Great Britain

This category contains 12 posts

Tell Me a Story, Sean

The bagpiper outside of Edinburgh’s Waverley train station dared me to write this post.

Me and my frozen hands, in 2 pair of gloves that weren’t helping and couldn’t even carry my inside-out umbrella properly, to keep the hail off my hat. I could’ve probably managed a brief text with my famous last words (spelled incorrectly), but not much else.

Going from 26C desert wind in Jordan to 6C winter gale in Scotland is not for the weak.

Don’t tell anyone, I was about to say.

Plain as day on the bagpiper’s face that any heartiness my Scottish ancestors might’ve demonstrated had clearly been lost to the generations and if you think this is cold, miss, you’re a bona fide wuss and need to head back to London or wherever you belong, because it’s not here.

Although, mind ya, you’re welcome. It’s a spot uh sumthin’ is called for, miss.

I settled for a spot of caffeine.

You’re going to say ‒ hey, I thought you were in Jordan! I am. There are just so many interesting stories to tell from elsewhere, since I wasn’t celebrating Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice, which would’ve required me to buy a newly headless sheep and take it home and cook mansaf for the whole neighborhood), nor was I doing Hajj, the pilgrimage Muslims make to Mecca once in a lifetime, nor was my presence required on Islamic New Year 1434 AH…

Instead, I’m eating a full Scottish breakfast ‒ full English breakfast minus the grilled tomatoes, no big loss ‒ at the Slug & Lettuce, overlooking the Firth of Forth, where my forefathers probably didn’t offer daily tourist cruises on the Royal Britannia.

(Firth of Forth, “Linne Foirthe” in Gaelic, is the estuary of the River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea.)

Speaking of family, my dad and I had this discussion once about who was the best James Bond, a subject about which frankly I was surprised he had an opinion…which I immediately disagreed with anyway.

For 3 reasons: Sean Connery Forever.

And coincidentally here I am in Edinburgh, the capital city of Sean-ville, on opening night of Skyfall, the 50th anniversary James Bond film.

With Daniel Craig.

With Scots queued up for 2 city blocks on a if-not-freezing-then-mighty-close Friday night, to see another offering by the Blonde Bond.

Yer brethren ‘r wastin’ no time butrayin’ ya, Sean, jus’so ya know.

The next day I’m at the International Storytelling Festival, at the Tell-a-Story Workshop.

It took me awhile to realize that while some people ‒ even some entire nations of people ‒ have this gift, storytelling is also a learned skill. There’s a structure to it. The trick is letting loose enough within the structure to make it fun to listen to.

More wacky tall tales; fewer Cliffs Notes. Pretend every story is a fish story.

Any storytelling student who laughs at his or her own story while telling it: A+

Storytelling teachers spend their mornings in storytelling seminars, including “The Box of Delights: A Multi-Sensory Workshop,” no doubt writing it off on their taxes as professional development…

…and later sharing the proceeds on stage at Live Storytelling sessions, a welcome break from scaring themselves ‒ and all of us ‒ to death while recounting Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Most of which, I’m tellin’ ya Sean, deserve an R rating for violence.

Note that this event in my case followed the “Double Dead Tour”: the Underground City of the Dead Tour + the Haunted Graveyard Tour, including the Mackenzie poltergeist.

What “Scariest Places on Earth” producers of American TV network Fox called “TERRIFYING” (caps theirs).

NOW who’s the wuss?

Right about when even non-believers would give pretty much anything to hear, in that familiar brogue, “Bond, James Bond.” Coming to save us.

So, that’s why on Skyfall premiere night, I’m just sitting in a nondescript café across the street from the theatre, sipping hot tea, watching the frozen queue inch along Princes Street.

Now, Sean: that’s loyalty.

Santa’s Sub-Contractor Sings Carols with the Philharmonic, London

My invitation must have been lost in the mail.

To Wills and Kate’s first royal Christmas party as a married couple, of course.

This mix-up is understandable, since I haven’t been home, wherever that is, in over a month. But you’d think that Kate’s American Bridesmaid ‒ read my Royal Wedding Week coverage here ‒ deserved at least a follow-up phone call from the Wales’ social secretary!

No worries. Happy Christmas and let’s meet for tea after New Year’s.

So, rather than judging best-dressed royal party guests, I’ve been invited to judge the “Best-Dressed Shop Windows” in Cambridge!

In the categories of Originality, Festivity, Visual Impact, and Coherence, from a field of 8 semi-finalists chosen by “local experts.” So I’m not the only judge with “credentials unspecified.”

Now, I don’t know much about English decorative sensibilities, but it doesn’t take a Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu to guess that the top prize is going to a food-related window display.

Bellina Chocolate House has taken 1st or 2nd place every year the contest has been held. Emporium 61 goes for vintage Christmas scenery, which will get the nostalgia vote. Origin8 makes way-out-there gingerbread houses and outdid themselves a few years ago with a…

meringue iceberg?

But my money, in more ways than one, is on last year’s winner: the kitchen store, Clement Joscelyne.

However, it’s time to do some bigger-time holiday shopping and that can only mean Harrods, the London department store so huge that it employs a Chief Giver of Directions.

I did take a taxi home later, but not because I had too many shopping bags to carry. My driver, initials K. L. according to my receipt, is a career military man who went right back to work after retirement to “keep exercising the grey matter” by driving around his home city, talking to “delightful young ladies like yourself.”

Why, thank you! I know this compliment had nothing to do with the orange-praline chocolates I just gave you.

Mr. K. L. and his wife have 5 children ‒ 1 son will be absent this Christmas due to his military service in Afghanistan ‒ and many grandchildren. He’s been married longer than I’ve been alive.

