“Ladies and Gentleman, in a few moments time we will be arriving into London Euston, our final station call for this journey - all change please”
As the train door slid slowly open, he was welcomed to the big smoke. Lifting his suitcase, Karl took a long deep breath filling his lungs with the heavy, stagnant air. It was in that moment that he first felt so far away from home. He felt a million miles away from the fresh invigorating breeze, which had surrounded him for as long he could remember. In the jewel set among the towering crown of emerald peaks and sapphire pools. The heart of Cumbria or Carlisle as it is better known. It was Karl’s first time in the “big city,” and already he seemed overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the world he found himself stepping into.
As he moved steadily up the platform towards the concourse, the station was alive with what seemed like a million people, all travelling in different directions, all at different speeds and with different movements. Some carried brief cases, some wore business suits, some wore very ordinary clothes and some wore very little at all it seemed. However, they travelled on. Each of the people on that platform moved around with the distinct impression that they were completely oblivious to anyone else, like they were the only one who had somewhere to be. They acted as though they were completely alone and completely ignorant of one another. They bumped and pushed and dodged and collided into him, then just carried on as though nothing had passed. Karl would stop and look over his shoulder, to his side or to whichever direction the unfamiliar and quite uninvited contact had occurred from. He never looked for any particular reason, except perhaps in the expectance of the usual polite sorry, or excuse me which he had come to learn was the usual response to this type of thing. However, look though he did, for however long it never seemed to arrive, it didn’t seem to happen here in any case at all.
Fighting his way through the maddening crowds of people, Karl headed down the subway, just off the concourse and towards the black and yellow sign naming “Taxi rank" as the destination. As he struggled with his weighty case down a flight of concrete steps into an under-ground terminus, Karl was welcomed to the sound of engines growling, doors slamming and the occasional exchange of words amongst strangers. 'Taxi rank,' he puzzled, taxi legion more like! Karl felt sure he had never seen so many black shiny things sitting in neat rows nose to tail, all with yellow signs glowing like a thousand eyes that all seemed to be staring at him and holding him in their gaze. His first major queuing experience was pleasantly short, due to the sheer number of taxis in the rank, and it wasn’t long before Karl had agreed his fare with the little chirpy cockney fellow and was on his way. It was the advice of a friend, always to agree a fair before travelling in a London cab. 'As soon as they hear that you're northern, they’ll take you round Paris to get to Edinburgh,' his friend had warned.
As the cab immerged from under the ground into the dull light of the street, what he felt was something as he imagined a very young or small child would feel when amongst toweringly tall people. Never before had he seen so many buildings in one small space, nor had he seen them as tall. They seemed to peer over him and almost totally eclipse the fading sunlight in the dusky sky, a far cry he thought from the hideous yet homely sight of Carlisle's very own 11 story high civic centre.
The taxi chuntered along street after street, all filled with every form of motorized vehicle. Crammed from wall to wall with the sounds of, engines roaring, horns sounding, doors slamming and people yelling "cab.” Every pub he passed seemed to be overflowing with people. Most dressed in business suits looking very cosmopolitan with their very own copy of “The Times.” Each of them armed with sufficient view, and opinion on the condition of the economy - at least 3 glasses of the best chardonnays worth. Then he thought, “It is Friday, if you can’t make a total prat out of yourself in front of your colleagues after a week of working with them, when can you?” After all, most of them were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, a mobile phone screwed into one hand and a laptop to the other. What really could one expect? Every street looked the same he thought, one giant concrete tower after another, one big ants nest almost. Karl found the novelty of London so overwhelming, that it was almost easy for him to forget the very purpose of his visit. You see his best friend, Jonno, is now stationed in London with the Army, he too from Carlisle, and now he serves with the Queens very own Household Cavalry. It had been due to Jonno “pulling a few strings” that Karl was now the proud owner of some east stand tickets to tomorrow’s events.
"You gotta see this fella,” Jonno had assured him, “Trooping the Color is one of the best pageants there is... and nobody does it like us Brits."
