And so to London, my home for 16 years but now more of an old acquaintance, good to see now and again but not too often. The reason for yesterday’s visit was to collect an award as part of a team of volunteers, but more on that later. Having caught an early train from Leamington, I was in London by half past eight for a meeting which, hopefully, will bring me some work in the future. Keen to make sure I was on time for the meeting, I made my way along the platform at Marylebone station, repeatedly colliding with the backs of commuters who were clearly unable to walk without simultaneously studying their smartphones. It’s quite easy – one foot in front of the other works for me without the need to follow instructions.
A short underground journey on a hideously overcrowded train reminded me why I was keen to leave London ten years ago. There’s much to enjoy about life there and then there’s the commuting.
I’m pleased to say my meeting went well and so it was on to the awards ceremony at St James’ Palace. Warwickshire’s voluntary campaign team, of which I’m a member, had won the Outstanding Contribution category at the Alzheimer’s Society’s People Awards for 2013. I’m sure no-one volunteers for a charity with the expectation or even hope of a winning anything but the recognition means a lot. Hearing the citations for other winners was inspiring, further evidence of the enormous amount of work going on at all levels to make life better for people with dementia. One member of our team, Tony, was a double winner as he’d claimed an individual gong too so it was a day to feel proud of what we’ve achieved in Warwickshire alone. Proud but also painfully aware of how much there is still to do.
The awards were hosted by Sir Michael Parkinson and presented by HRH Princess Alexandra, in whose home we were sitting. For the record, St James’ Palace was the main residence of the monarch until Queen Victoria decided to move into the next street in 1837. Since then, the queen or king has lived at Buckingham Palace but St James’ does remain the official residence of the Sovereign and I think is the oldest royal residence. As someone who loves a sneaky peak around old buildings, I popped my head around a few doorways. The palace isn’t open to the public so it was a rare treat. Nice pictures, by the way.
After the presentation, we had an official photograph taken with HRH and Sir Parky. No-one would ever describe me as a staunch royalist but I had done a little homework and found out that Princess Alexandra was born around a month before Mum and that her two children were born in the same years as my sister and I. I think the similarities in the offspring probably end there. She was also widowed a year after Mum. With every due respect to Mum’s care home, their current circumstances are somewhat different. I hadn’t expected to speak to our host but she turned to me as the photographer finished and asked me what I did. Isn’t the standard royal question? It’s not a question I’m sure how to answer these days but I talked a little about Mum and about how much raising awareness about dementia means to me. In doing so, I delayed the next photograph, to the consternation of a royal official who gave me a somewhat stern look. It’s not my fault, mate. My wife asked me later whether I’d bowed? Was I supposed to? Well, I didn’t. It was actually the second time I’d met Princess Alexandra because, for some reason lost in the mists of time, she opened a new building for BBC Radio Kent when I worked there in the 80s. We talked on that occasion too but I stopped short of asking her if she remembered me. I’m pretty sure she asked me what I did on that occasion as well.
Afterwards, it was high tea – tiny cucumbers sandwiches (with the crusts removed, natch) and the smallest fairy cakes imaginable. Oh, and an engraved paperweight. I’ll tell Mum all about the day when I see her later. A few years ago, she’d have been curious to hear all the details and I hope my account means something to her today. Yesterday, as so often, was all about Mum for me.
Some members of the Warwickshire Campaign Team, celebrating our award.