I asked him if he had a secret for a lasting marriage. “No, luv, but my wife does.”

And what might that be?

“On each wedding anniversary, she says to me, ‘It seems like yesterday, but if it were tomorrow, I’d say cancel it.'”

Evening comes early this time of year and, along with London’s non-royal best-dressed, I’m in the first row of the Circle balcony at Royal Albert Hall.

For the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir annual concert of Christmas carols old and new. Serious and secular. European and American. I know for a fact that nobody here was responsible for “Jingle Bell Rock.” (We have country singer Bobby Helms to thank for that holiday gem.)

Much less, “I’ve been an angel all year, Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.”

Since the Middle East is never far from my mind, I read the following Facebook posts at intermission. About refugees, including children, from the Idleb province (closest to the Turkish border) of Syria, who’d been trapped in valleys, then hunted down and massacred by Assad regime forces.

“OH GOD!!!! Weeping!!!!”

(In the last few days, more than 200 men, women, and children have been killed like this, just in time for Arab League monitors to be told it was the work of “terrorists.”)

“The displaced people who have fled into the mountains from the villages of Jabal Al Zawiyeh district in the fog and rain of yesterday. The little boy laying on the ground was shot… The videographer, God bless him, sharing the danger the displaced are in from Regime forces… he asks the children, “where are your families?” they answer, “we don’t know, but we are very hungry.” Oh God, what will it take for this world to help these people?”

“PLEASE SHARE…PLEASE HELP GET THIS ON EVERY NGO AND GOVERNMENT AND EMBASSY WALL… CHILD REFUGEES, WOMEN AND CHILDREN in the mountains in winter, not even coats”

“In our hearts and in our prayers tonight, the displaced children of Idleb terrified of being found by the Regime soldiers who make no allowance for age or gender…and we just don’t understand how a Regime could be so cruel, and a world so cold hearted that these children have no rescue”

Then, in the first carol in Part 2 of the concert, our cast of 5,000 voices rang out: “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care…”

As Dr. Ibrahim Othman and Hakam Al-Siba’i and Giath Mattar would tell us if they were alive, echoing the words of King Wenceslas on another cruel winter night long ago:

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly…”

…and Syrians from neighboring districts took Wenceslas at his word.

News unfolding hour by hour on YouTube and Facebook:

How the gifts of love mounted for the people of Zawiya district as the Christian world prepares for Christmas (which we fear will be used as a time of great massacre by the murderer Assad, who well knows when the people of the west and the media aren’t looking), the people of Jobas and Idleb show us the real meaning of Christmas, giving to those in great need from full hearts, even when their own pockets are empty, and even bread and fuel not in their reach.”

“IDLIB: JOBAS: Gifts and donations from Children and adults for our people of Jabal Al Zawiyeh makes you cry, these dear hearts”

Children gathering donations for other children, knowing that the adults, maybe from their own families, who will make the precarious journey to deliver this lifesaving assistance, will risk all their lives.

Over 4600 kilometers and a world away, we sing with the London Philharmonic what the people of Jobas already know:

“Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.”

Happy Christmas.

The Ol’ Double Standard

The polite thing to do when you’re not invited to a party ‒ even if you think you should’ve been, but know perfectly well why you weren’t ‒ is to wish the guests of honor the very best. Then make other plans for the day.

The whiny thing to do is whine to the London Times about your hurt feelings.

Boo hoo.

A month ago this week, when I was blogging from London about the Royal Wedding, there was another story in the British press that I didn’t cover at the time, but foreshadowed sanctions to come, which are piling up as we speak: Syrian Ambassador to Britain Sami Khiyami’s wedding invitation was revoked at the last minute.

You’ll never guess what his reaction was.

(Or maybe you will, if you’ve read my previous posts on Syria, or have been keeping up with the Syrian government’s despicable treatment of peaceful demonstrators, who ‒ 2 months, 1,000 killings, and 10,000 arrests later ‒ show no signs of backing down, prompting American President Obama to tell Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to either get with the freedom program or “get out of the way.”)

Hi, I’m the Syrian Ambassador of Cluelessness. I just got my Royal Wedding Un-Invitation in the mail. I don’t understand and I’m embarrassed.

Seriously.

You really thought the Queen of England wanted 2 billion people around the world to see you parading into Westminster Abbey styled by Gucci while Bashar al-Assad’s government ‒ your government ‒ has murdered and imprisoned more people so far than the Egyptian government did during the entire uprising?

Like any good hunting dog, the British press can smell weakness and went after you accordingly.

Then you made things worse for yourself by saying that you normally don’t care about invitations and only started to care because this one was somewhat more important than usual.

Ambassador, please stop trying to handle your own PR. You need professional representation. Let me refer you to some reputable London firms.

Ironically, there was a veritable parade of at least 8 other world leaders with egregious human rights records, whose Royal Wedding invitations were not revoked.

Lame explanation from 10 Downing Street: these were countries with whom the UK had normalized relations and their invitations were normal protocol, not statements for or against their respective records or policies.

(This directly contradicted the British government’s earlier statement that the Royal Wedding was a family affair and not a state event.)

Processional of Despots Sampler: Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Britain Gabriel Machinga. Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco, where demonstrations are just now getting going.

Both Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa and Sheikh Khalifa Bin Ali al-Khalifa, the current Bahraini Ambassador to Britain, whose claim to fame is that he used to head up the National Security Agency’s Torture of Prisoners Department.

Let’s not forget Prince Mohamed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, who recently came to Bahrain’s rescue to crush pro-democracy demonstrators who were handing out roses for Valentine’s Day.