Karl had not been overly interested or excited at the prospect of watching a few men in fluffy hats bouncing about in shiny baked bean cans, or on ponies with shiny thigh boots on, which he thought, resembled something Cher or some other crazy pop star would wear. Nevertheless, since it was the Queen’s Birthday with the added bonus of seeing Jonny, AND Big Ben in the flesh, Karl thought he would give it a wurl. It was after all free.
That evening following dinner and a pint or five, Karl decided that it would be in his better interests to resign his claim on the beer pump. Tomorrow was due to be a scorcher. This together with the prospect of being rammed into a sardine can of a spectator stand, urged Karl to the decision that an early night was in order.
The next day as the forecast had promised, it was a hot one, the sun was almost splitting the trees and Karl felt a humorous sense of pity on his friend who would have to endure the can! This in his mind, he hid his less than bright eyes underneath a pair of shades, as he began his way once again through the crowds of London. To Horse guards Parade.
On arrival at the parade ground, after the presentation of tickets and a quick body search between friends, Karl was directed to his seat. "A good view," he thought aloud. Soon thereafter a short fat man, complete with waxed tash and Sandhurst twang, introduced himself as "Major General something Jones." He barked few words signaling the kick off the whole thing. "Here we go," Karl thought silently.
Flooding out of the distance was the most almighty sound he had ever heard, what he thought must have been a thousand feet and hooves on the red tarmac carpet of the Mall. Each man, woman, horse and carriage smashed its weight into the ground with all might. As the procession drew near and reached the edge of the sandy yellow parade square, the drummer began to pound his huge drum, the tenor horns began to sound, the trumpets began to sing and the bands began to play. The sound of boots marching and hooves in the gravel, together with the band belting out their victorious rousing anthem, gave a sound quite unlike anything Karl had ever witnessed before in his life. The sound played straight to the heart it seemed. Karl felt the hair on the back of his neck stand to attention as rigidly as the scarlet draped troops stood shoulder to shoulder. The blankness of the yellow dusty parade ground began to fill like an artist’s broad brush filling a blank canvass, with flashes of the brightest reds and deepest Royal blue, the black shininess of the boots and the glint of brasses were like golden threads in a tapestry. For the first time ever Karl found himself utterly lost for words. The foot guards hammered their way forwards, in divisions, marching with their noses poked in the air their chests pushed forwards filling their scarlet tunics. Every foot in time sounding out the beat of the mighty mounted drummer, every horseman sat tall and proud and rode his mighty black charger perfectly in time with the three next to him. In sections of four - straight and ridged, in their perfectly polished caresses, boots gleaming like black glass mirrors with their plumes hanging straight from the faultless shine of their helmets. Golden links of chinstraps stretched under the lips of the men like exaggerated smiles. Standards flew straight and true, bathing in the sun, as they flew in the breeze, which could well be the stunned gasps of thousands of stunned spectators. The mounted band, sat at the hearts centre of the masterpiece, began to sound the National Anthem and every able body rose to their feet to share in their pride. Soldiers saluted, standards were lowered to the ground level, the crowds sang their hearts out and the time for Her Majesties arrival had come. As the monarch arrived in her carriage led by a postillion on magnificent white horses, Karl found that without realizing it tears had began to roll down his sun - blushed cheeks. Tears of sheer joy and pride at the magic he found himself amazed and speechless to be watching. Every sound and color seemed to lead each other by the hand into one magical, stirring, mighty symphony that played into the heart. A symphony, which only Karl knew, only he would recognize, and the pride he felt was enormous. It was at that moment that he realized the sheer importance of this day. It had happened for centuries. Through war and peace, poverty and prosperity that band had played on, those regiments had marched under the mighty standard, and those guns had been pulled on still warm from shots fired at the enemy lines. It happened that year and the one after, and every year until today. Year, after year.
It was one year from that day, when the band once again began to play to the awe-inspired crowds. As the National Anthem began to sing through the air, sitting in the third division of the Blues and Royals, third man from the right, tears filled Karl’s eyes once more. He smiled, as the tears of pride and joy rolled down his beaming face, to the warmly familiar sound of his very own symphony. It played once again straight into his heart as it had a year earlier. The pride had never faded in him. The young trooper felt ten feet tall, with that day in his mind.