It is often the unplanned moments of our over-scheduled lives that turn out the most pleasurable.
When my good friend, Malcolm Prince, suggested spending the day together yesterday, I was delighted because it is all too easy to devote time to developing new relationships, whilst taking old and established ones for granted.
But Malcolm, who is not only an incredibly talented but extremely busy executive producer with BBC Radio 2 (whose weekly shows include - excuse the imminent name-drop - Elaine Paige on Sunday), is the first to recognise that the grabbed coffee or even the snatched lunch is no substitute for the all the shared exploits, mishaps, chats, giggles and tears that form the basis of a long and lasting friendship.
We duly set out from Victoria on an amazingly hot and sunny day to have an al fresco lunch (courtesy of M & S) in Green Park. What we had overlooked, and what only became clear when we discovered that all the roads leading up to Buckingham Palace were closed off and policed by British Bobbies wearing medals (and, please!, WHITE GLOVES) was that it was the Official Birthday of HMQEII and that, therefore, this was the day for Trooping the Colour!
Unable to get any further than St James’s Park, we picnicked overlooking the lake, a-swim with ducks, geese, swans and - it always surprises me - pelicans! We were surrounded by hordes of sun-worshippers: several ‘bodies beautiful’, delightfully arranged, and quite few others that one could only seriously admire for their total lack of inhibition!
A scattering of minor dignitaries, en route from Horse Guards Parade - and despite their top hats, morning suits and summery frocks - enjoyed ice-cream cones with unselfconscious delight; while hordes of ecstatic tourists rushed to photograph marching bandsmen in bearskins and scarlet tunics - and even a knot of police marksmen who had left off their white gloves in favour of flack jackets and guns!
“Bunch up!” called one matronly lady waving her digital camera to get a couple of the boys-in-blue to huddle up for a snap, “just a quick one!” We almost expected to hear someone add, “Come on, lads! Just point your guns at the camera!”
Later, crossing the Mall we heard the ‘Feu de Joue’ (Fire of Joy) a “cascade of blank rounds” interspersed with bars of the national anthem: a ceremonial novelty to mark HMQ's 80th birthday that has never been previously performed (if that's the right word) during her reign.
Then, walking down Pall Mall, we found ourselves witnessing an amazing fly-past of aircraft ranging from a WWII Lancaster bomber to a lot of seriously sophisticated contemporary war machines and concluding with the Red Arrows' famous formation fliers filling the skies with above the heart of the capital with red-white-and-blue smoke.
A day of expected pleasures (good conversation, shared laughter, fond memories) and the totally UNexpected, such as everything I’ve just described --- oh, yes, and spotting a Japanese tourist in Starbucks wearing an England football shirt with ‘Rooney 9’ on the back. I was sorely tempted to ask how his metatarsals were and why he wasn’t out in Germany, but thought it might loose something in translation!
[Images: © Brian Sibley 2006]