“Oh great, darling, you’re here - take the sausage rolls, will you?” A disposable silver tray lined with party food is thrust into my hand as I stand in the porch of my grandmother’s house, the hostess dashing off to attend to guests and ‘the catering’, leaving the front door slightly ajar.
At this early point in the day, I must admit, I do have a brief look back towards the unsettlingly quiet street. There are no people walking their dogs along the pavement, no traffic roaring its way along the street, on its way to what has become an unusually quiet main road, a few feet away. There’s a slight breeze which makes the bunting of the house opposite - “yes, well, I’m surprised they have that up. Hardly expected it from them - royalists just when it suits”, comments my grandmother in a spout of patriotic smugness - flutter against the front door, and I can hear Huw Edwards’ voice booming out from one of the TV sets inside the house, family friends chattering away. Yes, it’s at this point that I take a brief look back towards the street, and, honestly, wonder why I’m here, why I’m bothering; but then, with a glance down to the sausage roll-lined tray in my hand, I take the step over the threshold. After all, this is April 29th, 2011; the day of the Royal Wedding, and despite what may await inside the house, I can’t bring myself to miss it.
Almost walking into my grandfather, I know straight away that I’ll give him the mental title of best dressed man here today. Cobalt blue collared shirt, red waistcoat, white blue and red stripy tie and similarly striped cufflinks to match - perfect patriotism, in an outfit which has my-wife-told-me-to-wear-this written all over it. But still. “Hello Grandpa. Sausage roll?” (I’m getting good at my role as party food hander-outer already, it seems).
With a walk through the bunting-lined hallway and a brief hello to the front room filled with people transfixed already by the TV, I’m beckoned into the back room by my grandmother - a room which has been transformed into some kind of British extravaganza, large union jacks on the wall, hanging from the ceiling, covering the dining table as a rather gharish table cloth. And, of course, bunting - because no room in the house, apparently, would be complete without special Royal Wedding bunting.
After many introductions and hellos to various guests, I eventually manage to find myself without trays of party food, in the kitchen with my hostess grandmother who is making, at my request, “a nice cup of tea” - after all, it’s a day when surely I’m allowed to be a walking British cliché? Yellow and bright red teapots and teacups and saucers are scattered around the house, along with little sugar bowls, glass jugs of milk and - my particular favourite - various plates covered with floral napkins and an array of party food biscuits (hurray for Jammie Dodgers).
“How are you, Nan?” I say as she pours the weakest cup of tea I’ve ever seen and piles three sugars into it (I like my tea strong and without sugar, but, you know, never mind. I sense that this is a day not to complain.)
“Yes, well, you know - fine,” she says, in that voice which says I’m not fine at all. “Doing all this catering today has really taken it out of me. It’s just so stressful, you know?” I look at the trays of smoked salmon neatly laid out in regimented lines, plates of finest M&S quiche, cocktail sausages on sticks, finger sandwiches, bowls of salad - and, of course, those sausage rolls. I try one; they’re actually rather nice, and I tell my grandmother, who beams in appreciation. “Waitrose, darling,” she says, waltzing out the room to ‘attend’ to the guests. “Well, it is a special occasion.”
There are three rooms in the downstairs of my grandparents’ house - two sizeable reception rooms and a kitchen, each room with a television that’s switched on and is - loudly - broadcasting the BBC’s coverage of the big day. Out-of-sync, I stand in the hallway for a moment and hear, a second apart, each word of Huw Edwards’ toned-down Welsh lull announcing the arrival of the Prince of Wales and Camilla, three times over.
“Oh god, the horse has arrived!” announces a voice loudly from the front room, with six or so other voices agreeing, with tuts and nods and, yes, the odd comment about Diana. “And what is she wearing?” It’s all rather Daily Express.
I take my seat in the front room next to my parents, grabbing a party ring and a custard cream for some comfort as I listen to the mutterings of my family and their friends. The Queen arrives, dressed in canary yellow, prompting my Nan to leave the smoked salmon and run in from the kitchen - “I said she’d wear yellow! I just had this feeling!” We all nod and agree, while it occurs to me that she must just be pleased that her tea sets now match the Queen’s outfit - after all, that is quite an achievement.
I sit and listen to my parents’ comments on the guests’ attire: “What on earth has Beatrice got on her head?”, “Doesn’t David Beckham look handsome?” and, finally, as Kate Middleton’s dress is finally revealed, we all utter a stunned “Wow”. The first thing we agree on, I think.
And, you see, here’s the thing. Young and old, whatever opinion of the Royal Family, there is, with Kate Middleton emerging from that car, something we all agree on: that the wedding is simply beautiful. We all sit there, suddenly quiet, suddenly mesmerised; and I realise, then, that amidst the ages, the stress and the Waitrose sausage rolls, this day really is special. Yes, there is the kerfuffle after the ceremony itself; the sitting down to eat around the flag-adorned table, the fuss that my grandmother’s silver salad forks haven’t been polished properly by my grandfather and now can’t possibly be used, the hours of regurgitated comments and opinions and debates on what could or should or would have been done differently, had my Nan’s Royal Wedding party guests been the organisers. There’s the guest who drinks too much, the guest who doesn’t drink at all and is made to feel awkward for it, the guest who falls asleep in the front room and starts snoring. And, predictably, there’s the smugness of my grandmother as she recalls the moment that she met the Queen, when she did silver service waitressing at an event she attended once. “Just lovely, she was. Lovely.”
Yes, amidst all this, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge emerge from Westminster Abbey, I’m aware that this is a very special day. After all, this is a day which has caused my Nan to turn to Waitrose for her cocktail sausages instead of Sainsbury’s; a day which has made my Grandpa pick out his finest red waistcoat; a day which has prompted my father to stay up the night before making four varieties of cheesecakes in celebration. It’s a day which has pulled us, this weird mix of family and friends and opinions and habits, together, to enjoy something communally, something which everyone thinks deserves special attention. It’s a day where we’ve each taken some time out of our normal busy everyday lives, a few moments, to be united. I can only speak for myself, but as I sit there watching Kate and William say their vows, I’m acutely aware that this is a day which feels like it’s united Britain. A day which I’m glad I didn’t miss, despite my hesitation on the doorstep. And, for better or worse, a day that I already know I won’t ever forget.
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