Newspapers all over Britain printed with pleasure the complete list, including tasty tidbits of recent good-cause-for-outrage behaviors.

None of which was news to the British government, nor presumably to any of the other royal, elected, and diplomatic wedding attendees. I wouldn’t particularly want to be photographed with any of these folks, but as they say, politics makes for strange bed-fellows…

…and I’m not dependent on any of them for oil, UN votes, or regional stability, nor might I suspect the known bad guy might be preferable to the unknown worse guy.

This partly explains why, when Colonel Qaddafi threatened to massacre civilians in Benghazi, the Arab League persuaded NATO to spend billions to patrol Libyan airspace and prevent genocide, but when Syria didn’t just threaten to but actually did the same thing, the only thing France, the UK, and the USA did initially, besides saying please stop that and be nice, was to feel relieved that Syria took itself out of the running for the rotating spot on the UN Human Rights Council.

Which would’ve been a sick joke at best.

The difference between Syria and Libya, quoth President Obama in his major Middle East policy speech last week, is that the USA has “significantly less leverage there” and “you cannot stop every injustice.” Mr. President, it’s telling that even foreign policy experts in think tanks a 5-minute walk from the White House struggled to articulate for the rest of us exactly what you meant by that…in real life, not just in the hallowed halls of the State Department or in some obtuse chapter of the Gospel According to Hillary.

Assad is a despot, no argument there, but he’s a sane despot. As I’ve written previously, he has a practical streak when it’s convenient: meaning, when Western-allied governments are breathing down his neck.

Assad backing down somehow always inspires tentative hope, which unfortunately soon proves unfounded.

However, it was obvious from the Syrian Ambassador’s reaction to his sudden Royal Wedding disinvite that his discomfort was his own. His boss President al-Assad has no fear of any consequences to his current campaign to “root out Islamists,” knowing those words strike fear in the hearts of many nations, particularly the USA, where Osama bin Laden’s death and Saif al-Adel’s promotion to Al-Qaeda CEO keep the real and imminent threat of Islamic terrorism on Page 1.

While Syria claims to be “eliminating terrorists” who are “terrorizing” the civilian population, everyone in the know knows the only people terrorizing anyone are tools of the Syrian regime!

One of the funniest news stories out of Syria lately:

(Funny in a tragic, incomprehensible, bordering-on-hopeless kind of way.)

Assad is watching Syrian TV one day and here he sees a story about mass graves in Dara’a. What does he do? Quickly dispatches tanks to “investigate” who had committed these horrendous crimes!

Still, the Syrian Ambassador feels unfairly singled out because he doesn’t understand why anyone would object to the actions above. (Ambassador, you’ve now received ‒ and don’t pretend otherwise, because there’s a video on YouTube.com of it being delivered to the embassy in London ‒ a petition with 165,000 signatures, including mine, saying “Stop the bloodshed in Syria.”)

My opinion, seeing it play out in London in real time: the British government invited the Syrian Ambassador to the Royal Wedding by reflex and kind of hoped no-one would notice him in the rush of world dictators. Then quickly realized, after reading more than a few sarcastic headlines, that the idea was a non-starter and cut its losses before somebody else did it for them.

Bottom line, Monsieur Khiyami, Syrian Ambassador to Britain: I was invited to the Royal Wedding and you weren’t.

What does that tell you…about you?

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Returns to Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey Visiting Hours for the Uninvited.

I wanted to see the Abbey again, while the Royal Wedding trees and flowers were still in place. So did a few (hundred) thousand other people.

The queue was 7 or 8 deep: all the way down the street, past the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster tube stop, to Big Ben. A few people walked across Westminster Bridge to take photos, waiting for the excitement to die down.

Good luck with that.

Being a morning-person-in-training, it wasn’t such a hardship to be among the first in line for the chance to walk under the canopy of wedding trees and flowers in relative quiet. One wedding wish that, as I expected, didn’t exactly come true.

Regardless, the botanical effect was dramatic and inspiring and utterly amazing.

I don’t know whether William and Kate chose the color scheme partly for any of the following good reasons, but green and white are the two primary colors of the Welsh flag, Wales being their current home. They were also the colors of the House of Tudor. They’re fundamental to the personality, history, and spirit of the whole of the “Isles.”

However it came about, the result was simple and spectacular…and, as far as adjectives go, I’m just getting started.

I loved the potted trees best, the English maples especially.

We Abbey visitors walked down that same aisle where the royal couple and their attendants had walked not so many days before, into that pavilion of green and white, as one British poet described a long-ago image from nature, which the Royal Wedding florists re-created to near perfection.

The couple, we’d been told, had put great thought into the symbolism of the seasonal flowers.

White lilacs, symbolizing first love, together with Solomon’s seal, which symbolizes love’s confirmation. Azaleas, to which the Chinese attribute femininity. Beech, rhododendron, and wisteria from Windsor Great Park, lush with greenery cut from the royal estates, at the groom’s special request.

Other blossoms, unnamed but not unnoticed, signifying spiritual beauty.

Two billion people around the world saw the official proceedings on TV, including me standing in London’s Hyde Park with “only” a million or so other viewers. But naturally our primary focus on April 29th was on the pageantry and the people and their expressions…and their clothes, expert and novice opinions this once actually converging.

The green and white together struck me, observed one British writer, describing a much less formal event. Suddenly we who stood in the Abbey on this ordinary day understood what he’d meant, 150 years ago, by being wrapped in green and white.

The quotes I’ve included in this post date primarily from Victorian times, an era of relative peace and prosperity in Britain, no small credit to the long reign ‒ and happy union ‒ of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. As a consequence, literature and literary figures ‒ poets, novelists, essayists ‒ flourished and the Victorian period is considered the high point in English literature.

