As I strode forth from Nix towers sporting my Guinness hat, a snooty lady said, “You’ve missed it! St Patrick’s day was yesterday. It’s all over now.”
“Not so!” said I, the full power of the blog behind me. “There’s a massive parade and concert going on in Trafalgar Square today”.
”Oh,” said snooty lady, visibly less impressed with my London knowledge than I was. Nevertheless, discretion being the better part of valour, I took my Guinness shamrock hat off for the journey to the big parade.
We’ve been to Trafalgar square twice now on our voyage of discovery through the thousand things (https://1000thingsinlondon.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/thing-201-celebrate-eid-and-hippety-hoppety-in-trafalgar-square/ and https://1000thingsinlondon.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/thing-481-see-the-christmas-tree-in-trafalgar-square-being-switched-on/). Each time we’ve been there’s been an escalation in scale and professionalism. As usual, I arrived later than I intended at Trafalgar Square. Some U2-esque popular beat combo was playing, and after being frisked for hooch, I strode forth to check out the stalls. Prime among these was the Irish tat stand: I was relieved spouse had found me a Guinness hat to wear or I would have been tempted by the expensive merch.
I resolved to find the parade. I wandered down an empty Whitehall before realising I was going the wrong way, and trogged up towards Piccadilly.
I heard them before I saw them. The tarmac of Pall Mall resonated with the beat of the drum and a thousand shamrock clad feet, and a marching band rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing”.
Complete with not one but two st Patrick’s (one of whose footwear was not as historically accurate as one might hope), the Irish were on the march, and it was a truly marvellous thing to see. I had simply no idea that there were so many Irish associations, and by extension, we must be pretty much the single largest group in London.
What the parade made me realise is that Ireland is a great deal more diverse than I had supposed (or it had been last time I visited about 20 years ago). Yes, there were marching bands and the Irish dancers, but there were also Irish Caribbean and Latin American teams, both of who seemed quite startlingly sequin-clad, and fabulously body confident. Male and female, young and old, old-school or glitter laden they were all here. The happiest marchers of all seemed to be the Hari Krishna squad, who honestly made me feel happier just by looking at them.
All of a sudden, post the Latino-Irish marchers, the parade ground to a halt, and I dashed back to the main square to check out the craic. And lo and behold, the craic was considerable: thousands upon thousands of emerald clad revellers were being introduced to much of the Irish Paralympic team: rowers, tandem cyclists and one 16 year old swimmer for whom this would be her second Paralympics. Her second!
This young woman had been training four hours a day before and after school so long that she no longer knew how not to swim. Our host observed this was probably for the best, and of course, he was right. The paralympians were genuinely excited to be here, to see the assembled London crowds before them: the penny had dropped, I think, that the thousands of folks before them was a drop in the ocean in comparison with the billions who would be watching them in September.
And then, Oirish dancing. I’m not especially big on Irish dancing, and something about the lovely long hair of the bouncing ladies vaguely put me in mind of the Father Ted ’lovely girls’ competition.
It wasn’t the full Riverdance, it was never made clear why the colleens were wearing football shirts (I’d thought they’d recreate the Irish flag as a grand finale, but not so). I’d have advised rather darker tights or longer skirts given the height of the legs they were flinging around. But they certainly held their own with the Irish lady singers, whose Gaelic warblings made me think of old legends sung around an ancient fire.
Culture satisfied, our host Rob returned. I read somewhere that standup comedians are among the most intellectually brilliant professions, but they also tend to have a lot of heart attacks, because it is tremendously stressful to be entirely on your own in front of a crowd like that: you are literally living on your wits.
Our host Rob Broderick was born to it. He made the show. He interviewed both the performers and the crowd (no mean endeavour given most of the crowd were heavily intoxicated), and somehow or other managed to improvise hippety hoppety raps about the people he’d spoken to. He even managed to play one fellow at connect 4 through the power of the battle rap.
Clearly some of these things were set pieces, but some were plainly being made up on the hoof because the acts weren’t quite ready to perform when they should have been. Some years ago, at the Diana celebration concert, Ricky Gervais was in a similar position and resorted to a load of bad gags and doing the dance from the office. This magnificent chap did not do that: he simply dazzled throughout, and I am now following him on twitter and Facebook because I’d pay to see him do his own stuff. Check out his website here: http://robbroderick.com/
In some ways I’m sorry that we have returned to Trafalgar Square so soon, but it is inevitable. London has always celebrated here, and in 2012, recession or no recession, the world is turning its eyes to London. This year we Britons will be celebrating a great deal: the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics of course, but we are also continuing to celebrate our diversity through things like St Patrick’s day. I watched this show until I was cold to my bones and I had worn out two camera batteries, and I concluded two things. Based on this performance the Irish would have hosted as good an Olympics as we will, and in a parallel universe where the Irish rugby team had watched the London St Paddy’s parade before playing us at rugby, the Irish would have thrashed us. I wore my shamrock Guinness hat all the way home, and I received only admiring glances.