Ooooh! I can’t wait for Saturday afternoon ... sport
That kiss gave us a glimpse of something about the world we didn’t understand, but maybe one day would
Do you know what I’ll be doing on Saturday afternoon? I won’t be watching the royal wedding, that’s what I won’t be doing. Instead I’ll be sitting on stage with Carlos Amato and Thando Manana and Nikolaos Kirkinis at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, and we’ll be sharing a few beers and talking about South African sport, which seems to me to be just about the best thing to be doing during a royal wedding. I will have flown a long way to be at Franschhoek this year, but I would fly twice as long again to not watch a royal wedding.
Royal weddings are not my thing. I am no fan of royalty and no fan of weddings. One of them is an outdated, pointless, expensive, narcissistic institution whose mysterious longevity is underpinned by no logic that I can see, and so is the other one.Of course, I didn’t always feel quite this way. I watched the first royal wedding with rapt enough attention. I say the first, although I assume there were royal weddings before Charles married Diana in 1981. It’s just that none of them mattered, because they weren’t on TV, and they weren’t happening in the middle of a schoolday, and during none of those weddings did Mrs Kincaid bring her TV into class so that we could watch it.
Thinking back on it, it seems a little strange that the wedding was at 11.30am on a Wednesday. Who gets married on a weekday? Were they a little lax in doing the organising and discovered too late that St Paul’s was booked for Saturday? Was there a big cricket Test match starting on Friday that Charles didn’t want to miss? Did they get a discount weekday rate? Whatever the reason, it was all good news for us. Mrs Kincaid’s TV was a big square Sony Trinitron with that fake wooden paneling to make it look like a piece of furniture. Wayne Truter and I carried it up from her car to the classroom, and in retrospect we should have let Shelly Whitfield help us when she offered, because we were two small and spindly boys trying to stagger up three flights of stairs carrying something that weighed the same as a fridge containing a dead body.We were doing all right until the second flight, and then it slipped out of Wayne Truter’s hands. Wayne Truter was a nervy, sweaty boy with a weak chin, and his hands were always a bit wet at the best of times, and I feel the responsibility became too much for him. His version of it is slightly different – ie that I was the one who dropped it – but who are you going to believe? Me or a kid with sweaty hands? There didn’t seem to be any obvious external damage, so I made Wayne Truter dry off his palms on his shorts and we bent to our task and made it into class like a couple of camels carrying an infinite number of straws. The whole class then sat on the floor and watched through the day as the colours on the screen seemed to swirl and overflow their boundaries. The wedding became more and more psychedelic as more and more of whatever internal damage we’d done to the tube manifested itself in the display. To this day I’m not quite sure if Diana’s dress was white, as history seems to insist, or in fact the hedgerow green merging with Phoenician purple to which our eyes bore solemn testimony.The wedding itself was as tedious as the one on Saturday is going to be, all vile pomp and dismal circumstance, but we felt a duty to pretend to be riveted in our absorption of this moment of history, lest Mrs Kincaid switch it off and return us to our lessons. The most tedious part of all was when Dame Kiri te Kanawa stood up to sing some opera and the screen froze because of the British Actors Equity boycott, which didn’t allow South Africans to partake of the art and culture that the South African government didn’t want us to partake of either. Instead of watching her sing some opera we watched a frozen screen and heard a recording of someone else singing some opera. It seems astonishing now to reflect that despite this knife to the heart of the apartheid state, the National Party still managed to doggedly totter on for another 10 years.
Finally the bell rang for the end of school and the other kids raced off to freedom, but my best friend Daryl and I stayed where we were, watching with Mrs Kincaid. We weren’t leaving till we’d seen the kiss. We’d been told for months that this was a beautiful, romantic occasion, a modern fairy story, and we had seen no evidence of it yet. We’d seen choirs and stiff shirts and archbishops and top hats and people walking slowly up the aisle. It had seemed as heart-slowing and heavy as a Sunday morning in church, and something in our nine-year-old hearts was crying out for relief, for some heartening splash of the red blood and passion that you’re supposed to find in fairy stories.
Oh, how we waited. We waited for them to leave the cathedral, for the procession in the carriage through the endless waving fools. We waited for them to disappear into the palace, we waited while commentators filled airtime. We waited for the kiss.
It’s funny how memories work. I remember that afternoon sitting with Daryl and Mrs Kincaid, waiting for the kiss. I remember so many small details of that day, what it looked like, what it felt like, how I felt, but until a few minutes ago, when I worked it out by counting on my fingers, I had completely forgotten that my dad had died just a week or so earlier.
When the kiss finally happened it was so brief and so uncomfortable, like two llamas playing that party game where you have to pass an orange to the person next to you using only your necks. Daryl and I walked home after it was over and we didn’t have the words for it then but we both felt as though we’d had a glimpse of something about the world that no one else had seen, something that we didn’t understand then, but maybe one day when we grew up we would.