Lots of creative teachers talk about the importance of taking time out from your normal routines and doing new things, to refresh your creative energy. It’s commonly called ‘going down to the well.’
I was way outside my normal routine last week at the Buckingham Palace garden party – frocks and fascinators are not really my thing! In case you’re wondering, my invitation came through the Society of Authors – I’ve been a member for most of my writing career and taught several creative blockbusting workshops for them.
The afternoon progressed like a well-oiled machine. The queues moved very quickly through the gates, despite the huge number of guests.
The National Anthem announced the Queen’s arrival and, while the band played and everyone was upstanding, she came out onto the steps, flanked by Beefeaters.
The Beefeaters accompanied her as she walked among the crowds so, although we couldn’t see her, we knew where she was by the tips of their pikes.
The cakes were divine! After tea my friend and I had a stroll round the gardens, coming back to find staff moving among the guests with trays of lemon barley water and little tubs of ice cream.
It was a brilliant opportunity to enjoy that most favourite of writerly pastimes, people-watching. A clutch of Bishops, a pair of robed academics, a scattering of groups in African dress, a gaggle of jovial mayors.
Even the Ladies’ Lavatories were an experience, set as they were beside the big lake, and attended by a woman who checked each cubicle as it became vacant, presumably to make sure the bowl was clean and there was plenty of toilet paper, before personally ushering the next person in.
Very few people actually got to speak to the Queen yet the surprising thing, for me, was that it felt quite personal. Buckingham Palace didn’t feel like a massive public building, but somebody’s home, and the party was just in their garden.
I realise I may be sounding like a royalist, but I’m not. I’m not a republican either. I think there are good arguments both for and against having a monarchy.
But as a dreamer, it seems to me that kings and queens, princes and princesses do something quite extraordinary. They are like living archetypes, symbolising for us universal qualities, even though they may not, in their own personal lives, be any less complicated, flawed and human than the ordinary person in the street.
I was first struck by this in the outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died. It was so surprising and disproportionate, I felt we were not grieving the person she was but what she symbolised – a quality of caring kindness that seemed to be slipping away in the post-Thatcher era.
It’s the same with the royal wedding last week. We don’t know what Prince Harry and Meghan are like as individuals, whether they row and bicker behind closed doors – but thousands of people enjoyed their wedding because there they stood before a nation as the representing the romantic Hero in all of us, the perfect Princess and the possibility of lifelong romantic love.
Seeing the Queen standing there on the steps of her home, I was really aware of the strangeness of her existence. Through the doors behind her lay her domestic life, where she is just a person like the rest of us, but as soon as she steps outside she is no longer a woman; she becomes absolutely her role, as Queen.
The dreamer in me, like the writer, found the whole experience intriguing.