Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 13 November 2011

An hour and a half

That's how long I was perched on a narrow, downward-sloping ledge with one arm hooked round the railings at the back of St Paul's Cathedral churchyard, to get the best view of the Lord Mayor's Show yesterday. That's how long it took for the procession to pass.

It was the usual mix of community carnival, commercial advertising opportunity, and civic pomp and heritage, to mark the inauguration of next year's Lord Mayor. The presence, round the other side of St Paul's, of the occupation protest didn't in the event have any effect, despite their raising some pertinent points about the City's status as part local authority, part private corporation controlled by business interests. A free show's a free show, and, as it has for centuries past, this Show provided a distraction from any awkward questions of that kind.

Every organisation the new Lord Mayor is connected to, along with the livery companies of the City, any military or community organisation that can claim a connection with the City, and commercial organisations that can pay to be represented, all put their floats and marching bands into the charivari. So slipped in alongside the various units of the Army, Navy and Air Force, every kind of youth and community organisation you can think of, there were striking displays from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Pimlico Plumbers ............. and Stoke-on-Trent.

Eventually we got to the civic dignitaries, with their attendant liveried watermen, and finally the cavalry, lent by the Queen, and the Lord Mayor's State Coach with a cheery wave from the man himself. They say you know you're getting old when the policemen look as though they're barely out of school; but when the Lord Mayor of London looks as though his mum should have packed him off for a proper haircut.........

The procession ends with the Trained Bands, a reminder of the days when London stood against the monarch in the Civil War, and clung (as it did from the days of Magna Carta onwards and symbolically at least still does) to its independence. The protesters will have their work cut out.

Endurance is the name of the game for the Show: having made the procession down to the Royal Courts of Justice for the formal ceremonies, and after a break for lunch, they have to process all the way back again (by another route, for maximum exposure). Coming out of the Museum of London a couple of hours later, I found bands and floats dispersing in all directions, with time to stop and chat, pose for photographs, tend to the horses and rest the weary feet. One young band was so relieved to be finished, their leader marched them smartly out of Guildhall yard, straight at a mounted policewoman who was - to judge by her language - rather more shocked than her horse.

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