My Royalist mother must have been smiling down at me from her seat on the right-hand side of God, as the taxi arrived to pick me up to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Today would have been her seventy-third birthday, so I hope she’s still smiling down at me as I write this little missive.
The idiot Eastern European driver parks his car at a bus stop two hundred metres from my flat. So, I am forced to stride up to him suited and booted with dreadlocks flowing in the cold evening wind. He looks almost straight through me just as I reach the stationary Mercedes, and starts the engine to pull out into the street. I quickly knock on his window and manage to open the passenger door as he steps on the brakes.
“Are you the car for Buckingham Palace?”
“Hurry up and get in, man,” he shouts back at me, “I’m parked in a bus lane. It’s a fifty pound fine!”
“I didn’t tell anyone to ask you to park here. I told your controller exactly where my flat is.”
“I was looking at Beaufort Mansions,” he offers up as feeble excuse.
“That’s your problem, mate, that’s not where I live.”
“My problem?” he says with a snarl. “If I had known there was a problem parking, I would not have accepted this job.”
Well, naff-off then, I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t want to be late to meet Her Maj. So, I got in the car and uncharacteristically bit my tongue. “Just drive on, will you!” I said, in my most obnoxious tone.
He turned to look at me then, and slapped me in the face with a breath so foul that I immediately had to open the window. “Damn!” I said, but even the chill in the air couldn’t kill the stench.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing,” I replied. “I’ll need a cash-point on the way.”
Had he been a little friendlier, I might even have offered him one of the mints in my pocket. However, by the time we reached our destination to be guided through the main gates of Buckingham Palace by the security police, he had completely changed his attitude.
“Are you a little nervous about meeting the Queen?”
“I am a bit,” I reply, grudgingly.
“Don’t worry, my friend, you won’t be alone.”
‘My friend’ now, is it? I thought he must be gearing up to charge me that bit extra, now he thinks I have friends in high places. He was, and he did, £20 from Chelsea to Buckingham Palace just down the road, and I couldn’t even be bothered to argue with him.
“Will your driver be returning to fetch you afterwards?” said a policeman opening my door.
“No,” said I. “He can go.” And I smiled to myself at the absurdity of it.
We are welcomed into the palace and ushered up stairs and through halls into the Picture Gallery, a long top lit room about 50 metres deep, which serves as a corridor linking a series of smaller state rooms. I’m certainly among good company here.
There are people I’ve known and worked with in the past, plus some others I’ve only read about or seen on television. Newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald; Booker Prize-winning author Ben Okri (making what seemed like a staged entry armed with an ornate Zulu walking cane); fashion designer Ozwald Boateng along with his following; the effervescent Linda Bellos, and many more recognisable faces whose names escape me.
While others are furiously networking, what strikes me most about this central area is not the imminent guest list but its gallery hung with classic works of art. There are paintings by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens, Vermeer, and other multi-million pound masterpieces by painters I’ve never even heard of before. Leading from here are the Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room in which I can just about glimpse paintings of various royal ancestors because we are not allowed too much wandering around just yet. It is in these very formal rooms – used only for ceremonial and official purposes – in which we will be entertained on Champagne and canopies for the rest of the evening.
We don’t know why but for some reason the room falls strangely quiet as guests starts to form a queue leading into one of the stately side rooms. I’m chatting to a former Miss Universe contestant, the ex-Miss Zimbabwe, when we too decide to get in line. In front of us is a blonde from the Foreign Office who suddenly starts to hyperventilate the minute we draw closer to what seems to be the focal point of everyone’s attention.
“Oh my God…Oh my God! It’s her. She’s there. You go first,“ she says.
From where I’m standing, I can see the Queen alongside the Duke of Edinburgh through a crack in the door ahead. “Calm down, woman,” I try to tell the Foreign Office blonde. “It’s only Her Maj. Ladies before gentlemen,” but my own heart was racing now, ten to the dozen.
“What do you say to the Queen?” she says.
“I couldn’t tell you, but I’ve heard you wait for the Queen to talk to you.”
“I thought they’d made a mistake when I got the gold-embossed invitation. I wanted to scan it and put it on my Facebook profile, but my friends would only accuse me of attention seeking.”
“I had the same thought,” I said, “but I’ve gone one better. I’m going to have mine framed in the bathroom opposite my throne. So when I’m sitting on the throne, I can remember back to when I met the Queen, who sits on the throne of England.”
