We took our spot in line and presented passports and invitation to security. Windsor sits on a hill, majestically overlooking the town of the same name. Thick stone walls circle the castle and its outlying buildings, including the famous St. George’s Chapel where the induction was to be held. We spectators were accorded spots along the route winding from the castle to the chapel. Once inside the grounds we quickly found the small island of grass that corresponded to the number on our map.
And I do mean “small island of grass.” We were located on a berm, a grassy knoll, a small divider in a sea of pavement. There was no seating and no shade. No shelter from the summer heat. And we had dutifully—as suggested--arrived hours early.
The sun beat down on us. Our little spot filled up with more spectators. Soon we were cheek to jowl with hundreds of others “banished” to our tiny patch. There was barely enough room to move. The Brits came well-prepared. They brought folding chairs and coolers of champagne. We (David, Michael and I) didn’t know to do that…and we were parched and miserable. I did my usual survey of ladies restrooms and I’ll grant HRH this: She has the classiest Port-a-Potties in the world. A huge trailer with white siding and gold trim was parked on the grounds just for this purpose. The inside was lavish, and the taps were gold. It changed forever my expectations of Johnnies on the Spot!
Michael was restless, hot and miserable. We were all getting sunburned. We were squished against other people. Finally, he slumped down onto the grass and immersed himself in his Game Boy. So much for introducing him to living history!
I was especially interested in this ceremony because family lore has it that one of my ancestors was a Knight of the Gartner. That explains the blue garter on the family coat of arms. I had grown up being told the story of “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Ponce” by my maternal grandmother. In fact, during our first tour of Windsor, a docent asked if anyone knew the motto of the Knights of the Garter. I popped out with “Honi Soit…” and his jaw dropped. He said that in fifty-plus years of working at the castle he’d never had a visitor who knew the motto, much less an American!
Our closely-packed group serged forward again and again, never stepping beyond the roped stanchions that corralled us, but lurching as close to the dignitaries as possible so we could see. By then, we were a pretty smelly, tired, dusty and stinky lot.
“And that,” said the Brit standing at my elbow, “is why we loved Princess Di. Look at him. Hasn’t worked a day in his life. Never has a worry or a care. All he has to do to make us lot happy is to wave—and does he? No. Can’t be bothered. Diana would have walked over and shook hands. She would have smiled and waved and been happy to see us. That’s why we loved her.”
Suddenly, I understood. The rigid class system in the UK is such that commoners can never challenge the accident of their birth. They can never become royalty. The regular “guy” is forever relegated to the small, green patch of grass. He is always on the outside, gazing in at the pomp, circumstance and privilege. All he asks for is a tip of the hat, a wave of the hand, a nod to acknowledge that but for a switch of infants in the crib, that HRH could have been the poor sod out on the grass, sweltering in the heat, and hoping for a good line-of-sight to gawk at the rich and famous.
For more about the Order of the Garter go to http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/garter.htm