Much of this imagery came from the topography of the land itself, scenery that inspired writers who were simply looking out their own windows, or journeying on foot or by carriage near their own homes.

How lovely, the green and white fields, noted one. Green and white flowers, beautiful to view, wrote another. An artistic study in green and white, observed a third, a fourth reportedly walking along some green and white shore, finding by accident a frail half-shell pale green and white-lined of sea-urchin.

A medley of writings from a medley of British writers, with variations on the same elegant theme.

This theme also inspired a veritable rush of not only the mythical ‒ fairies…green, and white, she wrote, dreamily ‒ but also of the philosophical, particularly suited, I thought, to a Royal Wedding not only marking the beginning of a new life of a young couple in love, but also ushering in a new era of the British monarchy.

Over the years, and as King and Queen one day, I hope William and Kate can look back on their wedding day and say that, from the very beginning…

…the river was the green and white vein of our lives.

One of the iconic images of the day was of Kate standing at the high altar of Westminster Abbey, where royal brides have stood for 1,000 years, about to exchange vows with her Prince, perhaps thinking: green and white his name on the tip of my tongue.

As we witnessed all this, we long-distance guests were finding true what those British poets of old knew best: love is green, white.

Prince William of Wales and Kate (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) will undoubtedly have ups and downs in their marriage, like any couple, but unlike most couples, theirs will play out on the international stage and undoubtedly be scrutinized to death.

But it might comfort them to remember, when those times come, that it’ll be all green and white when the weather clears.

Thierry Plays Cricket

“How could you possibly miss, with a bat that wide?”

This is me in a smack-down with an arrogant, check-me-out English cricket player who just dissed America’s national pastime (baseball, one third of the Trinity, along with Mom and apple pie), a flame-throwing rebuttal that, while true, will probably get me denied future entry into the UK for reasons of the national interest.

Even though I agree that the World Series is a silly name for a tournament with teams from only 1 country (well, nominally 2), and a baseball game really can go on for what seems like forever ‒ which is why “The Wave” was invented ‒ without getting any points on the scoreboard, nobody but NOBODY gets to tell me the San Francisco Giants aren’t rulers of the batting sports universe until next October!

I guess what I disliked most about these particular cricket players was their insufferable superiority. This is a gentlemen’s game, Miss, implying that men who don’t play it by definition cannot be gentlemen and that while we admit some women can play cricket, they shouldn’t.

Thus, you’re not particularly invited, except to watch, in high heels and posh hats.

Pardon me, but aren’t you forgetting about the UK women’s cricket EBC National Club Championship (won by South Northumberland in 2010)?

I also think the USA women’s 3-time Olympic gold medal-winning softball team could learn to play cricket in about 10 seconds and take on the best of you. I’m so confident, in fact, that I’ll see your 100£, and raise you 200£.

Actually, I had some issues with cricket before ever meeting you…gentlemen. Starting with your uniforms. What’s with the all-white? At the end of the match, does the cleanest guy win, or are you advertising Clorox?

Dressing like that, people are going to think you’re chefs. Not a compliment…to us.

Living overseas for quite a few years, I’m a soccer fan. I watch the World Cup. I know FIFA, EUFA, FWA, PFA, and all kinds of other acronyms in European football (or “il calcio,” as it’s called in Italy).

I’m also an Arsenal fan, having first followed Thierry Henri there from Juventus, back when nobody thought his career was going much of anywhere, and even after he left for Barça.

As a holder of a French carte de séjour, I was obliged to be a fan of the French national team, Les Bleus, which, let me tell you, was not a hardship during the 2000s, with Thierry at striker. I was proud to be French…er, American.

Thierry: Golden Boot, Time cover, Hall of Fame.

Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur.

However, if any loyal Manchester United fans work in Immigration at Heathrow, they aren’t very forgiving and I’m in serious trouble.

Aside: there’s pretty much nothing more exciting since time began than being in Africa when Cameroon is in the World Cup quarter-finals against Who Cares. The entire continent is on fire, watching the game en masse, with giant TVs in every town, running on giant generators.

We’ll happily trade off the chilled cherry Coke, since for the most part we’re not supposed to be drinking beer. Although, let me direct your attention to the top-secret, bright-red cooler out back.

Back to cricket, England’s #3 export, behind the Beatles and digestive biscuits.

Let me introduce you to the laws, not rules, of cricket play. The Cricket Constitution, if you will, circa London 1744, which contains a Preface, a Preamble, 42 Laws, and 4 Appendices.

If you don’t believe me, go to the Cambridge Law Library and look it up.

These provisions include a guaranteed 10-minute interval between innings, plus additional intervals for lunch, tea, and drinks, basically guaranteeing that very little play happens at all, which is why when you finally do get out onto the pitch, you have to rack up 100s of points to make up for it.

To the cricket players’ chagrin, wanting so badly to bore me with all the history and philosophy behind the game, I care about only one thing: how do you get points? Most commonly: “Runs are scored when the two batsmen run to each other’s end of the pitch.”

(You mean players run toward each other, not into each other ‒ aggressively and on purpose, as in soccer ‒ although I suppose that happens occasionally in cricket, too.)

What fascinated me the most were the “The Mechanics of Dismissal.” Shockingly civilized. “If the fielders believe a batsman is out,” the laws stipulate, “they may ask the umpire “How’s that?”, commonly shouted emphatically with arms raised, before the next ball is bowled.”

We’re more used to the shouting emphatically with arms raised, “You *&&$$)&%! Go to ()$#*!@#! ” before running out onto the field and getting ejected from the game. And that’s just the coach we’re talking about.

