Friday, April 29, 2011

On Brits, Balconies and Bombers

Having a day off today, I made omelettes for Audrey and the girls, and still had enough time to watch some of the Royal Wedding festivities from Old Blighty before they had to leave.  We missed everything at Westminster Abbey, obviously, but were in time for the balcony kiss, which, despite all the pomp, circumstance and orchestration, felt very sweet and genuine.

Frankly, the most impressive element were the British people themselves; a million people are estimated to have crowded outside Buckingham Palace in order to witness the kiss from the balcony. Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I have a hard time imagining a North American crowd of that size comporting itself in such an orderly fashion, not hemmed in by police in riot gear, but by a few rows of slowly walking bobbies. And yet, the deafening cheers when the happy couple finally emerged were just as excited as any I've heard during a championship sporting event.

I am by no means a staunch monarchist, and I certainly empathize with small-r republicans within the Commonwealth who would be happier with someone else's pictures on our coins and stamps, but my love of history and tradition will probably keep me from joining their ranks.

In all honesty, the institution I was happiest to see in the spotlight was not the monarchy, but marriage itself.  In an age where fewer and fewer couples are choosing to wed, it is comforting to see so much attention given to two people publicly declaring their intentions to remain together for the rest of their lives.  Sure, it doesn't always work out; you need look no further than the groom's parents to see that, but these are often failings of human components, not the institution itself.  I certainly hope for a happy life together for the Royal couple, and given the looks they shared today, I think their odds are good, despite the enormous obstacles presented by being two of the world's most famous people.

I can't speak for anyone else in my household, but after the kiss, my favourite moment was the Battle of Britain flyby of a Lancaster bomber and two fighters, a Spitfire and Hurricane.

Much of modern Britain has been defined by their experiences during WWII, especially the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, where pilots from the U.K. and other nations fought tirelessly to keep the Luftwaffe from establishing the air superiority needed for an invasion. Guy Hamilton's excellent 1969 movie  (with Michael Caine and Ian McShane) is a good depiction of the courage and stamina involved in this defense, which is what inspired Churchill's famous quote: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

When Audrey and I were in England in 2005 (for my 10th anniversary with Games Workshop), we were actually in London the day a memorial to these heroic pilots was unveiled by Prince Charles. We didn't go the unveiling itself, but came back later to get some pictures.

The names of every one of "The Few" are inscribed on the other portion of the monument, as are all the squadron insignias.

One side of the monument is a tableau full of striking images, and one of my favourites are the female factory workers building aircraft, probably made from reclaimed saucepans given up by other women for the war effort.

This monument is even more impressive when you consider it was built solely with donated funds, which is probably why it only came together six-and-a-half decades after the Battle itself, which is a bit of a shame if you stop to think about it.  It is very difficult to fathom an Allied victory had this defense against the Nazi war machine failed, especially when you consider that the U.S. would not enter the conflict for another year.

There was a massive police presence in London the day of the unveiling, so I barely noticed a yellow-jacketed bobby on a motorcycle when he stopped in front of me at the roundabout just before Trafalgar square, until Audrey noticed that the traffic signal was green.

The only reason I could think of for this was an approaching motorcade; this light bulb came on with just enough time for me to wrangle my camera into position and take a poor picture of the car as it passed around the corner.  Thanks to his, er, distinctive profile, you can just discern Prince Charles through the rear window.

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