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.

14 comments on “The Pageant Everyone Takes For Granted”

  1. John Howard says:

    I love the image of the cutlery drawer and the twenty pound notes. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face this morning.
    At least my similar twenty pound note opera experience was in the Sydney Opera house and six rows from the front.

  2. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    I was also taken to the Lord Mayor’s Parade aged 5 or 6. Yes, it was raining.
    I think I saw the Regent Street lights turned on once. No idea who the celebrity was – I was more interested in the man in Hamleys window blowing giant bubbles.

  3. Peter Dixon says:

    You actually saw Dick van Dyke? In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Awesome.

  4. Jo W says:

    I read out that description of your visit to see Aida in the park. ‘im indoors has just about recovered now. It’s not nice seeing a cup of builders being reintroduced to the world, down someone’s nose!
    It looked like this year it didn’t rain on the Lord Mayor’s parade and of course,it never seems to rain on the Remembrance Sunday parade in Whitehall, just a gentle breeze to let some plane tree leaves flutter down during the two minutes silence – so poignant.

  5. Nick says:

    Like Cornelia, I was taken to the Lord Mayor’s Show by my parents at round-about the same age. We stood on the kerb outside my Dad’s workplace in Fleet Street, and it was bitterly cold. After about 20 minutes of nothing happening (parade hadn’t arrived by that point), I turned and enquired of my parents as to when we were going to cross the road.

  6. Ian Luck says:

    I particularly like your comment about the cutlery drawer and £20 notes. That, to me, is a good description of Opera. I’ve said before, that I’ve always viewed Opera as beautiful music, ruined by fat people shrieking over the top of it, and then steadfastly refusing to die when killed off. A workmate summed it up as ‘Dead music for Dead people’ – I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but I know what he meant. If I was musical, I think I would have to release something entitled ‘Dead Music For Dead People’. It would fit nicely with the 1980’s album by the electronic musicians Frank Tovey and Boyd Rice, entitled: ‘Easy Listening For The Hard Of Hearing’.

    You also mention, in passing ‘The Beating Of The Bounds’. Now that is ancient. Still carried out in parts of the UK, by Church staff and children, who mark the Parish boundaries by beating them with sticks – furthermore, in the past, the children were taught, and expected to remember where these boundaries were. Woe betide any child who forgot – the sticks would be used to beat the child instead. In the City Of London, the bounds extend into the Thames, and the beaters go out on a boat, where the smallest child is dangled over the water to hit it with his stick. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

  7. Ian Luck says:

    My best friend’s step-daughter wasthe Artistic Director for The Lord Mayor’s Show several years ago. She’s now a Psychologist with ‘Doctor’ in front of her name.

  8. Wayne Mook says:

    I have actually seen the changing of the guard, I was a kid and visited my Auntie. Very impressive guns.


  9. Ian Luck says:

    I saw the changing of the guard at Horseguard’s Parade as part of my fifth birthday present. My late mother would always tell people how I was more fascinated by the shitting horses (they all seemed to be intent on ‘dropping a load of old shoes out of the loft’), than the ceremony itself.
    That was a good day.

  10. snowy says:

    Wayne, is your Auntie a weight-lifter? Or am I reading that wrong?

  11. Wayne Mook says:

    No, she’s actually the BBC in disguise.


  12. Helen Martin says:

    Municipal events should always be held for the residents’ benefit. If tourists are interested enough to attend and they do so with respect for those participating then fine, but they should stay out of the way. There are citizens who do not attend these events (Chris being one) but they are important nevertheless. They are part of the ongoingness of a place’s history, as Admin points out in the last para. Remembrance Day was today with parades and services from one end of the country to another. The schools had special assemblies on Friday and churches included acts of remembrance on Sunday. I used to be at all three: the public ceremony, the school assembly, and the church one. This year our assistant minister – a naval officer training as a naval chaplain – took the observance at the beginning of the service in uniform, then took the rest of the service in robes. It was very moving to hear him talk about serving men who were unable to deal with life afterward and committed suicide – three he knows of in the last two weeks. He was able to talk about the reasons why people join the military and make us ready to honour those who are trying to facilitate peacekeeping as well as those who have died doing the job.
    Observance of items in our past helps keep our minds clear as to who we are. Beating the bounds keeps the boundaries clear in people’s minds. Events should be dropped only when they no longer help, when people find them offensive, or when it is necessary to accept a correction of history.

  13. Jeanette says:

    My father took me all over London to explore, but I have no memory of seeing the the Lord Mayor’s Show. I was born in London and lived there until I was 20.

    I just wanted to go back and see it, as it is part of my heritage.

    I went in 2017, and saw the last fireworks from Waterloo Bridge. I didn’t know about Mog and Magog, until Christopher had talked about them!! I think I enjoyed most was seeing all the Guild companies.

    Is this too early to talk about, or will I get groans….. I saw Mr Holly at Selfridges. Yes I know he was called Uncle Holly but we called him Mr Holly. He was distinctive in his green.

  14. Helen Martin says:

    I certainly can come on very prissy and all, can’t I? Any point I might have made up there was drowned in verbiage. I apologize.

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