(If you’re a baseball fan who happens to be buying a hot dog at the concession stand and misses a blatantly bad call, never fear ‒ there will be rumble in the parking lot afterwards.)

Another way to get out in cricket is Law 36: “Leg Before Wicket” (LBW). Ouch.

Although I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud, I’d rather see Thierry playing cricket for the Marylebone Cricket Club in London than ‒ sob! ‒ soccer for the New York Red Bulls.

Thierry, s’il vous plaît, ne me quitte pas!

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Smiles for the Family Photo

When they saw Kate’s dress, the crowd gasped. When William said “I will,” the crowd went crazy.

So, after an unprecedented TWO kisses on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate) party on with their close friends and family.

For the rest of us, the Royal Wedding is over and my bridesmaid services are no longer required.

But first: the world’s largest family wedding photo.

BBC took a panoramic shot of the huge crowd in Hyde Park and that photo will become part of the official royal family wedding album.

One, two, three… Smile! Wave your flags! …and at that moment, confetti started falling, champagne corks started flying, and people started singing God Save the Queen…and even crying a little.

If you look at that photo very closely, you might see someone wearing a navy blue wedding hat, on which I got a few compliments today, surprisingly, and hope to wear at another British wedding someday.

With a suitable dress, shoes, and handbag this time, I promise.

Despite taking a Buffet Penalty in Fruitcake Overtime in this week-long Royal Wedding match I’ve been covering for you, London is ‒ quite simply ‒ overwhelmed today.

WITH JOY.

I’ve been to London many times and have never seen anything like it…that didn’t involve football.

Even then.

“We’re so very proud.”

Proud of William, that adorable little boy we’ve watched grow up to be a fine man. Proud of William to have chosen Kate, rather than be pressured into a more socially logical match with someone he didn’t love. Proud of Kate to have stepped up to the role and become “a treasure of the nation,” one delighted citizen told BBC today.

Quite a compliment after being a member of the royal family for less than an hour.

I can’t speak to treasure, but I can speak to vision. Kate, you were one today. That Sarah Burton (at Alexander McQueen) wedding dress you wore was absolutely stunning and worth the secrecy and speculation and agonizing wait.

I don’t know if you noticed this, but when you first started walking down the aisle and William had his back to you, as he was supposed to, Harry looked over his shoulder and snuck a peak at you…and we caught him doing it.

Harry seemed to be enjoying himself throughout, riding back to the palace in a carriage with little pages and bridesmaids, giving them waving-to-the-crowd tips.

Looking like a little kid himself.

(You know when you’re single, no matter how old you are, when you go home for holiday dinners, they put you at the kids’ table? That would be Harry. Except he’d think it was fun.)

But during the service, Harry looked sober and one wonders how he felt, hearing some of those same hymns in the same place as his mother’s funeral, with some of the same people singing them.

The 2nd hymn, after the vows, was Love Divine, All Loves Excelling by Charles Wesley, a particular favorite of William’s and Kate’s and mine. I learned it in French and had never sung it in English before today, but the last 2 lines…

‘Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise!

…must have special significance to people who wear real crowns, and the privileges and burdens those crowns signify.

Despite random festival seating, I somehow was surrounded by fantastic British, Canadian, and Australian singers, who did equally well by the wedding hymns (and knew all the words), God Save the Queen (why do I always forget line 6? “happy and glorious,” just like today), and Aerosmith.

Hyde Park’s favorite wedding dance song, by a landslide in a popular voice vote: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”

So, the world’s largest wedding dance was followed by the world’s largest wedding toast to the Prince and his Princess bride, with champagne generously provided by a group of young women standing near me, who were dressed up as brides ‒ veils, tiaras, the works ‒ and holding up signs saying, “Marry Me, Harry!”

When Harry walked out of the Abbey with maid of honor Pippa Middleton, arm in arm and laughing, they booed, loudly.

The Right Reverend and Right Honorable Dr. Richard Chartres, K.C.V.O., Lord Bishop of London and Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal had a short message. Shorter than his name.

He gave William & Kate this royal 21st-century advice: “Set the world on fire.”

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Has the Wedding Jitters

You know something’s up when the average Brit starts acting like the average Italian.

Going out to dinner very late. On a weeknight. Strolling arm in arm afterwards. In very high-heeled boots.

Even though over 30% of British citizens reportedly don’t care about the Royal Wedding (except the “I’m happy for you and thanks for the day off” part), and a further 15% or so are ambivalent, a simple majority of Kate’s future subjects are in excellent humor as they gear up for a marathon of parties, street fairs, and dress-up games of British Royalty Trivial Pursuit.

And better.

Tomorrow morning, upwards of a million of us will be descending on Hyde Park and environs in time to eat breakfast together in front of the TV.

We’ll buy a commoner’s wedding breakfast from one of the massive food tents and eat sitting on the grass ‒ or standing under our umbrellas ‒ in front of one of the 3 big screens broadcasting every detail of the wedding live from Westminster Abbey from 7:00am GMT onwards.

Yes, there will be “stuff going on” that early. Even florists and chauffeurs are national media figures this week.

Some of us will have our Blackberries poised to send news flashes to viewers in earlier time zones, who in their sleepy state might’ve missed some important detail and sent up an urgent SOS.

Help! $20 is riding on whether Prince William arrived at the church on time.

I’m worth only 12£? Hey, it’s the recession.

Kate, you’re either going to help my Seattle friends win big in their Royal Wedding betting pool, or they’re going to be buying a lot of wedding breakfasts for people who said you’d wear your hair down, just like you said you would, no matter what Princess Anne thought of it.

