Wednesday, 2 June 2010
'Gun Salute at 12' the sign said, with the Royal Parks crown logo displayed beneath it. I thought: 'Fuck that!' and carried on cycling. But then a further sign appeared ahead of me, and a Bobby stood next to it in his short sleeved shirt. For a brief moment I contemplated an act of rebellion by zooming past the copper and pretending I could not hear his shouts. But then I thought: 'Fuck that,' again, though without the exclamation mark this time. A few sad people had started gathering, and I could see some boxes or some such laid out on the grass in front of a roped-off area, so I slowed the bike and rolled to a stop, laying it on the ground and easing myself off.
It was 11.52, and a few more people began to gather and watch the nothing that was going on in the park. I could see some 'soldiers' (you know the ones, all fancy costumes, bugles and horses, as opposed to the sandy types with built in video cameras that we've now grown used to) standing away to the left and was startled slightly when a large contingent of cavalry suddenly thundered across the grass, lugging six field guns, which they swiftly deposited before racing back to whence they had come.
The six guns (not 'six guns', if you see what I mean. They were a bit large to be pulled out of a holster) were laid out in some sort of Charge of the Light Brigade formation, with a group of cockaded troopers kneeling in perfect toy soldier stances next to each one. Bugles and drums sounded, and on the stroke of 12.00 a man, who was undoubtedly at least a colour sergeant, shouted:
'NUMBER 1... FIRE!!!'
A plume of smoke appeared from the muzzle of the gun, and - though there had been plenty of time to prepare - a split second later when the sound of the 'shell' came, it was absolutely immense. It resounded across the walls of Kensington and Knightsbridge and any bird nearby immediately took flight.
'NUMBER 2... FIRE!'
The blast was repeated, each time bringing the sound closer to where I was standing. After 6 volleys (I assumed this was to be a 21 gun salute, because that's the only kind of gun salute I know) children were beginning to cry and run away, holding their hands over their ears. I myself was already tiring of the show (it was rather repetitive) and started to wheel my bike away along the closed cycle path.
NUMBER 5... FIRE!'
To my left, I noticed a man (probably in his fifties, I would guess) who seemed to be fooling around, staggering theatrically and falling to the ground in the aftermath of the explosion in a pretend 'You got me!' kind of way. But I looked around, and couldn't see an audience for this amusing bit of mime. Then I noticed a worried look on the man's face, his brow furrowing as he struggled to stand up.
'Are you all right?' I asked him, pushing my bike towards him. He didn't answer, but continued to loll at the foot of the tree. I was by now convinced he was having a heart attack or a stroke and began to move a little more urgently, trying desperately to remember my first aid at work training.
'Are you OK?' I asked again. At last, he regained his feet and - looking half sheepish and half angry - replied:
'Yes... Fine... Thank you.' before scuttling away.
PC Plod suddenly appeared and flashed a beatific - almost bovine - smile. I asked him if he thought the man was all right, and he gave me the quite ridiculous response that it was 'probably the vibration' of the guns which had knocked him over.
'I don't think he's very well.' I said, as I watched the man walk off, glancing furtively around him the whole time.
'I'll keep an eye on him,' said the copper none too convincingly.