Jun 072012
 

I am in the process of renewing my permanent residency in the United States. Many people have asked me why I did not opt for US citizenship instead. I told them I was not interested and events in London celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee explain why.

When I watched on Tuesday morning CNN’s coverage of the carriage procession through London, the scenes that played out on my TV screen brought a lump to my throat. The Queen with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in the 1902 State Landau, escorted by the Household Cavalry – Blues and Royals to the front, Life Guards to the rear — was a sight uniquely British and filled me with pride.

The balcony scene at Buckingham Palace, with the RAF flypast, the Feu de Joie by The Guards and the three cheers for Her Majesty sent shivers down my spine. Why? Because I am British and proud to be so.

At the end of the Diamond Jubilee concert, ABC broadcast the highlights on Tuesday evening, Prince Charles expressed the sentiments of the nation. He said that the Queen had made us proud to be British and I totally agree.

The crowning glory to the concert was one of the best renditions of God Save The Queen I have ever witnessed, even if few people knew the words of the second verse, followed by a truly spectacular firework display. The fireworks were accompanied by extracts from Handel’s Coronation Anthem — Zadok The Priest; Holst’s Jupiter/I Vow To Thee My Country; Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, more popularly known as Land of Hope And Glory; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The Holst and Elgar pieces, capturing the essence of Britain and what it means to be British, stirred my soul and tugged at my heart strings.

From these distant shores, it is easy to see that monarchy is the glue that holds the nation together. The Queen has provided constancy throughout my lifetime. I was born a few days after the Queen’s Coronation on June 2, 1953. While Presidents of the United States and British Prime Ministers have come and gone, the Queen has remained in place as head of state, aloof from the mire of politics.

In some ways the Queen is the granny to the nation, while the Prime Minister is the parent. And when the parent does things that the nation dislikes, granny is always there to offer comfort and solace. She never passes judgement on the policies and actions of political leaders or tries to undermine their authority. She simply helps to make the nation feel good about itself.

To become a US citizen, I would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the American flag. I simply could not bring myself to turn my back on Britain’s pomp and circumstance; propriety and decorum. In swearing such an oath, I would be betraying my heritage, my loyalty to Britain and all she stands for. No thanks.

As Ronald Searle, the creator of the St Trinian’s cartoons, once said:

You can’t simply put on a nationality like a jacket. I remain extremely English whatever happens.

And the same goes for me. I will stick with my permanent resident status and continue to come under the auspices of Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State.

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Apr 062011
 

Other London churches may be greater and grander but for me St Martin-in-the-Fields offers splendour on a more manageable scale. The name itself evokes visions of a London where the countryside was just a stone’s throw away from the centre of the city.

The front entrance of the church. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The present church was designed by James Gibbs. Work started in 1772 and the building was completed in 1722. Recently, the church has undergone a £36-million facelift by Eric Parry Architects, which won a Europa Nostra Award.

Part of the facelift turned the crypt into a bistro, a highly imaginative use of space and exposing the original brickwork lends considerable character, as do the headstones that form the floor.

The crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The church also plays host to musical concerts — evening concerts by candlelight, free lunchtime concerts and also jazz concerts in the crypt.

I was lucky enough to attend an evening concert during my trip to London.  The Belmont Ensemble of London, conductor Peter G Dyson, played works by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. With the strains of Baroque music filling the church’s opulent interior, it was not difficult to imagine being among London society of the 18th century, the women with their low-cut gowns, the men resplendent in their wigs and finery.

Ornate decor of St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The concert, and the magnificient setting, will live long in my memory, an experience to be treasured. My only regret was not to have been able to catch a concert featuring a choral work, such as the one on May 7, when The English Chamber Choir will perform Mozart’s Requiem.

That’s something to look forward to on my next trip.

Chancel window St Martin-in-the-Fields. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.