The Lord Mayor’s Blinged-Out Show

I missed the Lord Mayor’s Show last year because I was in heavy Thesis Editing Mode. My mom and my aunt had even made a special trip over to London to support me in my hour of thesis need, providing some much-needed perspective on the whole thing. But because we were Hard At Work, we weren’t able to go see the parade and fireworks.

This year I made a point of making my way down to the Embankment last Saturday at a suitably early hour to see the Lord Mayor process back from the Royal Courts of Justice to Mansion House (I wasn’t going to sacrifice my Saturday morning by getting up early and seeing the parade TO the Royal Courts. That’s asking too much.)

And boy, what a parade. According to the website, the procession is over 3 miles long and takes over an hour to complete the parade route. I’d secured a space right at the head of the parade route, under a large arched monument to King George V, with him looking somberly (beardedly) out over the road, with his back to the river.

At first, traffic was still roaring along the Embankment–the very reason that I seldom walk that part of the river. People were gathering, though, with sandwiches and flasks. A little girl about three came and sat in front of me with her dad, charming the old couple next to them into giving her a sweet. Across the road a group of pre-teen girls practiced a little cheer with some shiny streamers, presumably to greet the Lord Mayor as he passed. Policemen lifted children who’d clambered over the metal barriers back into the arms of their mothers.

After much restless fidgeting and false starts, the parade finally got underway. About half the parade were floats, marching bands, and corps of military personnel. The other half consisted of every type of trade guild or society or service group imaginable, from the worshipful company of glovemakers (bearing, naturally, standards of giant gloves and trailed by a brass band), to the beetroot farmers’ union (they came with a tractor, what else?). There were Masons and a special detachment of mini-Masons (towing, inexplicably to those of us to whom the mysteries have not been revealed, two large wicker figures). There was the tourist board of Goa. There were samba dancers, and cheerleaders, and a very strange float with a hangman on it. The AA rode by in a series of natty old cars. There was a steam engine, and a float for The Marketing Board, and the Guild of People Who Look After Crests and That Kind of Thing (oh, they have a real name, but I forget what it is.) It was a very colorful parade.

One of my favorite groups was there representing a livery company that produces formal robes for all sorts of different professions. We in the academic world are used to donning wizard robes every once in a while, and I’m even starting to get a hang on how to make that persnickety hood stay on properly. But I admit to being surprised that, for instance, laundresses, farmers, and other specialized professions also have robes designed to represent them. Aside from this parade, when do they get worn? These things are so underrepresented nowadays.

But you know who was there in all their finest hooded, corded, gowned and hatted glory, of course–the Aldermen of the City of London. The very end of the parade was a series of carriages in which a number of what I am sure are very important personages sat. None of the crowd had even a mote of an idea who any of these people were, of course, but we merrily cheered every time we saw somebody in a silly hat (this is the only appropriate greeting for silly hats.) The carriages had a varying degree of grandeur, ranging from simple black broughams to great big red ones with gold trim and some seriously tricked-out footmen. Every time one passed, the crowd would lean around to each other, asking, “Is that the mayor? Is that the mayor? Surely it’s that one. No, it must be that one. Surely THAT’S him.”

Until finally, the carriage arrived that was unquestionably and unmistakably the Lord Mayor of London’s. It was the most blinged-up carriage I’ve ever seen, including Cinderella’s. It was all gold and had little paintings of lords and ladies on the outside. There were crystal windows, out of which the Lord Mayor leaned to wave to us when the parade stopped momentarily.

And then it was over, merriment receding on down the Thames. I leaned on George V for a wee bit while the crowds sorted themselves out, then pointed my shoes towards home.

(Actually that’s not quite true–I had a very tasty and very cheap roast in the cafe in Somerset House first, where the man behind the counter gave me extra vegetables because the tray was running out. An excellent post-parade experience.)