On a cool, cloudy day in July, we set out for a full day of exploration in London. First on our list of important sites was Buckingham Palace. While the Queen can call numerous residences her home, Buckingham Palace constitutes her primary residence. Buckingham Palace possesses many noteworthy features: it holds seven hundred and seventy-five rooms, a few of which are open to the public during the August and September; the Queen’s Gallery offers visitors notable artwork with regularly-changing exhibits year-round; and the grand house’s backyard constitutes the largest garden in the city of London, which is not open to the public without an invitation. (Mine seems to have gotten lost in the mail). But by far, the largest draw for ordinary people like you and me is the daily Changing of the Guard.
We arrived in midmorning, roughly an hour before this ceremony was to take place. Already, every inch of space lining the fence was filled with tourists. What was so important about this ceremony that so many vacationers would devote their entire mornings to a half-hour ceremony in which one set of guards clock-out as another group reports for work?
Doubtless, the reason this ceremony draws so many here is the role of the monarch. I speak not of the present monarch, but of the fact that England has a queen or king to rule her. All of us know how imperfect we are: we wish we were better looking, always knew the right thing to say, and could always conduct ourselves in a manner that would engender the respect of all we meet and interact with. So we model ourselves on others who seem to possess those skills and traits we lack. Whether they be priests or politicians, magnates or musicians, actors or (yes, even) authors, we elevate these persons upon pillars in our minds, and pray that they never disappoint us. (Sadly, if we spend enough time with them, they will. They are only human, after all).
Nevertheless, this is the reason I attend science fiction conventions and book signings: to meet the authors whose story-telling abilities I admire so much. Oh, I know they are imperfect, but they tell such entertaining stories: surely I can learn something from them? Usually I’m disappointed, but occasionally I meet someone who really does seem to measure up, in every way, to the ideal author whom I desire to become.
So I cannot fault all these tourists for showing up so early in order to see these elaborately attired soldiers performing their daily ritual. They seek to witness an event that celebrates someone greater than themselves: someone infinitely noble, powerful, and wise. I hope that in observing this simple ceremony, the void inside them that always yearns for self-improvement is filled, at least for today. As for me, I know why I came here: to visit the landscape of some of the great fiction I love. I feel no need to elbow my way through those who arrived before me so that I can get a good view of the guards arriving and departing (were I the kind of uncouth lout prone to such actions). I feel no need to see such elaborate, state ceremonies. My time in London is so short, and my options for meaningful visits so many.
Besides, I can appreciate the artistry of the Victoria memorial. I can wander through Saint James Park. I can…say, what is that I hear? Could it be the clip-clop of horses? Oh yes: the Horse Guards are coming my way! Hurry, hurry, I must follow them! I must take a photo before they pass!