Chester woke up to the news that Councillors Sam Dixon (service and Stuart Parker has ben awarded MBEs in the Queen’s birthday honours list. Ex council leader Dixon was decorated for political service, and Cllr Parker for services to local government. Both worked together to champion the development of Storyhouse. Tributes from their opposing political sides appear on twitter, hopefully setting up the day’s mood of reconciliation and saying thanks.
The city is busy in the morning on the first of the additional bank holidays. The adult amusement arcade on Frodsham street decorated with a balloon arch of red white and blue. Meanwhile Flat Earth believer Vic Button sets up his conspiracy trolley on Foregate street, with copies of The Light newspaper offering an “alternative to the mainstream media” . Some dumb graffiti on the vinyls covering the old Debenhams, now empty for over a year, declares “Ace P is a shithead” somehow unseen by council cleaning teams for months. But there is an anticipation in the air as the city bustles.
At the Cross, busker Dave Southern and I chat at a regular meeting place as he prepares for a day behind the Mr Peewee the drumming puppet mask. No one seems to know about the parade scheduled for 3,30 with no prior details being released in advance. I am expecting a giant queen, music and community performers. “This is Chester mate, I didn’t even know there was a parade on!” says someone else. The Town Crier David Mitchell arrives in advance of his midday proclamation and soon attracts the attention of many passing tourists as they queue to get a photo with the long serving city servant.
The new Lord Mayor Cllr John Leather arrives and mingles with the happy crowds. I ask him about the parade , he tells me that it is a military parade and the route isn’t being published in advance. “Are you local?” he asks me, unaware of my role in Chester. I resit the urge to say “Don’t you know who I am?” and smile to myself, knowing that I’ll soon be taking photos of him at city events. More crowds gather including a man in a Linton travel tavern T shirt. The Crier’s address draws a large crowd including many international visitors.
“We are celebrating the Queens platinum jubilee. Elizabeth the second of that name , our beloved sovereign and head of the commonwealth for 70 years . How apt that this should be the platinum anniversary of her succession. Platinum the most rare of metals, more precious even than gold. and so it is in honour of this unique occasion that beacons will be lit throughout the United Kingdom. In proclaiming this tribute to HM, we are one nation and one commonwealth. God save the Queen”
With a 3 hour wait until the parade I bimble around town for a while followed by a short break in Storyhouse. The buskers in Town Hall square in front of the apparently doomed Forum shopping centre have misjudged the mood with morose tunes from Les Miserables, empty chairs and anthems of death and misery. There is a high security presence in the city centre, with taped up bins and the Cathedral grounds closed for a jubilee service including a host of VIP guests. Crowds line up along St Werburgh street and around the town hall with a raised platform adorned with a large union flag. The music from the service plays through speakers, “Land of Hope and Glory” booming out optimistically. Then the Cathedral doors open and attendees of the service emerge. Phil Redmond, fresh from rejecting Wrexham’s city of culture bid and creating Hollyoaks 27 years ago is one of the first to emerge along with his wife Lady Redmond, the Lord- Lieutenant of Cheshire. I am unware of the Lord- Lieutenants role, but a later google reveals it involves representing The Queen in armed forces related duties. High ranking clergy, The Duke of Westminster ,Cheshire MPs, judges, members of the council file out, with others including Police Commissioner John Dwyer, who has probably forgotten about the time I asked who his favourite Batman was.
The military parade is a great spectacle, people clap as the soldiers pass by. I tweet throughout the event and soon it becomes clear that non everyone is in favour of the day’s events. The casual nasty remarks, and one tweeter sending me the same meme NINE times in response to coverage feels sour. But then again many people will be feeling sour given the problems the country currently faces. The Queen’s message encourages people to look towards the future with “confidence and enthusiasm”, which will certainly he tough for the hard core convinced Chester is on its last legs and things were actually better 70 glorious years ago. So there is a debate and a tension, which talk of unity only papers over: But do the Soldiers, dedicated to their country and prepared to die for their country, the scouts the sea cadets and Cheshire Fire and Rescue cadets deserve the bizarre commentary? No they don’t. Back in the real world away from social media, everyone watching enjoys the display of civic pride.
The evenings event kick off at 920 with a gathering in a rainy Town Hall square. Night is falling fast the Town Hall lit up in red white and blue and Matt Baker of Theatre in the Quarter, Chester Mystery Plays etc leads the festivities alongside the Jubilee choir. “It’s a very short event which is probably a good thing because of the rain, but the rain isn’t going to stop us!” he says before launching into a quick rendition of Singing in the Rain. City of Chester Brass Band , in their second appearance of the day are first to perform.
Mayor Leather , speaks from the stairs : ” Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, Romans.. welcome to the lighting of our jubilee beacon. I’m grateful for the support this evening from the lord Lieutenant of Chester, Lady Alexis Redmond, Phil Redmond. The chairman of Cheshire west council Bob Rudd, Bishop Mark. and Dean Tim of the Cathedral. We recognise that beacons will be designed differently in the future involving less heat and less emissions, but we hope that between us we have planted enough trees under the Queen’s Green Canopy scheme to compensate for tonight’s emissions.”
The highlight of the event was a quick performance of the Lambeth Walk, again led by Baker, which bought some laughter and fun as the rain continued to drizzle. The song features in Chester Operatic Society’s forthcoming production of “Me and My Girl” at Storyhouse.
Next up is a performance of a new Jubilee anthem, the centrepiece of Theatre in the Quarters “Our Jubilee” film. Its moving positive lyrics leave a thoughtful impression on me as I stand with all of my family for the first time in ages alongside other friends and allies. “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” sing the children of the chorus. Even my cynicism and world weariness cracks a little. Perhaps if people work together, if Chester listens to itself , problems can actually be overcome ?
After further musical performances including a bagpiper and another new song “A life lived with Grace”- which champions the Queen for her many decades of service, it is time for the beacon to be lit. The troops from Chester Roman Tours arrive to pass the flaming torch to Mayor Leather.
Some disapprovingly silent fireworks follow and a Brass rendition of the National Anthem plays as the flames of the gas cannister fuelled beacon dance away.
For that brief period in Town Hall square, no matter how divided the country was and how many sniping comments had to be deleted people did come together and Chester was united. Well done to everyone involved in organising the event which was definitely one for the history books or facebook nostalgia groups.