A unique opportunity

The power of the Internet is a curious thing. During the Diamond Jubliee celebrations I'd decided to go to show my support to Her Majesty and join the crowds on the Tuesday by Westminster Abbey before her appearance on the Balcony, a grand finale to a very special few days. I hate crowds and so nipped up the side streets from Pimlico and stumbled across the Horse Guards and Band of the Blues and Royals waiting for Her Majesty to finish lunch by the Abbey and thought what a great photo opportunity.

I went home (just in time to watch the balcony scene on tv) and thought that was that. However the band saw the picture on my Flickr account and suggested I tweeted it to them their twitter account.
This in turn led to tips for best place to see them during the Trooping the Colour the following week. Fantastic I thought, some more great shots. But then I was invited to go the barracks! Amazing! Luckily for me ceremonial events happen throughout the week so I could visit on a Saturday (as I work 9-5, Mon to Fri)

And so my friend Sophie and I arrived dutifully at 9am to be met by Fraser who had made the initial contact on Flickr. The barracks are a stones throw (or one street) away from Harrods and house an amazing 240 horses and backs on to Hyde Park which is they use for exercises

The stables are on three levels with another level underneath to deal with what I can only imagine be a colossal amount of manure - no wonder the Queen's roses look so good!
The horses, as well as the soldiers have to look their best. This horse has just had it's markings chalked to make them stand out. You can also just make out where the horses details have been etched onto the hooves so you know which horse is which.
Now I think I've remembered correctly that this is Achilles, one of the drum horses. Drum horses are named after Gods whilst the regular horses are named alphabetically per season - a bit like hurricanes I suppose...
The tack rooms were amazing though the saddles, dating back many years, were built for comfort, they were incredibly hard!
And here are the stables - three floors of them with the streets of London so close by.

The Band are actually based in Windsor but come up to London on a regular basis for ceremonial duties. They weren't going to be mounted for the changing of the guard so while we waited for Fraser to get his uniform on we had  the opportunity to watch the Horseguards get ready. Now I'm used to seeing the Horseguards on Parade or on guard so it was odd to see them getting ready to go out.

In order to avoid getting their boots scuffed they are put on once they have mounted. I found this very fascinating so apologies for my obsession with feet!

Here the soldiers are preparing to mount so have the regular boots on with their uniform.
And here are their boots - they looked quite alien on their own.
And here is someone waiting for their boots to arrive
And they need a helping hand to get them on.
There was final polishing of the uniforms for both the men....
and the horses
and helmets passed up
ready for roll call followed by final inspection.
We had been invited to join the band as they travelled by coach from the Hyde Park Barracks to Wellington Barracks to start their march. I had seen a coach load of Beefeaters a few weeks ago and that thought that was surreal so being on a coach with a band in ceremonial dress was even weirder. But was a great atmosphere there was - everyone was so welcoming and that was great banter!

Annoyingly I only took one picture whilst on the coach which was a real missed opportunity.
Here the band are waiting to march from Wellington Barracks up to Clarence House to start the parade.
Their drum was amazing - depicts so much history and such vibrant colours.

And quickly they were in formation and ready for the off.

And so our visit was almost over as we watched the band leave Wellington Barracks to march up to Clarence House to start their march down the Mall. I must admit I did have to stand my ground for my view against what felts like a wave of tourists. Due to road works on the Mall (I'm assuming in preparation of the Olympics) there were few places for great views. But we stood firm and got fantastic views.
But you must admit they look great and I can confirm they sound amazing. I never thought I could get so enthusiastic about military music but listening to them in context they make the skin goose pimply and make me proud to be British!
It was a real honour and priviledge to be invited to see behind the scenes. I had a fantastic morning and hope to be able to photograph them again soon. Thanks to the Band, Barracks, Martin and especially Fraser for making us feel so welcome and giving us such unbelievable access.

Recent cards

As mentioned before I have been taking a lot of pictures for both Brixton Market and of the Band of Blues and Royals my creative output has been a little sparse. However I've made the following cards recently:

 In no particular order a card for my mum's birthday
 My line manager Judy's birthday card
 My friend Marcus' birthday card (he loves Terry Prachett)

 And finally my dad's Father's day card inspired by Helen Foers' StoreyStore who's work is amazing

Trooping the Colour

The Queen celebrated her State birthday yesterday with the Trooping the Colour and as I enjoyed taking photos at Westminster Abbey at the start of the month I decided to go.