The big money, of course, is on YOUR DRESS. Just so you know, Seattle says Stella (McCartney).

Although Londoners are every bit as keen to see what you’ll be wearing, they have a bit more at stake than bridal fashion design.

Consequently, some are calming their nerves at the nearest pub. Others are watching sappy TV specials about your romance as it unfolded at the University of St. Andrews, now the go-to school for undergraduate princesses-to-be.

Then there’s always retail therapy.

In Knightsbridge earlier today, I watched 2 unfortunate women spend 300£ each on designer hats that I wouldn’t wear at home alone in the dark. One, a crown made of black plastic sequins; the other, a clear plastic visor with a black lace decal. (Unfortunately, the store prohibits photography. I would, too ‒ for fear somebody might mass-produce such hideous hats.)

I went down the street to a nondescript accessories boutique and bought a pretty and pretty traditional navy blue hat…for 30£.

Add to the ensemble my black umbrella with a tiny ruffled edge and I’m all set for tomorrow’s Royal Wedding…

…where It’s So Very Important For Everything To Go Just Right.

Because, Kate, you’re about to star in the most downloaded YouTube wedding video of all time.

There wasn’t room for me at The Goring, but the Middletons know you can’t go wrong with Winston Churchill’s favorite hotel and Kate will get some private time with her mother and sister Pippa, Britain’s Most Eligible Bridesmaid.

In the USA, they’d have to get through the wedding rehearsal tonight. Followed by the rehearsal dinner.

The first is unnecessary if you’ve been rehearsing for 8 years, snipes the British media, who I guarantee will be the first ones over the moon tomorrow…and complaining all the way to the Royal Bank with their copious royalties.

The second is just not a British custom.

This research called for a good old-fashioned pub crawl, starting at Leicester Square, which yielded the following anecdotal results:

“If you have to rehearse a dinner, then it’s overdone.” Now there’s a thought (and an unintended pun).

“Only in films.” So you’re saying that Four Weddings and a Funeral was utter rubbish.

“We’re nothing like the Americans.” Really.

The most common response: “Sorry?” Meaning, I have no idea what you’re talking about, or if I do, who says this is a good idea?

Grooms’ parents, who traditionally pay for the rehearsal dinner, are Kate’s biggest fans tonight.

Never fear, you still can attend a Royal Wedding rehearsal dinner of your own making, whether you’re in London or somewhere else. Unlike real rehearsal dinners, you get to choose the menu.

Nine times out of 10, that’s a blessing.

The city is somewhat emptier of locals than I expected, a fair number taking advantage of 3 national holidays in 2 weeks to get out of town on a vacation they’re paying for by renting their London flats to foreign visitors for hundreds of GBP per night.

However, there’s still a critical mass of people in town and the talk of the “British Street” this week ‒ up in the London Eye, at St. James Park, on the Circle Line ‒ has been about two things.

Well, really one thing.

We want it to be a lovely day that makes us proud. (And, yes, it would be nice if it didn’t rain.)

Because we need it. Badly.

We’ve been in the news a lot in recent years about things we’d rather not be famous for, from royal scandals to political scandals to unpopular wars and rumors of wars. The sour economy has opened up some hard-to-heal rifts in our society. We need something positive to bring us together as a nation, even if only for a day.

We’re overdue for a comeback and the Royal Wedding will hold us over until the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Because there’s just nothing like a beautiful wedding of a beautiful couple to bring tears to the eyes of even the most hardened naysayers.

Everyone, royalists to cynics, agrees: the future of the monarchy rests largely on the success of this marriage, and on Kate herself. She won’t be another Queen Elizabeth; she can’t be another Princess Diana.

So far, Kate, you’ve proven to be nothing like either.

My cashier at Waintrose, which is completely sold out of McVitie’s chocolate biscuits for reasons I explained in Tuesday’s post, refers to tonight as “the last night of poor Katie’s life.” She’s the protective mum of a daughter Kate’s age and would’ve dreaded seeing her choose that punishingly public life.

(Interestingly, the phrase “poor dear” usually refers to William, followed by, “he’s so like his mother.”)

But it’s a life Kate chose long ago. She fought for it, hard. Unlike many young couples, she & William knew exactly what they were getting into and took their time to be sure. Tomorrow they’ll seal it with a kiss, just like any other newlyweds.

Except that they’ll be standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Gets Fitted by the Milliner

Gentlemen: strictly uniforms, morning coats, or lounge suits, if you please.

If you don’t own at least one of the above, you’ve probably made your way onto the Royal Wedding guest list other than by birth, money, or politics.

Seek assistance from your local “costume rental.”

Gentlewomen, who we can trust to figure out appropriate Royal Wedding attire all by yourselves, you already know perfectly well your most important fashion accessory for Friday: your HAT!

British bridesmaids don’t generally wear hats…because they’re generally about 7 years old. Even so, I’m wondering: how could generations of British women be so completely fearless of “hat hair”?

Women here tell me that’s exactly why you wear a hat, my dear. If you’re having a bad hair day, there’s nothing like a fabulous hat to cover it up. Even more fortunate, you’re obliged to wear it all day.

Honestly, I don’t know how they’re going to fit 1,900 people into Westminster Abbey, with a thousand or so wide-ish hats taking up all kinds of space in the pews. Nor how the attendees are going to see anything over all those…palatial…hats.

The public watching on the big screen in Trafalgar Square might actually have a better view of the proceedings.

Except the big-screen audience is being asked to dress up in wedding hats, too!

Because if you’re live on BBC with the rest of the Hyde Park congregation, made up of parishioners who, at inopportune moments during the nuptials, might ‒ horrors ‒ actually applaud, or you’re on the Mall by Admiralty Arch in the pouring rain hoping to catch a glimpse of the future King and Queen passing by in their glass carriage, you want to look your very best.

