.  The Hat made its first appearance. On Princess Beatrice’s head, blocking the view for many.

Photoshopping The Hat

White House, with hats, from FacebookBut while we were watching the fairy tale wedding, in the White House other events were being watched.  Friday, so we learned, was also the culmination of 10 years of The Hunt for Osama bin Laden.  The Hat was there, helping.

Sunday, Celebrity Apprentice was pre-empted in the last few critical moments (would Nene pleasepleaseplease be fired?  No – she Star, Hope and Nene in the boardroomwasn’t, oh no!)  The Hat should have been there – this is its natural habitat.  Some of the outfits worn by these “celebrity” women would fit right in those worn by the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.

Donald Trump, with The Hat, from FacebookWhy did President Obama interrupt The Donald?  Osama bin Laden had Osama bin Laden, in The Hat, from Facebookbeen killed by US troops.  Before this news was made public, The Hat had already found its way to bin Laden’s head.

Monday, Canada’s election produced an odd result.  A Conservative majority with (for the first time ever) the NDP as official Opposition.  The Liberals and Michael Ignatieff, with The Hatthe Bloc were pretty much wiped off the political map.  Gilles Duceppe said his goodbyes to his party Monday evening, Michael Ignatieff waited until Tuesday morning.  The Hat talked him into it.

Brilliant Speed, with The HatAnd coming up on Saturday, hats will be big in Louisville.  It’s the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby.  Having tried my hand at photoshopping The Hat, I’m definitely rooting for Brilliant Speed. He very kindly loaned me his head. It looks quite nice on him. But it would make for serious wind resistance.

Patrick wins – no hat

Patrick Chan, doing victory lap at WorldsBack to last Friday, Patrick Chan won gold at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow.  Hurray Patrick, hurray Canada. (no hat)

The Hat on Princess Beatrice is an AP photo from Friday’s wedding.  The Hat on Michael Ignatieff was done by Jim Stewart.  The others of The Hat are from Facebook.  The photo of Patrick Chan is by AP and the boardroom photo of Team ASAP is from buddytv.

The Royal Wedding

I stayed up all night and watched the Royal wedding pre-pre-coverage, pre-coverage, main event, balcony scene and after coverage.  I switched between CBC and CBC NewsNet, CNN, an entertainment news show and went online to BBC.

Piers Morgan & Anderson Cooper at Buckingham Palace CNN bureauInterestingly, my husband and I stuck with CNN for the actual wedding.  Both of us usually choose CBC or CTV over any American channel for political, sports or ‘significant event’ coverage.  But Piers Morgan was great.  He, Anderson Cooper and their guests were informative and witty in their commentary.  Donald Trump did a good thing with Celebrity Apprentice in introducing Piers Morgan to US media.

The wedding was beautiful, the dress was fabulous, the singing of God Save the Queen brought tears to the eyes, the balcony kiss was sweet and funny.  I wish she’d ridden in the glass carriage to the Abbey, but it still was a total fairy tale wedding.  Just one observation about the music in the ceremony – the lovely choir piece that was composed as a wedding gift sounded to me very similar to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast theme song.

Royal Wedding Style

In the pre-coverage talk about the dress, there was a lot of emphasis on Kate’s sense of style.  I was thinking huh?  She’s got all the money in the Queen’s realm and all the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice at royal weddingadvisors in the fashion industry and the palace to ensure that this dress is the epitome of elegance and high-style.  How could she not look absolutely fabulous?

And then I saw the Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice.  I saw you can have all the fashion mavens and money in the world and still look like you got dressed from a Salvation Army clothes bale.  I liked their shoes though.

In my fashion assessment of the event, I divided the family women into two categories. (Kate and her sister Pippa, both stunning, were in their own category.)  On the ‘regally elegant’ side were the Queen, Mrs. Middleton, Camilla and the Countess of Wessex.  On the ‘WTF?’ side were Eugenie, Beatrice and the Princess Royal.  Now, Anne I can accept – she generally always looks as if she grabbed whatever was clean and not wrinkled from her closet.  She’s never been an icon of fashion; she has other things she’d rather do.

But those girls!  I think that they’d like to be fashion plates, and they have the looks to do so.  If they’d take half the owl eye makeup off and not wear clothes that are jumbled and way too busy and not flattering to their faces or figures in any way.  And they sat right behind their Gran!  So you couldn’t even look at the Queen without being distracted by the costume party escapees behind her.

Best Wishes

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge balcony kissI wish the new Duke and Duchess the very best.  I don’t envy them though.  One commentator said something like ‘this marriage cannot fail.  There is no reason it can’t last:  they’ve lived together, she’s been part of his world long enough to understand her role, they’re both mature enough.  If it doesn’t last, the British monarchy will end with it.’  Gee, that’s not much pressure is it?

Royalty

In June 1983 Charles and Diana, Prince and Princess of Wales, came to St. John’s on the Royal Yacht Britannia.  Two Britannia, at sea in Scotland after decommissioningyears before, I had woken up early or stayed up late, can’t remember which, to watch their wedding on television.

I was very excited that they were visiting and couldn’t wait to go to the harbour front to see them.  I didn’t want to go alone – it felt like an event that should be shared with friends.  Turned out the only people I knew who were going were Irish Republican supporters going to protest.  Well, you have to make the best of things, I thought.

