Friday, 3 May 2013

May Day... A Royal Story...

So its officially the May Day bank holiday weekend and the children were watching Maypole dancing on a kids TV programme last night.

"Why are they doing that?" TJ asked. "Well, its to celebrate the beginning of Summer," I replied. "Do they have a barbecue?" asked TJ. "I think they probably have one afterwards if its nice weather," I told him. The Sprog said, "Did you do things like that when you were little, Daddy?"

The kids are obsessed with the idea of myself and Papa as children at the moment, they say its a sign of recovery from trauma when children start to settle enough to think about their own future and are able to put their past behind them, so we are doing all we can to encourage this interest, showing pictures of us as boys, getting the children to talk to their Grandparents etc. So I carried on, "When I was little we lived in a village and every year we used to have a big party when the whole village would come together and there would be stalls and a parade and parties afterwards - it was lots of fun." (admittedly it does sound like the beginning of a particularly gory episode of 'Midsomer Murders' but it also sums up the village atmosphere.)

"Do you have any photos?" TJ asked. "I think Granny has," I replied, "We can ask her to show us next time we see her." Again this brought back memories of my Dad's endless 'slide shows' where we would all sit huddled in a darkened living room with the screen set against the wall and my Dad leaning over the projector and us laughing when he put the pictures in upside down - which I now appreciate he probably did deliberately in order to break the monotony of seeing yet another beautiful picture of a tree in Snowdonia..."

Then I suddenly remembered one particular Village Day and wondered how on earth I was going to explain this one to my kids...

It was 1977, Silver Jubilee year, and our street were putting together a float that was to show a re-enactment of the coronation using the children who lived on the street. Our street was unusual in that there was a lot of boys living there and only one girl who was old enough to sit on the back of the lorry and be paraded through the streets of the village. So the boys were all press ganged into being soldiers, courtiers etc. I, being the same age as the young lady, was to be Prince Philip and accompany my Queen.... All ok so far.

Then the week before the big day we heard that the young lady playing the queen was to be crowned as the Village May Queen and would therefore have to leave our float in order to sit in her own 'carriage' to her crowning ceremony as Rose Queen which was always at the end of the parade.

There was an emergency 'street' meeting. The families all got together in our living room and my Dad's home made wine was shared out - to be honest this was probably the cause of all the problems - my Dad's home made elderflower was extremely popular but also lethal, my aunt once commented that you could run a car off the fumes alone - and then proceeded to drink a bottle and have to be carried home. So everyone was debating what to do... "Should we change our float's theme?" - no it was too late, "Should we cancel the float this year?" - this was met with cries from the kids, we always knew we would have a great time and who wouldn't want to ride on the back of a lorry through the village (kids TV was pretty dull then and riding on the back of a lorry was an annual highlight!). So what were we to do?....

Then my Mother spoke.... As I recall it, it still replays in slow motion, "My son will do it." The other parents and kids looked at her, "What do you mean?" another parent asked, "He is already playing Prince Philip."

Now the world around me froze as my Mum said, "No, he can be the Queen - he wont mind - he loves dressing up." she then turned to me and I felt the eyes of everyone in the street bearing down on me, eagerly pleading with me to agree to this abomination... I was only 8 after all... "Come on dear, " my Mum went on, "If you don't do it then you'll be letting everyone down and we'll have to cancel the float."

Time stood still.

"Ok," I whispered.

There was another silence whilst this sank in. Then the room seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and everyone relaxed and now drank Dad's wine with celebratory gusto... everyone except my Dad who was now very quiet...

So the big day came - my Mum did my hair - she put an horrendous brown wig on me and I was fully robed in an exact scaled down copy of the Queen's coronation gown, the crown itself kept falling off, so my younger brother was given the task of standing in front of me holding the crown on a gilt cushion (which was actually from our front room). I got up onto the float and sat on my throne, another lady was teaching me how to wave like a royal as a mocked up orb and sceptre were thrust into my hands. The rest of my courtiers and entourage got up on to the float - all the boys from my street who were by now beside themselves laughing and my brother took pride of place in front of me wearing the biggest grin I have ever seen.

My Dad, came up and whispered in my ear, "It's alright," he said, "No-one will recognise you and it will all be over soon - I'll take your jeans and t-shirt to the school and you can change straight after."

I breathed a sigh of relief, I just had to get through the village and pretend to be a girl - no-one would know it was me.

We pulled out of the street and my Dad was right - no-one recognised me, I heard a few people ask who I was and someone even said, "That's a pretty girl - she should've been Rose Queen." I was pretty pleased by that and even my brother was getting tired of grinning at me. Then we rounded a corner and I saw my family all standing together, Dad had obviously been too embarrassed to tell the extended family of my acting debut as my Aunt (who had probably already been on the elderflower wine) suddenly shouted out, "Bloody Hell, that's your son!" she turned to my parents, "It is isn't it?" and then the worst thing in the world happened as she turned to the float and in front of a huge crowd of kids from my school started waving and shouting, "Oy, love, look over here - I need a nice picture of you..." she turned to the assembled crowd, "That's my nephew that is - but doesn't he make a pretty girl!"

By now I wanted the float to speed off and drive over a cliff but it didn't - it pulled into the school field accompanied by a horde of school kids shouting my name, laughing and waving at me. Great...

Dad got me off the float and took me up to the school toilets where I could get changed, although unfortunately the 1970's make up seemed to be etched into my skin and no amount of scrubbing with school hand soap would shift it. So now I was in jeans and a t shirt and full regal make up.

"Never mind,' said Dad, "You did your bit and it will all be forgotten soon. Let's go and have some fun - your Mum's buying the ice creams!"

No sooner had he said that when the Head master stood up to give the winning floats their prizes - there was a lot of competition between the different streets and organisations to get this award. "The winner for this silver jubilee carnival is.. the scouts tropical beach getaway." I breathed a sigh of relief as the scout leader went and collected the prize. "But a special commendation and a jubilee special prize goes to the Children's Coronation," I froze as he carried on, "Can her majesty the Queen come up here and collect the prize." I was pushed up to the front - but by now I was back in my own clothes and any remaining doubts there may have been about who was playing the Queen were now dispelled - everyone in the whole village now knew it was me.

I went up and collected the award and turned to the crowd and to a huge round of applause gave a regal curtsey... then I went and ate ice cream and had a fun afternoon.

Looking back I have to apologise to the real Rose Queen (you know who you are) as I think I upstaged her that day and what should have been a lovely childhood memory for her was destroyed by my reveal as the first drag queen our village knew - publicly anyway... I also think I had a prettier gown...

Now I have to explain those slides to my kids...

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