The woman from the Foreign Office laughed out loud, but in the course of events, the Queen passed her by with a quick handshake, and then it was my turn.
From what seemed like a great distance away, which in fact was less than two metres, a man in a silly looking uniform announced, “Mister Paul Bo-a-che, ma’am.”
I had half expected him to pronounce my name incorrectly, and so as I walked towards the Queen and she extended her hand, I took it, and shook it, and said off the top of my head, “Your majesty, ma’am, I’m delighted to meet you.” As I did so, I bowed, and my dreadlocks swept forward. The Queen pulled back her head almost unconsciously and eyed me with a sideward glance. Then in that peculiar high-pitched Spitting Image tone inside my head, she said, “Oh – and what do you do here?”
That’s when I started to stutter. I’d understood each word the Queen had spoken, but I was having difficulty computing the question. “I was born here. I live here. I don’t work here, your majesty,” I wanted to say. “So what do you mean?” But in the end I simply answered, “I…I…I…I’m a writer, ma’am,” just like it said on my gold-embossed name-tag. “Oh, really,” the Queen replied, in the same deadpan tone in my head, and that then was my cue to move along. I was now standing before the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Good evening, Your Royal Highness,” I said.
“So what kind of things do you write?”
“I am originally a playwright but these days I’ll write just about anything I’m paid to do.”
“Do you have anything on at the moment?”
“Not at the moment, but I am currently writing my first novel.”
“Very good,” he says, and turns towards the ex-Miss Zimbabwe. “So do you write with him?”
“Oh – No!” she says. “I’m a model.”
“Right you are,” says the prince with a devilish smile.
The rest I didn’t hear because I was being directed back into The Gallery Room where we were now able to get up close and personal with all the paintings on display. It all happened so quickly anyway that I felt slightly giddy. Everything around me looked surreal, as if I had just fallen down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland. Not a drop of alcohol had I touched so far, but now I needed a drink, if only to get things into perspective.
“What would you like, sir? A glass of Champagne or some freshly squeezed Sandringham orange juice?”
“You have your own orchards?”
“Yes, sir. Only the best for the Queen.”
“I’ll try a mix of both, may I?”
“Certainly. Thank you, sir.”
How the blued-blooded idle rich live, huh? You’d think that they would all be stuffy and boring, but I had just had a great conversation with one of the Ladies in Waiting who talked very eloquently about living in Washington DC and the poverty and racism she witnessed there. Then this very charming Edward Griffiths talked to me for a good long while about how they selected the guests for this evening’s event. They had come across me because of my sexual health promotion work around HIV/AIDS, Drum magazine, and my stint on BBC1 covering the newspaper reviews on a Saturday morning. Apparently, the Royal Household have a team of researchers who go out looking for distinguished people from all walks of life (arts, sports, music, science, and so on) to attend these types of functions. He himself had been a high-flyer in the hotel industry before being hand-picked to head the hospitalities team. I was impressed.
So there I am, minding my own business and checking out the paintings, when up walks Prince Michael of Kent; arguably, the most regal of the royals.
“It’s good to see a Rastafarian here this evening,” he says.
“I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Rastafarian.”
“I’m just a humble writer with a hairstyle that I like. I may have certain sympathies, and like Samson, my hair may symbolise my deeper roots and culture, but that’s as far as it goes, I’m afraid. In my eyes, even you could grow some dreadlocks.”
“Not with my hairline.”
“I never thought I’d still have hair at my age. But I’ve just been admiring these amazing paintings on your walls. It must be a great pleasure to wake up each morning and come down to see these in natural daylight.”
“You must be only about one of five people in this room who have taken any notice of the art.”
“I can’t think why.”
“Are you an artist?”
“Not in the sense that I paint or sketch, but I’m a great admirer of beauty in all of its forms.”
“My wife is a great admirer of art.”
“Is she here tonight?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Oh, I’ve always thought her a very handsome woman.” Then just as I thought I’d said too much, I changed my tracks. “It’s funny, I’m currently writing a book based partly on my mother’s diaries, and it’s amazing just how much people of her generation knew about your family. I’m amazed because I know so little about the royal household.”
“How far have you got with your book?”
“Not as far as I’d like, but it’s coming along.”
“Well, I’m sure it’s going to be just great.”
“Can I put that as a quote from you on the back sleeve?”
