The phone had been put on silent and placed in the pocket of the golf bag. And there it remained. Unaware of its starring role, involving the Queen and all her horses and men. And the Golf Police. And on this occasion, there was no Plan B.
It was late evening when I took the call. The solar lights lit up the dark corners of the garden and the street lamps caught the rain drops.
“Do not be late” said Red Team Leader. There are three things which never wait. The military, the tides and tee times. We synchronized watches.
“And do not bring that golf umbrella”.
I had history with the golf umbrella. Cities and golf umbrellas do not make good companions but last year the forecast was dire for the Colonel’s Parade and the golf umbrella caught the train. Along with the black bin liners. We met our group under Admiralty Arch. The brolly had not taken to the city streets or crowds.
“Careful. You nearly took my eye out” said the Golf Police as we weaved our way through the multitude heading towards the Arch. The red buses turned on their lights and their wipers. The city pavements were grey with the rain. Soldiers in black bearskins, red tunics and medals, sold programmes for the Parade.
Brightly coloured umbrellas and discreet commuter brollys dodged one another, but the golf brolly missed the fairways. It caught newspaper awnings, traffic lights, hanging baskets and heads.
“I told you not to bring that thing” said the Golf Police, dodging another spoke.
We met Red Team Leader under the arch and were seated before Big Ben struck the quarter hour. We sat on the bin liners and the rain fell in stair rods. The parade ground became a sea of massed bands, foot guards, horses and puddles.
The golf umbrella was donated to a noble cause. Below us sat a tiny lady in a wheelchair. She wore a floral summer dress and straw hat which collected the raindrops. It seemed the noble thing. To hand down the golf umbrella.
The bands played. The horses behaved and the Colour of the Irish Guards was trooped through the ranks. By the time the Colour had been trooped, the sun shone and the golf umbrella was returned. With a gentle smile from beneath the straw hat.
It happened just after the Foot Guards had marched in slow time. It was the same time the Massed Bands prepared to execute the spin-wheel manoeuvre. It was definitely before the Field Officer had ordered the parade to present arms.
Somehow. Inexplicably, from our elevated position in the stands, someone nudged the golf umbrella. An unknown foot. Whilst everyone watched the brass breast plates, spurs and swords, the black Taylor Made Golf umbrella fell from the stands. Point first. Below, in the wheelchair, sat the lady in the straw hat with the soft smile.
“You’ve killed her” said the Golf Police. The stand froze in horror and I recalled the motto of the Irish Guards. “Quis separabit (who shall separate us). I tried not to breathe and still the lady sat in her wheelchair as the umbrella spun to earth. Above her head. Rows of regimental ties and soggy silk dresses and pashminas leaned forward to watch the impending execution or impalement. In front of all the Queen’s horses and all the Queen’s men and women.
The lady got lucky. Her life was spared by an unknown soldier who caught the umbrella as it fell. The soldier made a note for his Colonel. Falling umbrellas, he wrote in thick black pencil and underlined it twice in his notebook.
The Massed Bands completed the spin wheel manoeuvre and the horses of the King’s Troop emerged from beneath the London Plane trees to join the parade. And when they left and headed up the Mall, all that remained was the silence. And the lady in the straw hat with the soft smile.
It was agreed. This year, the umbrella would remain at home. The weather forecast was good. I scribbled down the details on an envelope and all that remained was a full week of golf and finding an outfit, fit for a Queen. It should not be hard to dress for a Queen. A Queen who lives in a draughty palace with her corgis, footmen and Ladies in Waiting. But the Queen did not know about the golf.
The Golf Police was away on business. Every evening the call was made.
“Have you had a good day?” he asked from various hotels dotted around the country.
Some days had been better than others. Sometimes there had been time for thirty six holes. Some matches had gone to the wire. A par on eighteen to halve the match. A birdie to win and mug the opposition who had been in the driving seat all day. The birdie putt was sunk, the mugging was sweet and the winnings scooped from the table.
“Very good day, thanks” I said, omitting the finer detail.
