diamond geezer

 Monday, June 04, 2012

A thousand boats sailing in a grand flotilla down the Thames, headed by Her Diamond Majesty, watched by a jubilant crowd. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The seven miles from Battersea to the City would allow hundreds of thousands to line the banks and watch the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant go by. Alas, for anyone arriving less than a few hours early, those banks weren't long enough...

London Bridge (1pm): "Would you like a flag?" asks the grinning girl lurking in the entrance to the ticket hall. I decline. "Are you sure?" she adds, as if I were somehow mad not to want to wave an advert for a well-known weekly gossip magazine for the rest of the afternoon. Outside on King William Street, a man with a pushchair has six of these flags in his hand, and another two sticking out of the back of his rucksack. The hawker attempting to flog "proper" Union Jacks for money loses. The grinning girl wins. I'm hoping to cross London Bridge to the South Bank, but I'm not a car so I don't rate my chances. Half the pavement has been fenced off to facilitate later viewing, and the remaining strip is home to a slowly-trudging snake of humanity going nowhere fast. Sight of the Thames: nil. I move on.

Blackfriars (1.15pm): The bridge is closed, for the benefit of fortunate souls with pre-accredited tickets. The rest of us have to make do with the Victoria Embankment, which ought to be great, but is already nearly full. The road is full as far as the eye can see, even the stretch behind HMS Wellington where there's no view of the river at all. Any chance of getting anywhere near the water's edge is clearly entirely hopeless. A sliver of river is visible from the ramp down from Blackfriars Bridge, but the only sight there'll be of the Queen is the giant "77 Jubilee balcony shot" poster draped across Sea Containers House opposite. Thankfully a big viewing screen has been set up so that nobody misses out entirely, but this means thousands of Britons have travelled miles from their own TV merely to watch the Pageant on another. Prospects of a memorable day out: nil. I move on.

Grosvenor Road (2pm): Pimlico station isn't usually this busy. But then it's not every day that the Queen floats by, and the neighbouring roads aren't normally sealed off. A crowd of well-wishers line up to file through security, merely a cursory bag check, then wander along the street in search of a view. It soon becomes clear that all the best views were bought up by property developers many years ago, as the river lies concealed behind a fa├žade of apartments. Through archways we can see residents sat out on their own private walkway, shielded from the weather, alcohol in hand. Pimlico Gardens are open, a rare public space, but with crowds already several deep there's nothing to see here. It's a very simple problem. The Thames is always lower than the surrounding riverbank, obviously, so unless you're standing in the front few rows on that riverbank you'll see nothing. Even when the apartments and businesses along Grosvenor Road finally make way for Thames-side, you'd need to be stood up on the pavement to have a chance of seeing anything. Those who got here very early are in place. Those who brought mini-stepladders are looking smug. The rest of us stroll blindly behind (or climb up on top of the nearest bus shelter, that seems to work). Huge numbers of would-be onlookers are still turning up with flags and brollies, both here and elsewhere along the river, but there is zero opportunity to onlook anything. On nearby Cadogan Pier the Queen and Prince Philip are finally walking down the gangway to board the royal launch. We know this only thanks to a big TV screen placed across the Embankment, in front of which the crowd is so large it's very hard to pass. An old couple sat on a bench despair at the endless stream of people brushing past them, their picnic uneaten alongside. Anaemic chips are selling well, the official Jubilee Pageant programme less so. I move on.

Chelsea Bridge (2.30pm): Only a very select group of spectators have been allowed onto the bridge, pitifully few, guarded by police and security in a line across to the portaloos. The whole of the Chelsea Embankment looks full, which is perhaps not surprising given it's building-free and bang opposite the ticketed festival in Battersea Park. I stand at the top of the slope and look down at the sea of heads, cagoules and flags. There is no point in walking any further. But there is a small window in the trees ahead through which a fraction of the Thames can be glimpsed. We stand and wait - the Sloanes, the families, the Chelsea Pensioner - until the flagship Gloriana rows into view. It's tiny, and indistinct, and (after all this time) unutterably underwhelming. There may be an hour and a half of pageant yet to pass by, but a fair number of the crowd start to retreat, perhaps to the pub, perhaps back home, now it's been proven that standing here is completely pointless. I move on.

Wapping (4pm): Seven miles downstream, the railings are empty. It's started raining, which may explain it, but we're also past the flotilla's dispersal point and the Queen's not coming this far. One family has stuck it out, bravely sipping champagne beneath an umbrella. Several drinkers are settled on the pebble beach below The Prospect of Whitby, and dozens more on the far bank outside a pub in Rotherhithe. For hundreds of souls still gazing from their Thames-side balconies, it feels like their patience may never be rewarded. Eventually a distant boat emerges round the corner from the Pool of London, low and black, followed by something gold. The first barge is The Royal Jubilee Bells, pealing out for considerably fewer souls than heard it in town, and the second is the flagship Gloriana. It's a shame that they're passing much closer to Rotherhithe than to Wapping, but I'll know better where to stand if ever there's a Platinum Jubilee. Suddenly the Thames is full with craft, which in these wider stretches is quite a difficult state to achieve. There are canoes and kayaks and dragon boats and gondolas, most with flags a-fluttering, and cheery oarsmen waving from the water. It's a very Canaletto moment, except that Canaletto had much better weather, and fewer kayaks. Late arrivals on the Thames Path stop and stare, filling up the spaces along the railings now there's something to see. The weather takes this opportunity to worsen considerably, the breeze whipping up and the rain coming down much heavier. The towers of Canary Wharf start to disappear in the swirling murk as dozens of Commonwealth boats pass by, in what would be a blaze of colour but is actually a muted grey. All further boats come in smaller convoys, with greater gaps, be they warships, steamships, Viking longships or whatever. I hold my own at the water's edge for an hour, even as most others slip away, increasingly sodden and shivering in the relentless downpour. And eventually I surprise myself and leave early, because conditions really are that bad, and because once you've seen five hundred distant boats you've seen them all. Drying out at home in front of the telly, I hear the BBC presenters saying what a wonderful pageant it's been and how the weather didn't dampen the crowd's spirits. It wasn't like that on the ground, either in terms of visibility or spectator cheeriness. But a marvellous once in a lifetime sight all the same, for those of us who were fortunate enough to eventually find front row seats. [photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan24  Feb24  Mar24  Apr24  May24
Jan23  Feb23  Mar23  Apr23  May23  Jun23  Jul23  Aug23  Sep23  Oct23  Nov23  Dec23
Jan22  Feb22  Mar22  Apr22  May22  Jun22  Jul22  Aug22  Sep22  Oct22  Nov22  Dec22
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21  Nov21  Dec21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
our bow
ian visits
broken tv
blue witch
on london
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
the greenwich wire
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
round the rails we go
london reconnections
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
London's waymarked walks
Inner London toilet map
20 years of blog series
The DG Tour of Britain
London's most...

read the archive
Apr24  Mar24  Feb24  Jan24
Dec23  Nov23  Oct23  Sep23
Aug23  Jul23  Jun23  May23
Apr23  Mar23  Feb23  Jan23
Dec22  Nov22  Oct22  Sep22
Aug22  Jul22  Jun22  May22
Apr22  Mar22  Feb22  Jan22
Dec21  Nov21  Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2023 2022
2021 2020 2019 2018 2017
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards