The Pageant Everyone Takes For Granted
Referenced in Pepys’s diaries, the Lord Mayor’s Show, London’s grand annual parade, just passed its 804th year. The procession kicked off at 11am from Mansion House with cadets, carriages, floats and bands moving through the streets. Over in Paternoster Square and St Paul’s there were funfairs, art installations and street theatre. The parade ended with the arrival of that carriage.
And for the 59th time, I saw none of it.
Londoners without children don’t even notice that the Lord Mayor’s Show is on. They use it as a weather indicator because, like St Swithin’s Day it is a sign that winter is coming. There has never been a parade day in my living memory when it didn’t bucket with rain at some point.
I last attended at the age of six or seven, when Dick Van Dyke drove Chitty Chitty Bang Bang through the London streets. He had a bright orange face and appeared to be wearing a very bad wig.
Along with not attending the Lord Mayor’s Show I have never seen the Changing of the Guard, the Queen’s Birthday celebrations, the Thames River Pageant, Swan-Upping, Beating the Bounds, the turning on of Regent Street’s Christmas lights by an ephemeral and inconsequential pop person or any of the other peculiar and often pointless rituals that require standing in the rain for hours to see something in the distance that is shiny and makes a noise.
Even when I went to a special performance of Aida in a London park I was so far at the back that I might have stayed home and stared into my cutlery drawer, periodically shaking it every few minutes while slowly ripping up twenty pound notes.
At least yesterday I was in Chelsea for the Memorial Sunday public service (although not the Strand, where you could royal-watch). I only knew it was happening because I heard a tuba.
London does not necessarily stage these events for tourists. It stages them because they’ve been going for so long that they cannot be stopped, and nor should they. Other odd smaller ceremonies take place all over, away from gawkers. Many ceremonies were revived in Victorian Britain as it recreated a romanticised version of its past. They are ingrained and comforting and part of what makes the city rich and strange.