Brittania reception never forgotten

21:32, Apr 10 2014

First up, we lengthened our skirts and lowered our heels.

We were, after all, to be guests of the Queen Mother.

It was 50 years ago, April 1964, when the royal yacht Brittania was moored at Bluff.

An invitation to join the Queen Mother aboard her floating home away from home - that was not to be sneezed at.

But in case a sneeze did come, we all carried a clean, white lacey hanky.

That was not specified but most else was: gentlemen lounge suits, ladies cocktail dresses; gloves and hats optional.


Optional? Once mentioned, they become de rigueur, short white cotton gloves, my headdress a skiff of tulle with black velvet ribbon from H&Js millinery department, a precursor of today's fascinators.

The time was specified like an hour from 6.15pm, all printed out in black and gold on a great white square of card with rounded corners and the knowledge that anyone invited had been thoroughly vetted.

As we all were, anyone associated with a royal visit gained accreditation only after referees and inquiries, a pass mark indicated by the hand delivery of a special badge to be worn night and day.

So down to Bluff we trundled after a day in sodden rain hiking round taking note of those to whom the Queen Mother has spoken and asked, had they come far? And catching names of those whose photograph was taken.

It was pouring when we reached the boat, lit up fore and aft with sparkling lights, the gangway manned by uniformed sailors holding black brollies over our precious heads, red flowers in arrangements by our feet. And a band playing.

You can guess the rest - great heavy crystal glasses of spirits over rocks of ice, tiny canapes, ever-attentive guys with little silver salvers and matchbox-sized sandwiches and then suddenly the Queen Mother asking our colleague FWG Miller if it was he who had written Gold in the River?

Yes? She'd fished in that river and thought the fish as elusive as the gold.

We were so pleased we stayed on and fell into the talk-among-ourselves drill, failing to notice the onset of darkness, the quiet lap of the waters outside, the vague sense of changing times, the dearth of silver salvers, the departure of our hostess who was, we thought with the commendable charity of our youth doing well for an elderly lady, 64 - her age matching the year.

We stumbled out into the blackness of the night, looking at a gangplank steep and wet and untended, ready to topple down to our cars parked along a distant road, unlit between Bluff and Kew Hospital, no music playing, neither brollies nor guys to hold them, no music, not a flower in sight nor a flag waving - nothing.

It was good night nurse without the kiss.

And I never forgot it.

I saw the Queen Mother at a Buckingham Palace garden party some years later and in the same week thought I saw her, sort of, after hours in Marks and Spencers when I was late leaving and she was just arriving.

She looked at me a bit strangely.

I just hope she didn't mention any of this to her great-grandson, like warning him about people staying on too long, that sort of thing.

We are all different now.


The Southland Times