Sunday 1 May 2011

Not the Royal Wedding ... but as near as I'm ever likely to get.
Maybe the Archbishop had heard that I was a bit miffed yesterday and told them to roll out the red carpet or they'd never hear the end of it.
What a day I have had. And I only queued ... look away, this might make you jealous ... I only queued for ten minutes. Yes, that's right.
It didn't bode well for my return trip to the Abbey after I went to bed with a half-plan to compose a worshipful face and go to matins. I didn't open my eyes until 8.15am. (I know, I know, but I'm not a morning person.) I nearly rolled right over and went back to sleep.
I shot out of the house on a gulp of tea and half a slice of toast. But even so, it was 9.40am before I emerged out of Westminster tube station. Blown it, I thought ...
Until I walked around the corner and realised that there was hardly any queue at all. So I chatted away to three elderly American ladies who were just as thrilled as I was. (They had camped out all of Thursday night on the Mall. I could only admire their stamina.)
And by 9.50am precisely, I was seated in Poets' Corner. (Under Robert Garrick if you really want every literary detail.)
But, oh ... the scent of lilies of the valley as you walk into the Abbey ... it was heavenly. She must have wafted down that aisle on a cloud of perfume.
Now, having criticised Huw of the BBC for his lack-lustre commentary, I shall have to try to do a better job. And for our overseas readers - that's you, Darlene - and those who haven't been inside the Abbey since they were at school (that's me) ... what can you see from Poets' Corner?
Well, these are the posh seats. Not exactly the orchestra stalls, more the stalls circle. On the Queen's side of the church but several rows behind the immediate family. Think foreign dignitaries and diplomats. But you'd be straining to see much over Princess Bea's Moose Hat.
Needless to say, I was delighted. This was Mission Accomplished. And the music was wonderful, the organ and the choir soaring up into that glorious vaulted roof ... and yes, I did well up. (Tears rolling down my cheeks, if you must know. I think I'd quite forgotten that this was Not the Royal Wedding. Not really.) I'm relieved to realise that - contrary to reports in yesterday's papers - the cart-wheeling verger doesn't seem to be in trouble. At least, the venerable canon cracks a joke about him in her sermon.
And then it was over. I shuffled around Poets' Corner, paying social calls ... Anne of Cleves (heavens, it must have been quite an amicable divorce); TS Eliot, the War Poets, Tennyson, Robert Browning, DH Lawrence (well, fancy that). But despite this morning's unusually large congregation for matins, it is being made abundantly clear by the vergers that Sightseeing is not playing by the rules. Anyway, they're trying to clear the Abbey for the next service.
I'll have you know that my behaviour so far has been impeccable. But I really, really want to stand for a moment looking down the nave at all those trees. (I've only had a sideways glimpse of the flowers over the altar.) So I did what any determined, churchgoing lady would do ... I ducked under the barrier. Only for a quick look ...
And then I realise that people are taking their seats again. The verger assures me that you can sit anywhere you like ...
And that, ladies, is how I came to be sitting - for the next hour - in one of the best seats in the Abbey at the foot of the steps to the altar.
Because I was in Carole Middleton's seat. Her - actual - seat. Smug ... I've been insufferable all day. I mean, I queued for ten minutes!)
Now I could see the flowers ... and a glimpse of that avenue of trees. As the bride entered into the quire, it must have been absolutely enchanting as if she were walking out of a woodland glade. (It is completely true what you've read in the papers. Here in the posh seats, the atmosphere is intimate.)
But those flowers .... high, high above me there's a tumble of white rhododendrons, and what might be white wisteria, entwined around the clerestory windows as if it was growing wild.
There's white cherry blossom and azalea. And every so often, a flap of clerical vestments creates a draught ... and that heavenly scent of lilies of the valley washes over me again.
And I realise that this is the stage upon which one day William's Coronation will be enacted.
It feels overwhelmingly solemn.
Belatedly, I realise that the floor of the high altar is the famous Great Pavement that supposedly predicts the end of the world. (For years, it was carpeted over and only revealed for a couple of days every three years or so. And I never remembered the dates, so I've never seen it.)
When it is time to leave, I walk slowly in Catherine's footsteps - to music by Elgar - through the beautiful blue quire, under the golden arches ... thank you, all sarcastic remarks have already been made by family members ... and out into that avenue of trees. Where it is heaving with people. And there is plenty of time to bury my nose in all those lilies of the valley. They are planted at the base of each tree ... and suddenly I notice something that Huw didn't mention. They're interspersed with strawberry plants ... tiny white flowers, and tight berries, and just one that's almost ripe. (No, I didn't. It didn't even cross my mind. Actually, there was a chunk out of it as if a mouse might have got there before me. And, anyway, those vergers would have been down on me like avenging archangels. They were already fighting a losing battle against the cardinal sin of Photography.)
Talking about sins of decorum ... would you believe the woman sitting next to me? Who chobbled her way loudly through an apple and took swigs out of a bottle of fizzy pop. During a service. In a cathedral. In the front row before the high altar.
Anybody still reading? I promise never to mention weddings again.
Just curtsey on your way out ...
And many thanks to Westminster Abbey.
For a morning I'll remember for the rest of my life.

PS Almost forgot to mention, that the bride's bouquet had been laid on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. The flowers beginning to fade ... more lilies of the valley, hyacinth and myrtle, and what looked like sparkling raindrops but was actually silver wire twisted through the flowers.
The last word promise starts now!


Cornflower said...

Glorious! I'm so glad you made it in the end.

Anonymous said...

So glad you got to see it in the end! The flowers sound divine.

Lucille said...

Yours is the first detailed description of the flowers and foliage that I have heard, beautifully described, so thank you for your dedication to the mission.

rachel said...

Thank you for the wonderful detail - limited by television pictures only, I could not have imagined that there was so much delicious scent - and those little strawberry plants!.

Anonymous said...

Like being there, thank you! Glad you made it.

Darlene said...

Thank you for such a lovely post, it made my morning. I've been to the Abbey twice so on the big day I was picturing myself there.

I love that it smelled like perfume from the flowers and it must have taken everything you had to resist that strawberry! What a fabulous opportunity, Mary...lucky you!

mary said...

Thank you, everybody - it's nice to have somebody to share the little details (without seeing their eyes glaze over!) And I'm so glad I persisted and got up in time!

Chrissie said...

No eyes glazing here! This was lovely and has really added something special to my experience of only seeing it on TV - thank you!

mary said...

Thanks, Chrissie - I'm glad you like it.

Noelle the dreamer said...

Thank you for an amazing report and truly unique on what was after all a very special moment for two young people! All done with impeccable taste, many thanks!!
I particularly enjoy reading the bride's bouquet was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior!

mary said...

I'd forgotten that was traditional, Noelle, and nearly missed it in the crush of people leaving the Abbey.

Eggs on the Roof said...

You're one of the very few to mention the scent of the flowers in the
Abbey. It added a whole new dimension to the wedding for me. I so enjoyed this post.

mary said...

Thank you, Charlie. The scent really was heavenly.

dottycookie said...

Oh, how glorious! We were there on Easter Monday (and the cartwheeling verger showed us around - and he was as delightful as you'd expect) but that was before any of the floral decorations were in place. Thank you so much for posting this - and I'm glad you managed to get in!

mary said...

What fun to meet the cartwheeling verger, Dottycookie. Would you have guessed he could be so frisky?