I find this fascinating, since ‒ given the dismal weather forecast ‒ I’d fully planned to wear an umbrella, and Gortex.

I see now that just won’t do…and there’s no easier place in London than Bond Street to get separated from your life savings over a suitable wedding hat.

In the USA, we have 2 kinds of hats: baseball and cowboy. If you wear any other type of hat and you’re not either at the Kentucky Derby or starring in Pirates of Penzance

Look at her, she’s trying too hard.

So, off to the London milliners, who make women’s hats. (Hatmaking, or hatting, refers to men’s hats.)

In the only legitimate fashion tip the younger set can glean from the current Queen Elizabeth, brightly colored hats are in, in, in. (London bookmakers say the good money is on the Queen wearing yellow on Friday.) However, when your shoes, your handbag, your lipstick ‒ OK, we’re exaggerating ‒ all match perfectly, frankly Ma’am it’s a bit much.

While I’m instinctively unexcited about wearing anything on my head that the fashion police have nicknamed “The Galaxy,” I realize I have no choice but to get with the Couture Bridal Millinery Programme.

And fast. I’m far behind the cultural hat curve and the Royal Wedding is now just 2 days away.

Quite a few mass-market hat styles, I discovered, are named after girls. English girls: Emma, Tess. French girls: Justine, Nancy. Even Spanish and Italian girls: Maria, Angelina (although we’re pretty sure she’s not invited, having the best chance of anyone to upstage the royal bride).

Even Darcy, in a gender-neutral nod to Jane Austen.

Few people in London, including me, will be able to afford a Philip Treacy hat. Philip Treacy is the Royal Wedding Hat King, who designed hats for the entire wedding party, including a selection of hats that Kate is wearing to non-tiara events.

A hat like that is going to run you 1.000 quid.

Minimum.

(Here we’re seeing the Brits’ adventurous side because Mr. Treacy also designs hats for Lady Gaga.)

But good designers inspire good knock-offs and there’s a run on feathers this week.

Even though the hat shop is packed, the proprietress looks me over and feels a millinery makeover coming on.

First, your hat size, Miss. I’m assuming you have no idea what it is. No, it wouldn’t be the same size as your bike helmet.

While I serve other customers, please take a moment to review our Hat FAQ.

As is typical with hair stylists, most of her other customers have arrived with photos snipped from magazines of Royal Wedding guest celebrities modeling the hats they’d like to buy today. Since I didn’t think ahead, I’m putting myself in the hands of the experts.

So, in a few short minutes, I’ve gone from the powder-blue taffeta in Monday’s post to the feathered crème felt to the gun-metal grey silk to the chocolate shantung with sea-green sash to the bejeweled rose-pink organza with pompous bow and overbearing flowers.

If you still haven’t found The One, there’s always the gold tulle/faux fruit platter.

You didn’t arrive in London nearly early enough. It would take DAYS to try on every lovely hat we offer (and YEARS to pay off any of them afterwards).

She’s using phrases straight out of British romance novels ‒ “delightfully feminine,” “frightfully chic,” “absolutely radiant” ‒ in an effort to flatter me into forgetting all about the unfortunate exchange rate and spending even more too much money.

Turns out, I have a smaller head than normal…about which I immediately sense unkind remarks forthcoming from some readers of this blog. But you look wonderful in a hat, my dear, and really should wear one more often.

More often than never, you mean.

My immediate concern in the hat department, however, is hearing that Sir Elton John will be attending the Royal Wedding. When the Queen honored him with a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) a few years back, is it an urban myth, or did he really wear a hat of the Eiffel Tower?

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Critiques the Wedding Catering

Waiter? I’ll take the Royal Wedding Falafel and pass on the Royal Wedding Fruitcake.

It’s Royal Wedding Everything Week here in London, where the countdown is currently Wales Wedding Day Minus 3.

Fruitcake is a tradition 100s of years old ‒ now, we’re talking about the recipe, not the cake, although we understand why you might make that mistake ‒ of English bridal couples, not just royals.

In a fine display of the fine art of compromise with the in-laws, William & Kate are serving fruitcake as their primary wedding cake, but William also has his own cake. Made of cookies.

A “chocolate biscuit cake” from McVitie’s, a snack food company!

Sounds suspiciously like an American idea, as does that tacky wedding buffet they’re putting on after the service ‒ simply awful, darling. Which is why, Jeanette, we were firmly against your involvement in this enterprise from Day 1, whenever that was.

Because this thing has been going on forever.

Although I despise fruitcake on principle, because I’m in a genial, wedding-going, love-conquers-all kind of mood, I’ll share with you the commercial fruitcake secret.

You know when you make fruitcake at home, all those little “bits ‘n pieces” ‒ of nuts, dried fruits, and bizarrely-colored candied stuff that got that way by being soaked in rat poison and battery acid ‒ sink to the bottom of your loaf pan, rather than distributing nicely throughout the cake?

Do what the pros do: defy gravity by simply rolling your little “bits ‘n pieces” very lightly in white flour before adding them to your batter. This will “suspend” them in the batter and create that nice slicing effect you’re looking for.

Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that dreadful icing. Extra rum will help you forget about it.

For the Royal Family, there’s no such solution to that dreadful buffet.

Nobody knows for sure what this buffet will entail, either ‒ it’s just as big a secret as Kate’s dress ‒ but speculation is rife among people who have historical experience with royal “wedding breakfasts,” which are in fact held after lunch.

Here’s what we do know: Chef Mark Flanagan is in charge. He’s also said he’s preparing an all-British menu.