The excursions had not been missed by the Golf Police’s trusty troops.
“Can’t believe you have played so much golf. No wonder the food in the fridge is mouldy” said Daughter No. One.
The thespian was busy rehearsing and getting to grips with a different Queen. The Queen of King Arthur. There was always time for a hurried text or call between voice coach, wigs and make up.
Hope you are making the most of this weather and taking those sticks out xx
Am haunting those fairways xx ps hope all is well in the court of King Arthur and Guinevere x
The week disappeared in a blur of pars, birdies and putts. Stablefords, swindle matches and a charity day. Early morning tee times, late nights watering the garden and throwing away sour milk and mouldy cheese. The shopping list grew longer and the ironing pile descended into chaos.
Still there was nothing to wear for the Queen. Strictly speaking, this was not totally true. There were things lurking in the wardrobe and the Queen would not be on parade until the following week. One dressed and behaved as though she were present.
I had a session before the mirror trying on various options. Mostly they never got passed the ‘doing up the zip’ stage. Or past the fashion police.
“You are not wearing that”.
“Why don’t you go and buy something?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have spent the week walking twenty five miles. With your clubs”.
In the end the problem was resolved between the rounds of golf. A neighbour came up with a dress. And matching hat. The Golf Police returned from his travels. To an empty fridge, a speeding ticket and fine for straying into a bus lane. The omelette supper had not gone down a storm.
“See you have been too busy to stock take” he said.
“Hope I have got a shirt for tomorrow”.
We made it to the Parade. The shirt had an early morning press and caress from a red hot iron. The dress borrowed from the neighbour fitted and the golf umbrella was substituted with a flying saucer hat. There were slight hitches to the master plan of Red Team Leader. The scribbled details of the meeting place.
“You have got the details of where we are all to meet?” said the Golf Police as we waited for the train.
I could see the envelope with the scribble. I could see it in my mind’s eye. Still on the desk in the office.
“It’s at home” I said.
“But you know where we are meeting?”
I wracked my brains. Five rounds of golf stood between me and the scribble on the envelope. I knew it was a pub in Whitehall. I recalled we were meeting an American called Tom and his good lady. Outside the pub.
“It’s either ‘The Clarence’ or ‘The Grapes’”.
I would have remembered the Queen’s Head or the King’s Arms…… More tricky questions followed.
“Name of the road?” said the Golf Police.
“I’ll ring when we get on the train” I said.
But the phone was at home. In the Golf bag, next to the umbrella. There was no Plan B. The Golf Police was not amused.
“You had all week to sort this out” he said. We both knew the sub text.
We found the pub. Outside was the American with his shades and his good lady.
“You found it ok?” said Red Team Leader.
“No problems” I said beneath the borrowed hat.
The Grenadier Guards prepared to troop their Colour. The last full dress rehearsal before they paid tribute to their Queen for her birthday parade. Burniston stood in the shadows and someone mouthed ‘Good Luck, Sir’.
The Colour Points took up their positions on the parade ground. The sun shone and caught the medals, stirrups and spurs as the American and his lady watched history unfold before them. The line was inspected and the Massed Bands executed their spin wheel manoeuvre and a Burniston took everything her stride, including the ten lengths rein back. Lieutenant Colonel Roland Walker sat astride the brown mare and remembered his one hundred and thirteen words of command. The Colour was marched through the ranks and the King’s Troop rode past with jangling bits, hoof beats and the rumble of the gun carriages. Garrison Sergeant Major Billy Mott watched eagled eyed and made a note in his book. About dressing and falling Scots Guardsmen.
The flying saucer hat played its part. It got near eyes and restricted views. It sat on a ledge but unlike the brolly and Scots Guards, it did not fall.
And when the Massed Bands and troops marched off and headed up the Mall to the Palace, they took with them the sound of marching, jangling bits, swords and spurs and the rumble of the carriage guns. Where the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery stood patiently in the shade of the London plane trees, there remained the ever watching figures of the Guards Memorial looking over the silence and stillness of the parade ground.