'No, presents, gifts, you know, things people have given to the Queen.'
'Oh, you mean diamond tiaras from the Sultan of Brunei and golden boomerangs.'
'I suppose so,' I said, hoping to have a nice day trip to escape London's heat, see a not too taxing exhibition, and have a drink by the river.
We went to Windsor.
Her Majesty has kindly put on display a select choice of the many gifts she has been showered with during her reign. She has put them in a small room in the Windsor Castle mews and charges pounds 1.70 for the privilege of seeing them (20p concession for OAPS, full price for unemployed).
These are not the gifts which are beautiful, rare or even interesting, but the kind we get at Christmas and either bin, take to Oxfam, or keep in a cupboard until the donor pays a visit.
The first item that greets you is a huge home-made card from some children who obviously had a bit of trouble spelling the word accession (as in on the anniversary of your . . . ) The first attempt is Tippexed out and looks as though it might originally have read: 'On the anniversary of your assassination.' A similar hidden theme runs throughout.
The people of Australia have given a driftwood sculpture, a painted plate of Sydney Opera House, a very bad painting of same by someone called Les Williams (should it have read Les Patterson?), and a Wedgwood urn, just the right size for someone's ashes.
A set of cups and saucers in silver filigree was presented by The Sudanese Friendship Society, obviously on one of its less friendly days, as, being filigree, anything poured into them would pour straight out.
'Is this it?' said my friend.
'I suppose so,' I said, peering into the glass display case in disbelief.
Many of the gifts seem familiar, as though they had been sent for through those adverts in the News of the World magazine:
Frequently the donors seem more exotic than their presents: Sir Wamp Wan of Papua New Guinea, the Kathmandu City Panchayat, the people of Manitoba, King Sabhuza of Swaziland, Chairman Hua Guofeng of China, the Traditional National AA Centre of Algeria (is that Automobile Association or Alcoholics Anonymous?), the Beretitenti of Kiribabi, the Hertfordshire Round Table (who, in fact, gave her an oblong table that converts into a seat and is carved with the words 'Rest and Be Thankful'. Possibly a discreet call for abdication?)
The Duke of Edinburgh has received a collection of wonderfully butch items. I yearn for the day when he strides down the aisle at his youngest son's wedding in those cowboy boots (inlaid black leather with a map of Texas in red, white and blue emblazoned across the front, and, in gold, 'Prince' up one leg and 'Philip' up the other), one of the many sets of spurs glinting at his heels, the giant white Mexican sombrero (embroidered with eagles) on his head, a jewelled sword from Crown Prince Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia dangling from his waist, a red and white stock whip in one hand and a decorated seemingly home-made gun from Benazir Bhutto in the other.
Maybe, now that Buckingham Palace is open to the public, the brass bedside lights in the shape of dragons, each with a red lightbulb protruding from its mouth, should be placed either side of the royal bed. No doubt space could be found somewhere for the painting of a ship in a frame of pink, purple and white shells with 'Central Andros Welcomes The Queen' picked out in pink coral. I'm not sure whether they could make use of the Ekpe Masquerade figure from Nigeria. This is a black knitted thing which looks like an IRA terrorist wearing a red pompom necklace, with a few pigeon feathers stuck through its balaclava.
'Everything looks as though it's been stolen from Vera Duckworth's sitting-room,' said my friend. 'I'm going outside for a smoke.'
I gave a quick glance at the case full of ornamental coach and horses in plastic, brass, wood, silver and glass (especially good as the whole thing is in a bottle) before joining him.
'Let's eat,' I said.
At a tea shop we were handed a menu with the heading: 'The Jacket Potato Collection'.
'This town is surreal,' he said as we walked back to the station from tne river. At which point two terrifying large men ran past us clutching their jackets which were bulging with car radios and tourists' handbags.
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