Patience is one of the virtues our late Queen Elizabeth demonstrated in bucketfuls throughout her life, but not one that easily comes to fidgeting children. Not long after her coronation, Her Majesty, accompanied by her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh paid a visit to North Shields, and we school children were given the opportunity to line our local street, Linskill Terrace, to see her.
To make the occasion more celebratory, we were given flags to wave. No malleable plastic in the 1950s, these Union Jacks were cloth on solid wooden sticks. After being given a pep talk about the significance of the visit, we marched in crocodile lines from our school, to stand in rows along the route. As a child in the infant school, I should have been in the front row, but being a bit taller I was made to stand further back amongst the bigger boys and girls and so was slightly away from my friends. I remember the rain dripping from my coat down my legs onto my new white socks. Bored, I began to suck my flag and stick, then suddenly as the royal car came hurtling into view, with a loud cheer from the crowd I was pushed forward, and the stick stuck into my gums and dislodged a baby tooth. Blood, rain and tears accompanied me as I re-joined my crocodile line to march back. My teacher was beaming. “Wasn’t that wonderful children”, she exclaimed back in the classroom, and to make the day even worse, we were asked to write a story about it.
I got a second opportunity to see her Majesty when my own twin girls were not much older than I had been in the 50s. This time I went with a friend and her daughter, the same age as my girls, and the friend’s little brother. We lined up at the top of Matthew Bank in Jesmond, which gave us an excellent view down the road. My friend and I chatted, and our daughters were fine, but the little brother was very bored. He pulled on his mother’s arms and twisted about, so to pacify him while he waited, my friend gave him an apple.
He had only taken one bite when he dropped it and it bounced down the road in Barnes Wallis style just as the royal car came into view. A selfless policeman, dived in front of it flinging himself over the apple to stop it. The car slowed as he rushed back into his crowd control position. The little brother wailed and was inconsolable, after all, this was in the days when the 5-second rule didn’t apply. Any item of food that dropped was, inspected for muck, and if not too bad, given a wipe. He was furious and attempted to chase after the apple and policeman. Shamefaced, we caught him, but then fearing the long arm of the law, we slunk off, and missed seeing the Queen. Later, we watched the Royal visit on the television news.
Fortunately, there was no mention of a bomb scare.