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Meeting a real, regular Royal

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In his weekly Ward's World column, John Ward talks about an expected Royal visit...

As the ozone-friendly dust settles on the 2021 COP 26 meeting (can’t recall the last 25 but I gather there are others of the same opinion) in Glasgow on climate change, saving this and that, that attracted many important people from all over the world who gave up their time unselfishly to be there for the big beano.

The figures so far are a bit sketchy as to how many private jets, limousines, helicopters, other mundane vehicles that were used to the get partygoers there, or how they were powered by electricity, hybrid, solar, gas or steam powered but those with the knowledge suggest this to be a mere trifling point but any who arrived there by bicycle or on roller skates seems to be classified information.

John Ward (53010433)
John Ward (53010433)

In the meanwhile, give or take the odd millionaire or two, blasting off in manned rocket flights into space for basic ‘joy rides’ seems to be perfectly acceptable relating to carbon footprint, using resources up etc but the expression or terminology is called ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ apparently plus occasional space explorations to Mars etc is but a mere trifle.

As Sgt Wilson, of the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon as featured in the ‘Dad’s Army’ sit-com might have said: “Do you think that’s awfully wise?”

The Queen had the right idea and used the internet, no waste, no carbon footprint.

Now not so far off in the silliness stakes as those mentioned above, on a different lower scale some years ago when I used to travel to work by train from Wellingborough to Kettering as I worked as a projectionist at the Savoy cinema, now sadly gone.

I arrived as per the norm one Monday morning, got my usual return ticket but saw there was feverish activity out on the platforms as both station staff members and maintenance people were on the station giving the edges of the platforms, inanimate objects or just about anything else that looked grubby, a lick of fresh paint.

There was a frivolous suggestion or two that were overheard from other travellers that some of the station staff may have felt a bit missed out there with regard to the inanimate objects.

At the time the edges of the platforms, either side of the double track, were being covered in white paint but not so much as a ‘wet paint’ warning sign to be seen, just the two words chalked on the paving slabs of the platform – perhaps the health and safety (as in H & S – Hinder and Stifle) brigade of today would have had heart failure with possible protests to bring back corporal punishment for such outrages.

This was way before the ‘day-glo’ outfits, gloves, ear defenders, oxygen bottles and goggles of today’s world as they just wore overalls or whatever old clothing they had to hand– or as it was referred to by staff and travellers alike, their usual uniform.

On inquiring as to why the sudden rushing and tearing about as nothing had been mentioned beforehand, I was told in a ‘hush-hush’ voice that ‘Royalty was coming in the next day or two’ but as to who or when it would be was on a ‘need to know’ basis plus ‘official secrets and all that’ was inferred with a wink.

When I say ‘nothing had been mentioned’ as I was a regular commuter after a little while I was looked upon as being ‘one of the gang’ in a manner of speaking as I was on first name terms with most on the early morning shift, or rota, of the station staff.

I don’t think such ‘one to one’ familiarity does/would exist today between staff and travellers but I could be wrong as it was a much friendlier atmosphere back then as some staff asked me what films we were showing that coming week etc and in return I would ask them if any of their trains were ‘running on time’ but in most cases the usual reply was: ‘No, only on the rails!’ (boom, boom).

That human interaction – you just can’t beat it.

Oddly, when I arrived in Kettering a short while later as usual, there were no signs of any painting, dusting or cleaning up of any description as it was just a normal Monday it appeared but bearing in mind I was told it was a ‘hush-hush’ matter I could hardly ask about the Royal train going or expected there any day thereafter. Tuesday came as I went, even if the supposed/anticipated Royal train didn’t, to work as usual but while at the station nothing was mentioned relating to it although apart from a porter who said: ‘Some silly devil got some paint on his coat as he was waiting for the London train – we did chalk ‘wet paint’ down on the slabs you know’.

I learnt that this Royalty event of sorts did happen in the blink of an eye, on the Wednesday as in my usual day off, so I missed all the excitement but it seems the station staff did as well judging by the comments gleaned from them on the Thursday as many felt a bit peeved but more so after doing their artistic brush work on the platforms mere days before in readiness.

A ‘Royal train’ did indeed pass through at a certain speed – as in fast or nipping on a bit – but it didn’t stop on its way travelling on up north somewhere for an engagement but I was reliably informed that despite the new paintwork and dusting that had taken place, Jack and Mick, two of the porters, stood to attention on Platform Two, shouldered their brooms and then saluted as the train sped through.

Jean, the lady who served in the nearby café, had taken her autograph book in anticipation of ‘getting a Royal person’s autograph in me book – any of ’em would do’, the Queen’s would be nice though’ to go alongside the likes of Frankie Vaughan, Tommy Steel (both entertainers) and (later Sir) Roger Bannister the sprinter who broke the four minute mile record on the other pages in her autograph book collected at various events she had attended, so she was quite miffed as well at not ‘meeting a real, regular Royal’.

After all these years I feel that my disclosing this information now might not infringe any section of the Official Secrets Act - hopefully.

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