The Changing of the Guard

Clark Griswold: There it is, kids. Buckingham Palace, where the Queen lives and works.

Audrey: Works? What does the Queen do?

Clark: She queens… And vacuums.   (From European Vacation)

My cousin Kath said it was way crowded, and better to see on our way to someplace else. Our friend Norm said it was his favorite thing to do in London. We knew  we couldn’t visit the city of the Queen without seeing The Changing of the Guard.

Yes, we knew it would be crowded and a long wait. But we’ve waited for parades before. When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago, we drove into Chicago, parked the car, and stood on Madison Street for about two hours so we could see the buses with our heroes — Kane, Toews, Shaw, and Coach Q — zip past on their way to Grant Park. Worth it? You betcha.

Then, there are the Memorial Day parades in downtown Naperville. At least this year it wasn’t raining, but last year, we stood in a steady downpour to see our granddaughter Maggie play her trumpet in the Lincoln Junior High marching band.  We wouldn’t have missed it.

And what about the long waits in Disney lines? Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Dumbo… hours, all added up. We aren’t wimps when it comes to waiting.

The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace? Of course, we’d wait.

Because we are NEVER late for anything, we arrived at the Palace by ten o’clock, a half an hour earlier than the time Rick Steves suggests. We scored a spot right along the palace fence….  and stood…and stood…and stood, as the crowds filled in behind us and on the steps of the Victoria Memorial behind us.


The minutes dragged. Had our watches stopped? Mike got a little punchy and began making clip-clop noises so people would think that the horses were approaching. Some rude latecomers pressed forward, smooshing against us as they finagled their way to the front. Oh, hell, no.  I held firm. No one was taking the spot I’d claimed for ninety minutes!


And then  we got want we came for. The horses led the way, and there it was! The parading red-uniformed guards in their fluffy bearskin hats, the brisk military music, the famous British pomp and precision created the spectacle we’d come to see. Through the black iron bars we watched the time-honored ritual — orders barked, guards marching up and back, their polished boots briskly crunch-crunch-crunching along the gravel. I suppose some might find it corny and overblown, but not me. These guys have made a shift change into quite a show, one that has entertained tourists like us for ages.

After the guards had done their thing, the band took up their instruments again. I expected “God Save the Queen.” Instead, they played a medley of Sinatra tunes, beginning with “New York” and following that with “The Lady is a Tramp” — hardly appropriate for the Queen’s front yard, I thought.

When the band finished with “My Way”, the show was over and they paraded out the gate. The throngs    raised their arms in a cell phone salute, straight arms sent high over their heads in order to snap a few more pictures.

Done! Off we went to The Lamb and Flag, another pub to cross off Mike’s list.



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