Defensive maneuvers at Changing of the Guard

Anglotopia Day 22 – Get me to the palace on time

One can’t visit London without witnessing the colorful, entertaining, and pageantry of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

And, on this particularly grey Monday morning, that was the thought of every tourist in London.

I thought Monday would be safer say, than a weekend, but my word, by ten o’clock (the official guard change happens daily in the summer at 11:30 am), it was already too late to find a spot directly in front of the palace’s gates. Instead, I got out at Trafalgar Square, navigated along The Mall and St. James’s Park, and eventually found myself at the gates, negotiating for a spot with all the umbrellas and damn selfie sticks.

I ended up across from the gates at the Victoria Memorial fountain, getting jostled and watching the hapless people try to stop in traffic lanes to take photographs as the horse guards neared. The mounted policemen and women shooed them off constantly, as if, hello, it’s obvious that people aren’t meant to be doing that as others were chased off … too?

The most important thing is to stand your ground there, as people will try to push and shove you around to get a better spot for themselves – especially when the crowds are high. But, having lived in the queue-less and every-man-for-himself bustle of Shanghai and being quite attuned to its seemingly lawless Metro boarding/departing procedures, I knew to stand close and have elbows out to protect personal space. It’s amazing how those coping mechanisms come back when I’m faced with large, teeming crowds. Besides, no massive crowd can compare to the People’s Park Metro stop at 5 PM on a work day. If I can survive that, then, nothing can faze me, including tourists in London.

I planted my feet and took pictures as the guards walked up and around the fountain, music filling the air. I kept getting an elbow into my back, even getting hit on the shoulder a few times by this person behind me who kept shoving forward. I’m not sure where he wanted me to go as it was packed tightly. However, after one too many shoves and elbows, I turned my head turning slowly as if in The Exorcist film, and leveled him with an intense teacher-glare, arching one eyebrow up, and stopped that behavior cold. These are the times when I’m glad I practice this look on a semi-daily basis.

The view from the fountain was a really good one, despite not being able to see what was happening directly inside of the gates. It was a little – a very little – less crowded than on the other sides of the streets. The guards, in various waves, passed by, and it was easy to get some decent photographs of them. I could also hear the music well enough, especially as they played classics like “Thriller” and “Uptown Girl” – all rather fun and uplifting compared against the grey skies threatening rain. I thought for sure we were going to end up drenched.

Overall, the ceremony takes about an hour to complete, and it’s worth sticking around for the whole thing, as crowds started to thin out about halfway through the ceremony. By the end, it was much easier to move around and leave the area as the streets were reopened and foot traffic less restricted by the police.

I was certainly glad to see the Changing of the Guard, as it is a really awesome sight, but it did require a good bit of patience and tongue-biting. After constant travel for the last three weeks, I knew I was getting peopled-out and not as able to handle loud, jostling, and occasionally rude, tourists. I know, I know – I was a tourist as well, and I’m sure along the way, I stepped on toes and accidentally stepped into someone’s picture. However, apologies are nice, as is a little consideration for the many others around you. I tried to apologize as I could, perhaps missing a few, but manners – and my word, we’re in England, home of manners – go a long way to accomplishing a lot, I find. A simple “please” or “sorry” changed a lot of “no’s” or potentially angry scenarios very quickly.

The family standing near me would alternate with me on taking pictures, so that I didn’t get in their way with my camera held above my head, and they could get decent pictures as well. Then I tried to hold up their young daughter so she could see better. It was nice. We can help each other out. It’s a simple thing.

So here is my travel PSA: In this era of “the perfect shot” or the horrible “perfect selfie”, I’m finding that even being courteous is going out the window. I don’t mind waiting for you to take a picture – plenty of people have been kind enough to me without walking into it – but when you’re pursing your lips and trying to get the right angle and messing with your hair to make it look wind-blown for an inordinate amount of time, people get annoyed. We all want good pictures – but really, nobody really thinks that your selfie was incredibly spontaneous and magically perfect.

As a person who is absolute crap at selfies, I prefer to photograph my subject without me in it, especially when I’m traveling by myself. That solves a lot of the posing issues. Most of the time, you can get a good shot without holding up others for long.

Anyway, help each other out, be polite, have some self-awareness and social-awareness, realize that many people around you also want to see the same thing, capture it as well – that goes a long way to enjoying thing like Changing of the Guard or any other event where there are tons of people about.

Nobody should be that tourist who pisses off everyone around them.

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