“It’s nice talking to you,” he smiles. “Have a good evening.”
“And you, Prince Michael.”
He saunters off into the middle of the room where the Queen is surrounded by all and sundry, just as I decide that it’s about time for me to be heading home.
The First Black Britons is a documentary first shown as part of the BBC’s Black History Month in October 2006, which was the most extensive ethnic programming in the corporation’s history. Written, researched and produced by Rebecca Goldstone and Tony T, their company ‘Sweet Patootee’ is the only documentary production company to specialise in highlighting the historical black British experience.
Former ‘EastEnder’ Gary Beadle is our narrator and guide; stimulating enquiry and new understanding of the Napoleonic Wars, Abolition & Emancipation, The British Empire, and, Origins of Diversity in the UK.
His journey to archives, museums and historical sites in Jamaica, Barbados and the United Kingdom, reveals a dramatic and compelling 3-part story; brought to life by historical characters and a wealth of visual and document sources.
Used with whiteboard or television, the programme is a dynamic catalyst for lesson plans in History and Citizenship (K.S. 3&4) throughout the year and during Black History Month especially.
The First Black Britons may be purchased on Amazon.co.uk or from the beckmanndirect.com website.
Baylor International Champions is an organisation based in High Wycombe in the United Kingdom who have teamed up with four media students from Orpington College to produce The TakeOff – a film that includes interviews from young people who relate their feelings about the game of cricket, what brought them to the sport and what inspires them to keep going at it in the face of funding cuts and the sell-off of school playing fields to make way for commercial property developments.
But BaylorIC haven’t let that stop them. Their film, The TakeOff, is taking off and will receive its first national airing on The Community Channel’s “Your Sport” programme on April 12th 2010 (See it on Sky 539, Virgin TV 233 or Freeview 87). The aim of the production spearheaded by Ingram Jones, a professional coach who calls on his extensive experiences of training sportsmen in Australia using explosive dynamic exercises as the key to his work with young people, is to encourage more children of primary school age to take part in sport, regardless of their ability or background.
“The dove image used on the cover of our video is symbolic of freedom,” he tells me. “We want all our young players to be able to experience that sense of flight and unbridled restraint reminiscent of my own youth, so that they may more fully enjoy learning and playing the great game of cricket.
In today’s digital world, too many kids are at risk of living an unhealthy lifestyle, and while others might be tempted to make poor choices, leading to a life of hardship or crime, we want to make a REAL difference at BaylorIC by providing sport and educational opportunities for our young people.”
Very noble sentiments. And in addition to coaching, BaylorIC also seek to encourage young cricketers to get involved with their local club and to continue their development as league players. They are visiting as many schools as possible in the UK to help set up cricket development programmes; “our hope is to benefit the local community by establishing strong club links with local cricket clubs and schools,” Ingram Jones said.
BaylorIC currently deliver cricket programmes in primary and secondary schools for both boys and girls. Coaches are fully recognised by the English Cricket Board (ECB) and have been appropriately checked by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) in an effort to relieve any undue worries parents or carers might have. There are also a range of coaching packages available and delivered specifically for schools, including curriculum time coaching, breakfast and lunch time coaching as well as after school clubs.
Primary school sessions are delivered in the form of Kwik Cricket–a high-speed version of the game aimed mainly at encouraging children to take part in the main sport–with all basic cricketing skills being taught; batting, bowling, and fielding. Secondary school sessions are delivered in the form Hard Ball Cricket–using the original leather stitched ball as opposed to a soft ball used for junior players–with basic through to advanced skills being learnt by groups of very appreciative youngsters who seem to delight in the game and being taught by an attentive coach.
“If you want to see a change, you’ve got to get up and do something about it sometimes,” Ingram said. “That’s why we made The Takeoff,” and with the London 2012 Olympic Games just around the corner his Baylor International Champions have a complimentary mission:
- To produce top class players in Cricket.
- To establish and administer after-school clubs/academies of excellence.
- To produce players with the self-confidence to be physically, mentally and emotionally ready for the challenges that await them in competitive sport.
- To providing professional coaches to young people in the local borough who would otherwise not get access to sport after school.
- To encourage young people to play sport at its highest level.
- To teach not only the discipline of this sport, but also the disciplines of how to be a champion in life.
Sounds good to me! Need more information?
We wish Mr Jones and the project every success.