First and foremost, thank you to Julie Valerie and Pauline Wiles for their kind comments about my post “Wise Before the Event”.
I was interested in Julie’s comment that I should write about the State Opening of Parliament from my own Julie’s point of view, particularly as I had been mulling over the idea of including some of my experiences of London in my next Julie Lane murder mystery, which, incidentally, is little more than an idea in my head at the moment.
Anyway, I thought the action might go something like this:
Julie has just returned from a holiday in Tuscany where, along with a few other people, she was a guest in Isobel’s villa. Isobel is her close but slightly enigmatic friend who specialises in interior designs. Now Julie is desperate to speak to Isobel because she suspects that one of the other house guests is involved in murder. Up to now, she has been reluctant to broach the subject with Isobel for fear of alienating her and also because she knows that, as far as Isobel is concerned, she has a bit of a reputation for dabbling in murder, and it’s one she’s not at all keen to perpetuate.
So, to sweeten the pill, Julie has invited Isobel to watch the procession after the State Opening of Parliament, and then she plans to treat Isobel to lunch, at which point she hopes to raise the subject of murder.
Accordingly, she meets up with Isobel at eleven o’clock on the morning in question.
“I’m rather excited about this!” Isobel exclaims, after giving Julie a brief hug. “I’ve never seen the Queen before!”
Julie is a little taken aback by this. Somehow she had thought that Isobel, with all her connections, would have seen the Queen on numerous occasions, and may even have been one of the lucky people to have been invited to a Palace Garden Party.
“No, really, it’s a first for me,” Isobel continues as she sees the puzzled look on Julie’s face, “so thank you for inviting me.”
Julie nods graciously, secretly wondering if Isobel will still be thanking her in a couple of hours’ time, when at last she will be party to the murder theory. For now, though, she concentrates on the immediate future and steers Isobel out of the station and into a coffee shop on Buckingham Palace Road.
“Just time for a quick latte before the ceremony gets underway,” she explains.
Isobel takes her spoon and absentmindedly begins removing the froth from the top of her cup.
“I thought most of the action for the State Opening took place down at Westminster,” she says.
“Well, I suppose in a way it does, the political side of things that is, but I’m not so sure you’d get such a good view of the Queen, and, in any case, there’s plenty to watch at the Palace before the Queen even arrives. Of course the Queen drives past very quickly, but you’ll get a good view.”
“You know,” Isobel changes the subject, “I really didn’t have you marked out as a Royalist, Julie.”
Julie isn’t sure how to respond to this. Perhaps, she concludes, it’s one of those areas where she’s a little ambivalent. “You’ll like the horses,” she says now, deciding to sidestep the question.
“But have I converted you?” Isobel laughs, remembering how she had eventually persuaded Julie to mount one of her own horses last summer.
“Perhaps,” Julie responds carefully, just in case her friend has any more equestrian adventures planned for her, “but it’s the overall spectacle I like.”
Julie and Isobel make their way up towards the Palace, and Isobel is surprised that, for once, Julie is fairly dogmatic.
“We need to stand here,” she says firmly, coming to a stop outside the Palace, just where The Mall sweeps round to the left in front of the Victoria Memorial. “We’ll get the best view from here.”
Isobel does as she’s told and takes up her place right behind a railing.
A few minutes later, there is the unmistakable pounding of hoofs on tarmac accompanied by the rattling of gun carriages as a long line of guards appears from the other side of the road and comes trotting past in order to take up position outside the Palace.
“I’m glad my Dolly isn’t like that,” Isobel comments when a couple of horses start throwing their heads around and attempt to break into a canter. “Really, I admire those lads and the way they manage to keep control. Come to think of it, I don’t think Dolly would be too good in crowds either.”
Even Julie, with her somewhat limited knowledge of horses and horsemanship, admires the skill of the riders passing just a few yards away, and she can’t help feeling relieved that there is a sturdy barrier between them and her.
Then both Julie’s and Isobel’s eyes swivel in the other direction. At long last mounted policemen and another group of guards are coming up The Mall, and Julie knows that the arrival of the Queen is imminent. Isobel, though, is concentrating on the red jackets adorned with gold buttons, which are shining even on this dismal afternoon.
“Are they giving you ideas for any of your designs?” Julie asks, referring to Isobel’s new side line in hand knitted garments.
“I’ll have to give it some thought, but I have to say it’s all very striking, and maybe I could design a few hats as well,” Isobel adds, clearly taken with the white flowing plumes on the guards’ helmets.
And then the Queen herself appears in her new carriage. It is unmistakably her, even though it is a little difficult to see her through the windows, and Julie manages to take a photograph.
“Just for the record,” she explains. “I don’t think it would win any prizes, but it will be nice to have a memento.”
“I’d forgotten you were doing a photography course. No, it’s not likely to be up to your new exacting standards.
And mention of the photography course makes Julie feel uncomfortable. After all, that’s where it all began, this suspicion of murder.
But Isobel continues obliviously.
“I think she waved at us,” she says, taking a last glance at the brand new Diamond Jubilee coach as it disappears through the gates of the Palace.
“Perhaps she recognises you after all,” Julie replies, “and it will only be a matter of time before you receive a commission to decorate one of the palaces.”
Isobel smiles, and Julie judges that now is the right time to take Isobel to a nearby restaurant to discuss the matter of murder.
Finally, a thank you to A A Milne and his ever popular poem “Buckingham Palace“, which has inspired the title of this post.