Heather had researched ahead of time that the best time to see Buckingham Palace was at the changing of the guard, which happens at precisely 11 in the morning.
I’m accustomed to the guard at Arlington National Cemetery changing every half hour or so, so clearly I wouldn’t be witnessing it on my schedule.
We took the Underground a few stops from our hotel to Buckingham Palace, and when we arrived, we were greeted by a giant mob of people.
I have nothing to compare to as this is the only time I’ve ever been by the palace when it wasn’t raining or cold. Being the start of summer, the tourists were out in droves. Clearly I was going to have to work hard for any photos.
What I didn’t know was that this day was a special day. It was Coronation Day: the anniversary of the Queen becoming, well, The Queen.
About two minutes to eleven, we heard a marching band approaching. The police parted the crowds and at eleven o’clock sharp they passed through the gate and onto the palace grounds. I couldn’t see them anymore, as I was nowhere near the fence and a crush of people lifted their smartphones and cameras up in the air to get any kind of view.
From what I could tell, the band assembled in an orderly rectangle and began playing marches. It’s always interesting to hear another country’s patriotic songs. Is patriotic even the right word? I associate it so strongly with America I wonder if it’s inappropriate to use “patriotic” when referring to the country America broke away from.
Regardless, Sousa or not, I’ve heard and played enough marches to know how this works. Since even the tallest of us couldn’t see anything, we made our way through the press of people to Hyde Park, on the other side of the square.
As we walked, the band finished whatever march they were playing and began the James Bond theme. +1 to England for that; I doubt an American marching band would play the Sportcenter theme (or whatever else would be considered equivalent from our popular culture) on the front lawn of the White House.
We got to Hyde Park just as some cavalry rode by, their ceremonial armor glittering in the sunshine, impossibly bright. It’s plain to see the impact a wealthy knight or a monarch might have had riding armored on the way to battle in medieval times, glittering brilliantly in the sunshine.
In the park, a column of mounted artillery set up, preparing for a cannon salute. Six cannons in all, spaced apart exactly and aimed at a line of trees opposite the palace.
For what seemed like an eternity they sat there, motionless. We didn’t really have any idea what was going on, but I figured it was about to involve very loud noises very shortly.
Sure enough, promptly at noon, they started shooting.
You could set your watch to it. Every ten seconds, another round was fired. It carried on this way for quite a while; I tried to keep count, and when we compared notes afterwards, we thought we had counted 35 or 40.
I’m accustomed to a 21-gun salute, so I had to research afterwards why so many were fired. Turns out, they fire 21 rounds for the anniversary, and then another twenty because the park is a Royal park.
Once the 41 shots were fired, six sets of horse-drawn carts rattled back onto the field to tow the cannons away.
And just like that, they were gone.