So when the yacht arrived, I walked down to the waterfront with about ten people carrying placards and a rolled-up banner. We found Royal couple on Britannia deck - Charles and Dianaa good spot as near the yacht as we could get, with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary staying near us, keeping a watchful eye.

Placards were distributed and the banner unfurled.  Ten feet long, it read “England Out Of Ireland Now”.   I have no idea why they gave me one end of it to hold.

When the Royal couple came on deck, the crowd went wild.  Diana sparkled – well, like a princess.  Even at the distance we were, you could see her astounding beauty.  I too clapped and cheered and jumped up and down.  The banner bounced awkwardly so I tucked the stick under my arm to keep it steadier while I clapped.

Sinn Fein banner, in IrelandI turned around to look at my companions.  In this huge crowd, only they were standing stock still, with long morose faces.  Oops!  I tried to curb my enthusiasm, but it wasn’t enough.  One of the guys came to me and said, “stop clapping!  We’re not here to clap!”  Well, I was, and I hadn’t made a secret of it!  Still, I tried to keep still and look serious.

The Yacht without the Royal Couple

A few days later, the yacht was in port without the Royal couple.  Friends and I were in a downtown bar and some of the Royal Navy crew came in.  They sat with us.  Much later that warm summer night, going swimming seemed like a good idea.  So we did.  A sailor, fooling around, grabbed a girl’s ankle.  She twisted and the ankle was seriously sprained.  We had no car and she couldn’t walk.  Thankfully, we had fit young men to carry her.

Britannia gangwayThey felt bad for what happened, so invited us aboard the Royal Yacht the next day along with St. John’s dignitaries.  Unfortunately, the injured girl couldn’t navigate the gangplank with crutches.  The rest of us did and told her all about it afterwards.  Our sailors showed us the salons, kitchens and bridge – everything but the Royals’ private quarters.

I was sad when Britannia was decommissioned as a Royal vessel.  She was magnificent and deserved royalty.  In 1997 I also got up early or stayed up late to watch the funeral of Diana, former Princess of Wales.  This Friday I’ll do the same to watch her son marry Kate Middleton.

I have no pictures of my own from this time.  These came from: HMS Vanguard, Charles and Diana (picasaweb, damaggie), indymedia and gangway.  Thanks!

The King and Us

George VI portraitColin First as George VI, in The King's SpeechWallis Simpson makes me think that there may well be a God, and that He is on “our” side.  I cannot imagine what the world would look like had Edward VIII remained on the throne.  And it’s thanks to Wallis Simpson that he didn’t.

He came to the throne in 1936 when the build up to WWII was already taking place.  Hitler had firm control of Germany and was looking to expand that control further in Europe.  Neville Chamberlain, British PM at the time, believed the best way to handle Hitler’s Germany was through “appeasement” – let him have what he wants and he’ll leave us alone.  Edward VIII, it seems, went even further than appeasement.  He and Wallis were pretty close to Nazi-sympathizers.  They enjoyed socializing with high-ranking Nazi officials.

Edward VIII, Duke & Duchess of Windsor, at home with pugsNow, maybe that was Wallis’ choice more than his.  It seems that she did the thinking in that family.  But I believe that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else leading him around by the nose.  The one thing that seems very clear from reading history from that time is that Edward was a fun-loving man who really didn’t want to be bothered with heavy matters of state.  So he may have fallen in love with another woman who was marriage material, but based on assessments of his personality she probably wouldn’t have been any more competent as a war-time Queen than he would be a war-time King.

"We Four" at home, with dogsAs unsuitable as Edward was to inherit his father’s crown, so too seemed Albert, his younger brother the Duke of York.  As second in line, he’d never really had to worry about wearing the crown.  An introspective man, he wanted to pursue his own interests.  As Duke of York, that was just fine.  He married a strong woman, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  She, a perfect home-grown match for a royal marriage, had been long courted by him and had refused his proposals.  She didn’t want a life anywhere in the Royal Family.  At that time, life as the central Royal didn’t seem a likelihood!

Edward VIII to Duke of Windsor

Poor Bertie stuttered badly, but it didn’t really matter – he wasn’t going to be in a position where public speaking was a major part of the job.  Then the unthinkable happened.  After George V’s death, David became Edward VIII and he refused to give up the American twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.  Parliament refused to waive the rules about divorced persons joining the Royal Family and there was the abdication crisis.  That was a crisis for the country.  Succession to the Throne had to be a familial crisis for Bertie and Elizabeth and the two Princesses.  “We Four”, as the Duke of York called his family, had a good and comfortable life mapped out near the limelight and with benefits, but not in the limelight.

Coronation photo of George VI and familyBut step up he did, and became George VI.  Elizabeth became a stalwart Queen consort.  Britain, still under Chamberlain as PM, engaged in war with Germany and won.  George VI truly lived up to the oath that England’s monarchs take in that being King probably cost him his life.  His daughter Elizabeth has gone on to be one of the two longest-reigning British monarchs ever.  And she has seen the Royal Family through some spectacularly rocky times during those decades.  She’s done it with grace and wisdom, just like her father and mother.

I haven’t yet seen the movie The King’s Speech, but I hope Colin Firth wins the Oscar for Best Actor – for his sake and Queen Elizabeth’s.