Celebrating the royal wedding -- minus the pomp
Claygate, Surrey — For 11-year-old Victoria Mills on Raleigh Drive, the Big Day meant getting up early and helping to pull the ropes that rang out peals of bells in a local church.
For the stationmaster on the white-roofed local platform, it was all a dilemma: He wanted to take a bus to the races at Goodwood as he always does on the last Wednesday in July, but his wife flatly refused to go. He ought to be ashamed of himself, she said. Where was his loyalty? His patriotism? He should be in front of his television set all day. The pressure mounted. He decided against the races.
For the woman who runs the elegant gift shop called "Twelve" on the town's quiet, secluded shopping street, The Parade, it was a welcome chance for usually reserved British people to show their feelings:
"We are all so blinking cold most of the time, you know," she said as souvenir mugs, plates, and curios sold like hot cakes around her. "It's marvelous to feel the warmth and the enthusiasm build, and to see people get together."
For Rythe Road it was a street party the preceding Saturday -- 6 to 9 p.m., L 2 ($3.75) per family, red, white, and blue balloons, and somebody's brother rigging up a small sound system and playing popular music into the mellow evening air.
"Modern life seems to preclude neighbors," said one relaxed and beaming local man. "This is a fine excuse to show some community spirit." In such small, spontaneous ways did one local British community -- quiet and leafy Claygate, in Surrey, 15 miles southwest of London -- celebrate the royal wedding.
Far away from national headlines and TV lights, in personal impacts on individual lives, the monarchy was at work, showing its hold on the people.
Like the Queen Mother's 80th birthday last year and the queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, the royal wedding was not just a media event. It showed the monarchy's ability to break down reserve, to bring neighbors together, and to illuminate, even if briefly, an essential part of the unity and the decent, enduring human qualities that make up the British character.
The minority, anti-royalist, pro-republican feeling that sent a busload of Socialists to Bologne, France, for the day July 29 and a hovercraft filled with others to Calais was not in Claygate. Nor was the sentiment that drove 40 people to the Lake District from Peterborough to escape saturation wedding coverage.
In this predominantly royalist part of well-to-do southern England, feelings were more typical of the country as a whole. A 1980 poll showed 80 percent of the population favored keeping the monarchy. Women, and those over 34, are staunchest supporters, but Lady Diana's youth and vigor attracts younger people as well.
The Rythe Road street party was echoed up and down the town -- and across Britain as well. The street was blocked off with a hand-lettered sign (with local council approval, of course). Folding tables swayed under plates and bowls of home-cooked food. Children played, and knots of adults actually talked to each other as they stood eating and drinking under a line of fluttering Union Jacks.
In a nearby street, neighboring families baked small cakes with red, white, and blue icing and told each other how they wired small Union Jacks to their cars as one way of showing the flag. It seemed not commercial, but somehow right, that milk bottles arrived on the doorstep with wedding bells patterned on their silver foil tops. Sausage rolls came in paper bags covered with printed congratulations. Some souvenirs in London were in poor taste but Claygate was quietly sure that it was dignified and correct.
The fastest-selling souvenirs at "Twelve" were tea towels bearing the royal likenesses. ("The Lord Chamberlain says we can't call them tea towels if they're printed with the portraits," said the proprietess. "They have to be called wall hangings.") Also popular: china mugs for 99 pence ($1.85) whose royal pictures were surrounded by English roses, Welsh daffodils, Irish shamrocks, and Scottish thistles. Blue Wedgwood plates with white bas-reliefs sold at L19.50 ($36). Smaller ones were L7 ($13) less.
Outsiders joined in:
The Indian Tandoori Restaurant and take-away had a Union Jack in its window. Minika, the German owner of nearby Monika's Tortenstuberl (light meals and cakes), hung out red, white, and blue rosettes, put out royal wedding paper napkins at each table, and said she was impressed at the spirit of the occasion.
"I had a lot of orders for cakes for parties on wedding day," she remarked. "People are enjoying themselves."
Across The Parade, the record and and tape shop called Sound and Vision reported a "tremendous run" on three-hour and two-hour blank video casettes ready to record the wedding procession and ceremony.
The tall woman in the dress shop Lady Fayre said she would be at a friend's house July 29. There's a pool and croquet on the lawn," she added. "Those who don't want to watch all the time can do the other."
Refrigerator repairman Peter Bartlett shrugged, "It's a day off," he said. "I'll watch on TV, I suppose. My wife is keener. And her mother is having a party. . . . The royals are OK, I suppose, but. . . ."
A local engineer was pro-crown but wryly lamented the loss of a full day's production at a time of economic recession.
But up on Fawcuss Close and Firs Close, where older people live in small apartments, flags fluttered from front doors and from flowerpots. Bunting flew over a memento of another royal occasion: the stone horse trough erected for the coronation of King George V in June 1911.
"I don't care what anyone says," said a loyal mother down near Raleigh Drive. "When I see the flags and feel the spirit, I get a lump in my throat."