Nov 142013

Andrzej Ryan

There is a bearded man in a pink dress behind me. He’s swigging lemonade from a two-litre bottle. For almost the entire year, the City of London is home to thousands of dark suits. Today, it belongs to flowing fabrics and shiny buttons. Today is the Pearly Kings and Queens’ Harvest Festival.

A young girl and her grandfather watch the Chingford Morris Dancers.

“Grandad, they’re very slow aren’t they?”

“They’re old, my dear.”

“Just like you.”

A French tourist shyly asks three of the dancers if she can take a photo. As soon as they pose they’re surrounded by a crowd of eager snappers.

“Should’ve bought shares in Kodak,” the dancers joke.

A marching band bursts into “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”. The pearly king on the microphone implores the audience to sing along, but few know the words. The pearly kings and queens parade around the square. They take their time, stopping often to greet familiar faces. Among them, there’s one tiny girl, the Princess of Highgate. The survival of this tradition will rest on whether she and others of her generation get a taste for days like these.

The disbelieving crowd smiles and applauds.

One of the pearly queens is staring at the naval cadets.

“Do you think those sailors will let me have a photo with them?”

The Pandemonium Drummers thump away, their blue hats topped with light bulbs. Two towering shire horses haul a cab. Large dogs pull small milk floats. A donkey is led by a man with a smile that doesn’t stop gleaming. The morris dancers burst into a frenzy of stick striking. Mayors from across the boroughs wander past.

Next to me, a man jumps off his bicycle.

“What on earth is going on?”

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