Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 11 November 2007

Lord Mayor's Show

It must be 50 years or more since I was taken to see the Lord Mayor's Show. I remember standing about halfway up Ludgate Hill, not far from the railway bridge that ran acrss the foot of the Hill in those days. The cellars of the bombed-out buildings behind us were serving as carparks (as they did until the City Thameslink station was built not that long ago).

The Show itself hasn't changed that much. The City of London has always taken its status seriously. This is hardly surprising - for centuries it was the one power in the land independent of both Church and King. The Lord Mayor (not to be confused with the new arrival, the executive Mayor of London) may only be a ceremonial figurehead and ambassador for the City, chosen on Buggin's Turn, but the City Corporation, once made up of the trade guilds (livery companies) is still dominated by business votes and safeguards the interests of the financial and business establishment gathered in the enclave of the City, just as it always has.

But the civic pomp is shown in a light-hearted atmosphere. I can remember, all those decades ago, the policeman smiling as a group of teenage boys chanted:
"I'll sing you a song,
And it's not very long -
All coppers are bastards".

This time, I arrived on Ludgate Hill to see a line of coaches with various dignitaries in their robes - waving glove puppets: a Mickey Mouse, a Mr Punch, a Gromit, a lion, a badger, sundry fluffy puppies and a pink inflatable hand.

Then the Household Cavalry led the really grand part of the procession, with the Lord Mayor's ceremonial coach (liberated for the day from the Museum of London); if he was preceded by the royal Life Guards, he was followed by sternly Cromwellian-looking pikemen.

I'd missed the first part of the procession, but caught up with it on its return. Here any and every organisation connected with the City and the new Lord Mayor gets its chance to put itself on show (and some seizing the opportunity for purely commercial advertising). There's a strong representation of all sorts of military units, community and charitable organisations, vintage machinery and bands galore (I never knew there was a St John Ambulance band, but apparently so), flags and bunting, and many floats carrying their own music, with plenty of spectators blowing whistles (which seems to be the thing to do at any public event these days).

At times the people on the floats were calling out to us to smile and wave, but there was plenty of banter from the onlookers as well: "Where's your boat?" to the watermen marching along with their oars.

But as the pikemen came past for the last time - no band for them, just the repeated click of the musketeers' staves on the tarmac - the procession came to an end with a small group of elderly men, one in a wheelchair, all with medals and banners from the units they'd served in. The whistles and shouts died away, and instead, on the eve of Remembrance Day, there was a soft and gentle wave of clapping.


  1. I looked at your flickr photos of the Lord Mayor's show and was green with envy. That's something I have been dying to see for years. I'll have to think about a London trip next year :)
    Thanks for letting me be "other" in the comments!