Normally, I’d find that a frightening prospect.

However, if Chef Flanagan is really serious about using produce and wild game from the royal estates…now, that could be fairly interesting.

Here, try the boar à la truffe. (Truffle the mushroom, not truffle the chocolate.)

Chef Flanagan and his army have had a full decade to learn the culinary idiosyncrasies of the royal family…which compared to their other idiosyncrasies are probably fairly benign.

Here’s the deal-breaker: Brits are accustomed to a sit-down wedding breakfast and there are some things you can eat sitting down that you just can’t eat standing up.

Anything more than bite-sized. Or drippy. Or both.

(Goes without saying: anything that requires cutlery.)

The American founders of 101 Tacky Buffets would pay serious money to be flies on the wall of the palace dining room when that first trout pâté with carrot curls goes sliding down the front of that first noblewoman’s burgundy silk sheath.

Commoners 1, Royals 0.

For Americans, all this is fun in the same way Disneyland is fun. We don’t mind royalty, and actually find them kind of entertaining, as long as they stay way over there.

Wills seems like a stand-up guy, but we went to lot of trouble to fire George III, the arch-nemesis of the original Tea Partiers. Ever since then, we’ve had a permanent hiring freeze on royals.

I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual.

However, the former colonies know a little something about red carpets and we’ll roll out the best for you when you visit, William & Catherine aka Her Royal Highness the Princess William of Wales. We’re feeling a bit slighted that you’ll be visiting Canada in June without even stopping by to say hello.

Meantime, there’s simply no way we’re going to miss toasting the happy couple at Friday’s worldwide virtual tailgate party, celebrating what’s arguably the first genuinely happy royal match of a future British monarch since William’s great-grandparents in 1923.

That bride, a certain Miss Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, reportedly refused no fewer than 3 marriage proposals from her husband “Bertie” (later King George VI), convinced that in becoming Queen she would lose Elizabeth.

Of course, she was partly right.

But she was Queen until the early death of her beloved husband in 1952 and “Queen Mum” past age 100. All the while with twinkles in her eyes, confirms my cabbie Edward Ward, who says I can use his name in my blog as long as I don’t make any jokes about it.

Who am I to make jokes about people’s funny names?

“When I was a boy, quite young,” says Mr. Ward, his family went to an event the Queen Mum was attending. He gave her a bouquet of flowers.

All these years later, he remembers her like it was yesterday: so warm, so kind, so approachable.

Hold that thought, Kate.

Although many of the great British rock bands are past their prime ‒ looked in the mirror lately, Mick? might want to stick to radio ‒ I can’t help but get nostalgic hearing Queen playing “God Save the Queen” over the intercom.

Thinking that one day a woman we can actually relate to ‒ someone who fell in love with her college sweetheart and stayed the course, despite breakups and baggage ‒ will one day sit on the throne of England.

Torn between the William & Kate snow globe and the William & Kate tea towels, I hear a Royal Wedding Curry calling.

Kate’s American Bridesmaid Blogs Live from London!

Even the most regimented, orchestrated, steeped-to-death-in-tradition British Royal Wedding will undoubtedly have its little surprises and this one is for you, Kate the Great (so says Newsweek):

You’ve got a mystery bridesmaid who’s come all the way from across the pond to crash your pomp and circumstance and blog about it shamelessly to all comers on WordPress.com.

Before this week, the closest I’d ever come to being a bridesmaid in a royal wedding was being a bridesmaid in a military wedding, my first and last experience with powder-blue taffeta.

I get it, Kate: we’re both suckers for men in uniform.

The bride in the aforementioned United States Air Force/Navy wedding, who’s reading this, can confirm: moments of hilarity are key to formal wedding survival, especially if you’re wondering/dreading what your more embarrassing relatives ‒ both those you invited and those you didn’t ‒ might be up to right as you’re walking down the aisle and can do nothing more about it.

So, Kate, an extra bridesmaid is the least of your worries. Believe me, I’m your ally. I think you’re taking one for the team, agreeing to this whole Westminster Abbey drama to begin with.

Although, since you’re the most recognizable engaged couple on the planet, you & William couldn’t elope to the Brazilian rain forest…and they already know you and your sapphire ring out on the Kalahari.

Pity.

Selfishly, though, we’ve been waiting 30 long years for a Charles and Diana Do-Over. Of the fairytale wedding that turned out to be the sole highlight in the longest blind date in history.

Everyone ‒ across the pond, across the seas, overland in every direction ‒ also desperately needs a break from this week’s 2 other top news stories, both tragic.

Dictators in the Middle East and Africa continuing to murder their own people: civilians, who are simply asking for democratic freedoms, as is their right, after decades of brutal repression.

Radiation continuing to leak from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, while tens of thousands of Japanese citizens still live in unheated shelters ‒ loved ones still unfound, still unburied.

Here’s where you come in, Kate.

While some Americans love to hate the British royal family ‒ we don’t look kindly on monarchies in general, for obvious historical reasons, and that cushy welfare lifestyle…what can we say, get a real job already ‒ many people will get up on Friday at 4:00am Eastern anyway, to witness your wedding vows live on CNN.

They’ll secretly wish they were in London, too, staking out their prime processional viewing spots along Whitehall…

…and personally wishing you & William every happiness in your future together, as strange as that future sounds to us and how unlikely we think it is that your straightjacket royal life will allow it.

But here’s hoping you surprise us, and yourselves.

Those who prefer to sleep in can read my daily posts from London as I go all about town, irreverently counting down to the British Royal Wedding Day: Friday 29th April 2011.

Somebody’s gonna have fun this week!