London feels familiar. It is one of the biggest, busiest cities that we have ever been to, but at the same time, it feels like somewhere we have been over and over again. The culture and personality can be felt in far-flung places all around the globe – in the similar shops, the food, the language, the style. In our first few days there, nothing struck us as compellingly unique or interesting.
We wanted to change that and experience something emphatically British – something that couldn’t be replicated and is a significant part of the London experience.
Rightly or wrongly, we chose to do this by heading to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guard. On second thought, we should have probably considered ferries to France instead.
It started out as expected. I was impressed with the flawless ensembles of the guards that included daggers strapped around waists, and I wondered about the weight of the large fluffy hats each of them wore. After parking ourselves behind the gates of the new-guard staging area at Wellington Barracks, we watched the meticulous inspection of uniforms and listened to the many commands being barked and feet being stamped. There were peculiar processions of several guards at a time walking away to nowhere in particular, and then returning immediately from whence they came, with no discernible purpose for their quick jaunt.
The brass band came into view and started to get themselves organized. I set the camera to video and was excited for all pieces to erupt into a traditional marching or battle song, something uproarious to set the tone for the significant occasion.
That isn’t quite what happened. Instead, we got this…
And then, this…
Really? Our foray into something that is supposed to be exclusively British is marred with popular American songs and show tunes?
We laughed and rolled our eyes at the remarkably tacky turn the event took, but continued to follow the procession as the guards made their way from the barracks to Buckingham Palace to orchestrate the “change”.
We didn’t get very far. Piles of tourists, falling over each other to get pictures, blocked our chance of even getting a glimpse beyond the gates of the palace. We stood by as the procession moved beyond our view, only able to experience the rest of it through sound. We heard more barking, more foot stamping, and more popular tunes (at least this time they stuck with a British band and played the Beatles hit “Hey Jude“). The auditory of the actual event was interrupted constantly with outbursts from the police, yelling at overflowing tourists to get back off the streets and move impossibly closer together.
We waited for it all to end (rather impatiently, on my part), took a couple pictures of the guards and palace once the crowds cleared, and left. It’s a mircale, in all honesty, that I was able to repress my clausterphobic rage enough not to storm away from the mess of people with elbows flying to clear the way.
As we walked away I commented on how the whole experience had peaked at listening to the hilarious opening song by Journey, as cheesy as it was. Not exactly the British experience we were looking for.
We’re still looking.