diamond geezer

 Sunday, November 14, 2010

They used to interrupt Swap Shop for it. I never forgave them for interrupting Swap Shop for it. I wanted to carry on watching Keith Chegwin and Noel Edmonds, but instead the BBC cut away to bring us all the pomp and ceremony of the Lord Mayor's Show. Every year, Saturday morning kids TV was displaced by a lot of tedious floats and some old men in coaches. The BBC still broadcast The Lord Mayor's Show every year, which must bore folk in Northern England rigid, although now it only curtails Saturday Kitchen Live so that's fine by me. I'm older and more tolerant now, so this year I went along to watch the parade for real. But oh yes, from somewhere very special - atop St Paul's Cathedral.

To get into St Paul's normally costs £12.50, but on Lord Mayor's Show Day they hide the cash tills away, remove the barriers and allow the public inside for free. I got there early enough that the nave was still almost empty, and the spot directly beneath the dome still blessedly vacant [photo]. More to the point, I got there when the queue to climb up to the galleries was non-existent, which it certainly wasn't later in the day when I came down. St Paul's has one of the gentlest spiral staircases in London, although that means there are 257 steps up to the Whispering Gallery and they go on seemingly forever.
Oh my word, the Whispering Gallery. I'm sure the last time I was here I suffered no ill effects at all, but this time I walked out onto the upper ring and wobbled. With the dome above and a 30m drop below, I felt strangely suspended and had to hang on tight for no rational reason whatsoever. Sitting back on the perimeter bench was OK, eventually, but there was no way I wanted to walk a couple of steps to the railing and peer down. At least sat here I got the perfect opportunity to experience the gallery's unique acoustics. The steward on the opposite side of the dome politely demanded that one overkeen visitor stop taking photos, and oh yes I heard his remonstration loud and clear. I gave myself five minutes to acclimatise to the height, and almost managed, but was still pathetically relieved when it was time to climb 119 steps higher.

One New ChangeThe Stone Gallery is the walkway around the base of St Paul's great dome. Visitors weren't allowed any higher on Saturday, but that was fine because the Golden Gallery would have been too lofty for looking down onto immediately adjacent streets. There was a bit of a wait for the parade to kick off, which gave those of us up here the opportunity to stare out across more distant parts of London. West towards Westminster and the Eye [photo], south (along the Millennium Bridge) towards the Tate [photo] [photo], and southwest towards the ever-ascending Shard [photo]. I don't think some Londoners are yet aware quite how dominant this spiky glass pyramid is going to be. The City's main skyscraper cluster was clearly visible to the east [photo], immediately beyond the jarring ultramodern lump that is One New Change [photo]. It's got a new sixth-floor roof terrace which is due to open on Thursday, but don't go up there next year expecting to watch the Lord Mayor's Show because you'll be too far back to see anything. [photo]

The parade eventually emerged from behind Top Shop, having just left Mansion House where the new mayor had waved everyone off. There was a military band at the helm - one of several dotted throughout proceedings - along with miniature representatives of the Worshipful Company of Paviors. They got pole position because new Mayor Michael Bear works in the construction industry, only they prefer to call themselves Paviors round here. Soon after came the Lightmongers and the Chartered Surveyors, who were additional non-medieval guildsmen enjoying their day out in posh clothes. I had to look up all this afterwards, of course, because it was impossible to read anything useful on the floats from this high up.

Blimey, doesn't the parade go on? Just when you think there can't be another lorry or bunch of guardsmen coming round the corner, both appear. Indeed the entire procession would be hugely shorter were it not for members of Her Majesty's armed forces who parade by in all their assorted variations. There were even tanks on the streets of the City yesterday, and crowds applauding them, which in certain other countries would surely mean a military junta had seized control. As for participating civilian units [photo] the Variety Club were out and about, as was the City's only primary school, plus a bizarre float celebrating the 150th anniversary of a homeopathic company complete with dancing medicines. Several organisations featured teddy bears in their presentation, for hopefully obvious reason. And the award for most blatant ear-grinding advert went to the folk at the shopping mall over the road, who'd paid some girlie band to sing well-known songs and change as many of the lyrics as possible to "One New Change". I would have been sick, but sadly I'd have missed.

The Lord Mayor's Coach

Eventually, just around the time that I was getting very cold indeed, the final sequences of coaches approached [photo]. These were the City Company bigwigs, the aldermen, clerks and sheriffs, enjoying their day out being waved at by all and sundry [photo]. Smaller crowds than usual this year, I thought, indeed the grandstands outside the cathedral were barely half full. And finally the Lord Mayor himself, bedecked in feathery black tricorn hat, although all I could was his tiny gold coach passing by surrounded by footmen [photo] [photo]. This passed out of sight beyond the south transept and pulled up unseen at the front of the cathedral - where (so I'm told) Mayor Bear was blessed by the Dean. At this point St Paul's bells rang out, which I have to say sounded especially impressive to those of us standing above them [photo]. They continued to peal as the gold coach set off down Ludgate Hill, watched by further crowds from rooftops and down in the street [photo]. And finally the parade disappeared up Fleet Street [photo] - a year of luncheons and diplomatic missions ahead for the new incumbent.

I was surprised how few folk there were up the top of St Paul's looking down, especially given that access was free. Maybe 50 of us before the parade began, but with numbers dropping off significantly as the hour went by. I think I was the only person to watch the lot, perhaps because the chilling wind scared most off, or perhaps because watching an endless stream of bandsmen, decorated buses and giant adverts isn't actually that thrilling. If you're interested, you know where to go next year. And if not, Nigella Kitchen will return next week.

www.flickr.com: my St Paul's & Lord Mayor's Show gallery
[20 photos altogether]

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