THE BOY WITH THE FLAG
It was very quiet where I lived as a child. It was so quiet you could hear a butterfly stretching its wings on a buttercup. It was so quiet sometimes I thought I was sleeping when I was wide and well awake. Many was the day I used to sit by our gate and count the cars going by. The average haul per morning was a rough half a dozen. There was so little traffic on the roads that when I was really bored I would lie down in the middle of the thorough-fare and not move until I felt the distant rumble of an approaching vehicle when I would slowly rise and amble back to the verge as the arriving car thundered by at a full twelve to thirteen miles an hour.
Few cars of distinction passed our way except in Ascot week, when due to the sudden volume of traffic I would have to forego my position of rest on the crown of the road and sit instead on our gate and stare for hours at the ladies and the gentlemen in all their finery en route to the racecourse. To us in our backwater they were like visitors from another world both in their dress and their limousines, the sort of folk we never saw in our village, not even in Church, all except for our Duke.
We had a semi-resident Duke oddly enough for such an insignificant hamlet. He was called Connaught, the seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria and by the strangest of coincidences as I was to discover some twenty years later, he was my future wife’s grandfather’s godfather. Whenever the Duke was in residence at Bagshot Park he would attend Matins at the Church of Anne, always entering five minutes late through the side door and sitting in his private pew below the pulpit. Once seated the Duke would take a large gold watch from his fob and place it ostentatiously on the front of his private box directly in the eye-line of the vicar once he had climbed into the pulpit to preach. Should the vicar talk for too long or even worse, should his sermon prove exceptionally boring the Duke would cough just the once and tap his watch three times. My mother told me services were infinitely more tolerable when the Duke attended because no sermon ever lasted more than five minutes.
It was through the Duke that I became familiar with the King and Queen. One quiet day when I was taking forty winks in the middle of the Bracknell Road I was awoken from my childish reverie by the imperious sound of an upper class klaxon. Getting to safety in plenty of time I stood on the verge and watched the great car - and by great I mean huge as well as fine - glide by behind one police out rider. I was very close to it and found myself briefly staring at a simply beautiful woman wearing a small hat and a fur stole seated next to a handsome man who was smoking a cigarette. The beautiful woman waved at me with a smile and the man nodded. Now I might only have been a child but in those days we knew our Kings and our Queens and once the road was clear I ran into our house and told my mother who had just smiled at me. She in turn smiled herself and told me to go and wash because lunch was ready. When my sister came home from school I told her as well and she gave me a Chinese burn.
Some weeks passed or it might have been months – being a child I had not yet got a proper grasp of time - when it happened my sister and I were playing ponies up and down our drive, and as we were changing legs or it might have been reins on the verge of the Bracknell Road I chanced to look up the hill and saw a police outrider hanging a left off the London Road on the Cricketer’s Bridge, closely followed by a familiar huge black limousine. Moments later my sister and I stood on the grass wayside to wave excitedly to our Sovereigns both of whom this time waved very happily back. Once they were gone out of sight we cantered up the drive to tell our mother who smiled and told us to wash our hands because it was lunch time. As we washed up I said to my sister that I had told her so for which she gave me another Chinese burn.
But my mother must finally have believed me because soon the local policeman who had obviously been grilled by Mama would arrive on his bicycle to give us advance warning of the latest visit of the King and Queen, so that by the time the car swept slowly by the three of us were well and truly in place with three small Union Jacks in hand ready to be vigourously waved. In return we received two big smiles from the Monarchy as well as two cheery waves. We waved until their crowns had disappeared out of sight over the hill, although I very much doubt that they were doing the same.
There was never anyone else out on our road because I don’t suppose anyone else knew about these private visits to the Park, so we had the King and Queen all to ourselves, and they had the three of us all to themselves. I can’t remember how many times we waved at each other and so fond is my memory that if I chose a number it would be bound to be an exaggeration. I can however assure you that they passed by our gate on a number of occasions over a period of two or three years on their journey from the Park back to Windsor Castle and so good was our information that by the fourth or fifth trip we were there to wave them hello as to wave them goodbye.
Then many years passed, during which the King died, the Princess became the Queen and the Queen became the Queen Mother, and about thirty years after I had first waved at her I found myself at lunch with the beautiful woman in the little hat and fur stole. I had about four people on my list of those I simply had to meet in my life and the Queen Mother was right up there at the top with Gene Kelly and Duke Ellington, both of whom I also managed to encounter. The occasion of the lunch was a private party for her birthday given by a friend of ours who knowing my reluctance to do formal, forbade my beloved to tell me who the Guest of Honour was until after we had formally accepted. The Queen Mother was late as was her custom – quite rightly so too, because imagine if she had been a good time keeper and people had arrived after her? – and when she did finally arrive I was down the area steps of our friend’s rather grand country house opening the champagne which I had been requested to do by my host because (a) his butler was too nervous and (b) the champagne was a bit lively and the walls of our host’s salon were silk lined.
So there I was like something out of Upstairs Downstairs opening bottles of pop when Her Majesty arrived and having taken due note of the figure in an especially bought new dark suit emerging from the servants quarters with a bottle in hand and a linen napkin draped over one arm, jumped to the wrong conclusion and kindly handed me her coat before disappearing regally within.
Sometime later when I had settled her private detectives down in front of their lunch of beer and sandwiches I made my way to the salon where I was formally introduced to the Guest of Honour who smiled very sweetly but a little surprisingly before directing me to fetch her a drink. She was perhaps even more surprised when she saw me sitting down to lunch next door to our hostess but once a Queen always a Queen and perhaps supposing that one must always move with the times a good and grand luncheon was finally enjoyed by all.
After lunch I found myself deep in conversation with her Majesty and can report you she was as funny and as warm as can be. We talked of many things, all of which shall remain private, except for our final exchange. I told her about my sister and my mother and myself all standing waiting to wave to her and to the King whenever she passed by our gate adding that I was of course sure that she wouldn’t possibly remember such a thing and to my astonishment she gave me that famous smile and said but yes she did, and that how she and the King always used to look out for the little boy and girl and their mother on the Bracknell Road. Finally as she took her leave she turned back to me to tell me with a certain look in her famous eye me that I had done very well for myself and that there would always be a place for me at Clarence House.