My brother and sister-in-law had tickets for the final weekend of the Paralympics and came up to stay with me. The week before I read about a victory parade for all Britain’s Olympic medallists which was to be held in central London on the Monday after. I hadn’t gone to any of the events and it seemed like a good way to catch a last bit of the Olympic atmosphere; we all decided to go to it.
We decided to watch the parade at the starting point, Mansion House, where we arrived just after 11, two hours before the scheduled start time. The place was deserted except for a bunch of people in purple and beige uniforms with a huge banner reading “Eton Dorney Gamesmakers salute all our medallists!” who appeared to be having a riotous party, and one lady in a Gamesmaker uniform standing all on her own on the pavement. We asked her for information and she confessed that she was just a spectator like us, so we all sat down on the pavement and waited for something to happen.
After a bit some workmen appeared with a lorry full of barriers and a big cable, which they stretched in a long curve around the middle of the road. Along with them came a policeman, one of the important ones who wears a hat not a helmet, who was scanning the surrounding buildings with binoculars. He came over, and we thought he was going to move us on, but he told us that the barriers would run along the line of the cable and that that was the place to stand if we wanted a good view. Excellent! We decamped to the cable. There were around twenty of us by this time and we spread ourselves along the line of the cable, somewhat irritating the workmen, who then had to put the barriers up over our feet. But no matter! When they had finished, we had a pole position right on the barrier on the corner by the Mansion House, and opposite one of the entrances to Bank Station, which was barricaded off. This turned out to be a good thing, as you will see.
By this stage, more and more people were turning up and wriggling themselves into position around us. Another policeman turned up, this one in a helmet, and made himself agreeable by allowing people to take selfies of themselves with him. He had a bandaged hand and the crowd (we were definitely a crowd by now) asked tenderly if he had sustained an injury in the line of duty. He admitted, rather sheepishly, that he had done it while chopping onions. Pesky fifth columnist onions!!
Smartly dressed people started arriving at the Mansion House and appearing on the balcony. I thought I saw Jeremy Hunt and was tempted to indulge in a little recreational jeering, but it may just have been some blameless merchant banker. I definitely saw Boris Johnson go past in a car and then twenty minutes later on a bicycle. The windows of surrounding office buildings were filling up with spectators; the balcony of the Bank of England behind us was packed. Our nice behatted policeman came back, spotted someone sitting on the edge of a roof and shouted sternly at him until he disappeared
By now the crowd was cheering anything that moved; the squad of police cyclists who were to escort the parade came in for particular applause each time they rode past acknowledging us with ever more theatrical gestures. It reminded me very much of an article in a book called “Can any mother help me?”, which I thoroughly recommend, written by a lady who camped out all night on the Mall in the rain to watch the Coronation procession. By eight am the crowd, delirious with excitement and exhaustion, was cheering anything which went past: “A milk float! A man on a bicycle! A small brown dog!! (RAPTUROUS applause for this last!)” No wonder the Queen of Tonga, the only dignitary to travel in the Coronation procession in an open carriage on that day of torrential rain, was adored by the British people ever after.