I'd put some of photos from outside the Abbey on Flickr and was contacted by someone in the Blues and Royals Band who really liked them so I decided to try and get some insider information of where the best vantage point would be (as I also really hate crowds which doesn't help on these sorts of occasions!). Anyway he suggested that I watch them come out of the Barracks and follow them to Canada Gate which is where they were due to wait to escort the Queen to Horseguards Parade. And what a fabulous tip! Me and a handful of people had great views of hundreds of horses come out for the start of the march to Buckingham Palace. No crowds! My idea of heaven

The noise of the hooves on the road, clattering of armour! Drums and trumpets was awe inspiring.

Of course the Blues and Royals Band came out first and I was so caught up with watching all regiments go by I realised I had to try and catch them up. Now I'm not the fittest of people, plus was wearing platform trainers to give me extra height in a crowd but not the best footwear to run down the horse path in Hyde Park (think Spice Girls c.1997!). I must have looked a sight all sweaty, running then stopping to take a shot then running again. But you will be glad to hear I caught up with the front ( though I must admit I surprised myself).

To see them ride and play was amazing. You take it for granted when you hear or see them but think about it. How hard must that be! And they are always in perfect alignment.

There was a brief wait at Canada Gate which meant more shots - a sitting target is easier to snap. I was quite surprised how easy it was to move around to get different angles despite the crowds.

I decided before I left home to make the decision whether to stay for the whole event or go after they had escorted the Queen to Horseguards Parade. However given how've crowds weren't to bad I decided to try and chance it. And I was lucky enough to find a spot at the front of the barrier opposite Clarence House. Get in!

Birds eye view of the band coming down the Mall

 I believe these drums are solid silver! Can you imagine, luckily there were enough policeman and soldiers to make sure no one nicked them! Gave great reflections

 And to see the wonderful Kate
And of course the Queen. So good to see the Duke back by her side though shame they were in a closed carriage ( though sensible given the Duke had just come out of hospital). If I can do as much as either of them can at their age I'd be happy!

  Turns out that William and Charles were there, just hidden under a bearskin hats and barely recognisable. I did spot Anne and I can show this picture without asking permission from the Palace! (see my post What I did at Work).

Then of course soldier marching after soldier. It was great to see and I was so glad I waited!

I did pass on seeing them on the balcony - just look at all those people!
However I did see the Red Arrows whilst on a bus going down the Strand which was an added bonus.

All in all an extraordinary day! After tweeting the pics to the Band I was asked if I was free to visit the Barrcks. Unfortunately I wasnt free on the suggested day but hopefully we can sort something out. Watch this space. In the meantime watch out for the Band on State Occassions. They do a wonderful job and I can't imagine how hard it is to play, ride and be in formation with everyone else! And the horses are truly exceptional, especially Archillies and Mercury the two shires with the massive drums which are far from quiet!

Only downside to my day is that OH is a bit of a Republican and so wasn't at all pleased to hear about my day. Ah well - you can't win them all!

Happy Birthday your Majesty!

A wander through the city

OH and I went on yet another wander through the City of London, this time without a guide book just wandering around which was great! No pressure on making sure you're going the right way though does mean you miss out on some of the history. Plus I had hoped to go past St Paul's but only realised when I got home that we had missed this out!

I've been experimenting a lot with black and white at the moment. Certainly very hand when the weather is so dull and grey!
Still despite the weather people were still sitting out and relaxing at the base of the Monument.
I think this column had recently been restored - there was a distinct smell of stone and plaster and it positively glistened!
Everywhere you go in the City you can't avoid the amazing reflections in the new modern building
This was a photo of rubbish through a window in a winding alley - I love the spooky feel of the final image!
I think someone needs to clean these windows.... this was one of many words of wisdom
I love the hundreds of alleys you find linking streets and squares in a great medieval jumble. 
These are the cobbles from Mitre Square - one of the sights of Jack the Rippers murder's and one of the few places with original cobbles - so yes JR may well have walked over these very cobbles!
And opposite is a very atmospheric alley with lots of old fashioned street lights 
And finally a pair of the little and large phone boxes in Smithfields Markets. One day OH and I will be organised and do this walk during the day when I think there will be a completely different atmosphere. However I love wandering through these streets soaking up the noises and smells of London. I don't think it's something we will ever tire of!