An English village show is always a quaint, traditional occasion, usually involving the local school orchestra and the anointing of a carnival queen who parades around the streets on the back of a lorry. The Lord Mayor's Show is very similar, except that the event is held in honour of a portly old bloke in a red cloak who parades around the streets in a horse-drawn gold coach. Welcome to the City of London's grandest day out.
The Lord Mayor's Show takes place every year on the second Saturday in November. The event has an uninterrupted history stretching back 790 years, which is bloody impressive really, even if all that happens is that the new Lord Mayor rides up to the City of Westminster to pay his respects to the sovereign and then rides home again. But the whole journey is wrapped up in such pomp and spectacle that half a million people turn out to line the route, nearly two miles in total from the Guildhall to Temple and back again. And I'd never been before, and the weather was nice, so I thought I'd go along. I gave the outward leg past St Paul's Cathedral a miss and took up position instead down on the Embankment near Blackfriars, just behind a group of conveniently short cub scouts.
The parade is organised with military precision, taking precisely one hour and five minutes to pass each point along the route. Maybe that's why most of the participants appeared to have military connections, from mounted soldiers to bearskinned bandsmen. In fact if they'd withdrawn everybody who kills for a living from the parade, the whole event would have been considerably shorter. I was struck by the wide variety of historical fashion that passes for modern military uniform, and also noted that there appear to be some really lardy seamen in the navy these days. The event was an aural feast for everyone who relishes the three-note melodies of military band music. Every couple of minutes another crack team of cornets (or flutes or trumpets or accordions or big silver glockenspiels) strode past, competing to be heard above the sea shanties and other traditional tunes playing out to front and rear. Young musicians in over-sized uniforms performed like true professionals. Percussionists held their drumsticks high, like split-second moustaches. Buglers carefully sidestepped a suspicious puddle which had recently erupted from the underbelly of a large stallion. And hey, where else could you hear the Isle of Sheppey St John Ambulance Bandand the Romford Drum & Trumpet Corps? It's unique stuff, this.
Whereas village shows usually feature a succession of floats organised by car dealers, an old people's home and the local sea cadets, the Lord Mayor's Show always manages something a little more exclusive. Many of the participants seemed to be celebrating centenaries this year - the Rotary Club and the AA, for example - or were in some way connected to the Lord Mayor himself. Charlie Dimmock and Michael Aspel were on the back of one charity's float, allegedly, although they were all dressed up for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party so I didn't recognise either of them. Some of the organisations taking part were just plain obscure, like the Old Bailey Judges Golfing Society (seen beaming from a vintage vehicle). There were also a couple of public schools blatantly touting for business, some sick animals in search of a home, and even a camel called Therese (honest).
Much of the rest of the parade was taken up with City types. That's not the financial institutions (although a few were represented) but the archaic civic hierarchy of Guilds, Livery Companies and Aldermen. There are 107 Livery Companies recognised by the City, but only a few got to take part in this year's procession. The new Lord Mayor is a member of the Merchant Taylors, so they got a float, as did the equally medieval Blacksmiths, Pewterers and Leathersellers. The Distillers looked to be having a whale of a time on the back of their lorry (hic) while the Woolmen were probably regretting dressing up as yokels and shepherdesses for the day. But there were also some rather more unlikely guildsmen parading up and down in swirling cloaks and big floppy hats, because it seems any modern profession can be incorporated as a Livery Company these days. All hail the Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers and (most recent of all) the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers, not to mention a crowd of caped businessmen representing Management Consultants, Lightmongers and Information Technologists. Maybe next year we'll get Baristas, Clampers and Minimum Wage Cleaning Operatives.
Near the end of the procession I spotted the Pageantmaster - not a new Harry Potter character but the man responsible for organising all 64 floats and 5261 participants into one clockwork procession. He stood proud in his open carriage, beaming like a victorious army general, resplendent beneath a black feathery hat. And finally came DavidBrewer (the City of London's seven hundred and something-th Lord Mayor) in a gleaming gold coach pulled by five great shire horses. He waved his black-fringed tricorn hat out of the window at the passing crowds, evidently enjoying every second of this very special autumn afternoon, before heading sedately onwards towards Mansion House. David has a busy year ahead, acting as the City's ambassador at home and abroad, hosting big banquets and raising money for his nominated charity. Sounds like DickWhittington had it easy.