About Chelsea Flower Show, Founder's Day at Royal Hospital Chelsea, Diamond Jubilee, Sol Campbell and Barack Obama
It is Wednesday morning, 30th May. I have just dropped Zuzia off to her nursery in Blackheath and I am heading for Chelsea to do some more research for my Royal Chelsea walk (see scheduledwalks in June 2012)
In fact, what I love most about 'doing research' is chatting with locals that I often bump into while hanging out in Chelsea. Chelsea Flower Show is over so I think of visiting the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The night before I have a look at their website and double-check the opening hours. The museum and the courts are open from 10am to 12pm and then after a lunch break, from 2pm to 4pm. When I get gently stopped at the gate, I must look a bit surprised. The south grounds of Royal Hospital are closed. They haven't cleaned up after the Chelsea Flower Show yet and then they will be getting ready for Founder's Day. It is around the statue of king Charles II (the founder of the hospital) that pensioners parade on that day to commemorate the escape of the future king from the parliamentarians. Founder's Day is on 29th May but the ceremony may not take place on that day. This year it will be held on the 7th June that is on my birthday! The way Barbara Denny writes about the event (Founder's Day of course and not about my birthday;) in Chelsea Past is quite remarkable: 'This ceremony when the salute is taken by a member of the Royal Family, is one of the most moving in London's public calendar, as the elderly men march, remarkably erect despite their age and disabilities, to the music of a regimental band playing The Boys of the Old Brigade.' By the way, last year the salute was taken by Prince Harry.
I take a discreet look at the guard's name badge and realize that she must be Polish. We have a chat in our mother tongue. She's been working here since last September and she loves it here. It is a unique place and unique people. I agree and insist that at least Royal Hospital Museum should be open today. While inside the museum I have a look at the model of the buildings and 18th century Ranelagh Gardens and the impressive rotunda. I start taking notes but soon end up chatting with a pensioner about female pensioners (there are currently 7 and they live in a separate building), the unusual sight of the scarlet clad men after they had climbed the pyramid-like structure at Chelsea Flower Show this year. ' They look like lovely gingerbread men in a Christmas tree' I say. Fortunately, the pensioner I am chatting with has a sense of humor. He was born in Dublin and I have a weakness for the Irish and their accent. I am married to one:) Soon we chat about Polish soldiers during WWII, my grandma and grandpa who escaped from concentration camp in Poland, economic situation in Ireland, Irish pubs, love for spuds... It is 12 o'clock and time for lunch so I go to the cafe here and while drinking good latte and eating fresh baguette (just over 3 pounds in Chelsea!) I observe life around; pensioners in their everyday navy blue outfits sitting, chatting, reading papers, smiling... I remember that the Irish pensioner confirmed that the ale here is still possibly the cheapest in town (at least half price) and that another Polish girl works at the bar. Well, I shall find out next time...
On the way back in King's Road everything reminds me of Diamond Jubilee; it seems that there is no person in the world who wouldn't have heard of it. I read in papers that about 1 million Londoners are expected to be watching the flotilla of 1000 vessels on the Thames this Sunday. Then I read that about 2 millions are likely to... leave the capital city and go far far away. They will take an advantage of cheap holiday and give the airports a chance to practice how to deal with crowds before Olympics... When I get to Sloane Square Station I notice a warning that some stations may need to be closed due to Jubilee crowds related congestion. Tim, Zuzia and I will take a chance on 3rd June as we will try to get a glimpse of the Thames from Cremorne Gardens in Chelsea. It is here by the way that the main photo on My London Tours website was taken last February. One can see from here Battersea Bridge and Albert Bridge, Chelsea Old Church and Shard (Shard is everywhere in London!) and even a bit of London Eye! The story of Cremorne Gardens deserves to be a topic of a separate article in My London Tours blog.
I collect Zuzia and as we walk past the Hare and Billet at Blackheath I remember the delicious (and inevitably fattening) fish and chips (with mushy peas) we had here last weekend. I am happy they are doing fine. I still can't get over the loss of the Cross Keys pub in Chelsea. The pub closed down only weeks ago. One day there may be just a few historic pubs left in London:(
Later I call my mum in Poland and I am sure we will end up talking about Queen's Diamond Jubilee. She says that though she has heard of the Jubilee, the front page news are related to former England star Sol Campbell and his warning that English football fans should stay away from European Championship in Ukraine an Poland, if they don't want to 'come back in coffin'. Then my mum adds that another controversy is President Obama's faux pas made while talking about 'Polish death camp' during a Medal of Freedom ceremony.
In the meantime, let's be sympathetic and optimistic while getting ready for Diamond Jubilee in Britain and Euro 2012 in Poland...