18 Sep Waiting For The Queen
Published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 3.10.22
There is a photo I love of the Queen’s visit to New Zealand in 1954. The Queen is not in the photo. It is a picture of my parents waiting to see her outside the Wellington Town Hall. This was before they were married, before they were even engaged. You can look at this photo and know without being told that they are courting. You’d be hard pressed to find a two pairs of eyes with more sparkle…
John and Donna must have arrived early – there is only one person visible behind them on the temporary seating which would be crowded soon. My mother is 19, cute as a button, short black hair in waves, sophisticated earrings, a good coat (even in January the Wellington wind can be chilly), and a smile definitely not just for the photo, though she knows the camera is there because she is looking right into the lens.
My father is 24, and dressed immaculately in a double-breasted suit with a perfectly knotted tie – doubtless silk since at this point he is working for the Sander Tie Company and suits, shirts and silk ties are things he takes very seriously, and would continue to for the rest of his life. Even in this black and white photo you can tell his eyes are blue. His shoulder is touching my mother’s and she is leaning into him a little. They are both eating plums which I know are in a paper bag on her lap out of frame because she would tell me that each time I pulled this picture out of the box of family photos when I was growing up and we had those sorts of afternoons.
The Queen and Prince Philip had spent Christmas 1953 and the New Year in New Zealand, travelling to 46 towns and cities, visiting Waitangi, and opening Parliament in January which is probably when my parents waited for them with their plums.
Elizabeth was 27 years old and had been Queen only a short time – a job she had not expected, but which became hers after the abdication of her uncle and the early death of her father. When they talked about her – my grandmother, my great-aunt and my mother – they spoke admiringly of the way she had risen to the occasion. This aspect of life – playing the hand you are dealt with grace – was not unknown to these women either.
My parents would see the Queen again in 1974, this time up close. To thank them for their voluntary work when New Zealand hosted the Commonwealth Games there was an invitation to a royal garden party. No actual introductions were made but it was reported the fare was fancier than plums out of a paper bag.
I have a King George V Coronation mug from 1911, given to my grandmother in Oldham – every kid got one filled with sweets – and there’s another celebrating his Sliver Jubilee 25 years later. That’s it for royal memorabilia, though I have vivid recall of a book my grandmother gave me about the Royal Family – colour photographs of golden carriages and crowns, with Charles and Anne as children.
Later, my mother and I would become Team Diana, and later still would watch “The Crown” as though it were a documentary, and discuss the international politics and family dynamics, and I loved these spirited chats near the end of my mother’s life.
Still now, my favourite photo of my parents is the moment they are waiting for the Queen, eating plums.