Yesterday was the 35th Wedding Anniversary of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. This is a classic ‘royal’ tea towel to celebrate this occasion. However, if you look closely at the central photographs of Charles and Diana, you can certainly tell this was not going to be a ‘marriage made in heaven’. She looks as miserable as sin; her face reminds me of that iconic photograph, taken on a stone bench in front of Taj Mahal, just before they separated, when she looked so sad and alone. You should never have to have a photograph like that on your celebratory wedding tea towel. Besides the photographs of the ‘happy couple’, there are a number of Commonwealth flags with the Welsh Dragon taking a place of prominence, in recognition of Charles’s title of Prince of Wales.
I look at this tea towel and it conjures up three very different memories: (a) the first is about how I came across this tea towel, because I didn’t buy it for myself at the time of the wedding. Soon after I started writing this Tea Towel Blog, in April 2015, having opened a Twitter account, I was ‘followed’ by Rachel Fairburn, a comedienne. She told me about the tea towel she had of the Royal Wedding and asked me if I would like it. Would I like it? Is the Pope Catholic? I was so excited but, as a tea towel fanatic, it is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to give away one of their own tea towels. What the heck; I accepted her offer although I, sort of, didn’t believe she was actually going to send it to me . Two weeks later, an envelope arrived in the post and there it was – a beautiful, well not actually beautiful, but iconic, tea towel. I don’t think it had been used. I’m not sure how she came upon it because she doesn’t look old enough to have been alive at the time of the Royal Wedding, and certainly not old enough to need, or buy a tea towel. To thank her, I dedicated a Page of my website to her, called ‘I’m Cured of Cynicism: An Ode to Rachel Fairburn (or the Generosity of Strangers)’. And today, thinking of that wedding, I am still excited by receiving this as a gift because I never bought one at the time. (b) on a more serious note, the tea towel is a reminder that we can never foresee the future. I am sure that neither Charles nor Diana would have predicted how their marriage would end or that she would die so young, in such difficult circumstances. No one would have thought they would see two young Princes have to follow their mother’s coffin, in front of millions of people, and probably no one would have thought Prince Harry would publicly speak about his regret at not talking about his feelings about his mother’s death for more than 25 years. The lesson for us all is to do what you want to do, when you want to do it and not postpone those things for the future; the future may never come.
(c) this tea towel reminds me of what I was doing on 29 July 1981. People often ask where you were when JFK was shot (I was on the phone to Carole Coombes) or what you were doing when the first man landed on the moon (no idea); people rarely ask what you were doing when Charles and Diana married. Answer: I was in Ealing Hospital, at my father’s bedside; he had had an emergency operation, in the middle of the previous night, as a result of a burst bowel, leading to peritonitis. He had had part of his bowel removed and a temporary colostomy fitted. I was called to Ealing Hospital because they didn’t know if he would survive. The ward was full of bunting and balloons; I don’t suppose they would do that now because of health and safety issues. All the beds had been moved around, and a couple of extra televisions brought in, so that every patient could watch the whole of the Royal Wedding, from start to finish. There was a ‘wedding cake’ and a glass of champagne for all the patients. 29 July was a Wednesday and it was an extra Bank Holiday, a day of celebration. There is nothing worse than hospital visiting when the patient isn’t awake, or even alert, and you have nothing to do. This was different, I could watch the Royal Wedding, talk to all the patients and staff while my father ‘came round’. They said the operation was a success. It was difficult to think of it as a success, when my father had had a colostomy; he was a diabolical patient, hated ill-health, refused to go to the doctor even if he was in pain, which is why he ended up in the predicament he was in; he couldn’t put a plaster on a cut or take a splinter out of a finger. There was no way in which he was going to be able to cope with a colostomy bag; it wasn’t just the practical tasks but the ignominy of it all. He wasn’t going to tell anyone. So how wrong can you be? He certainly proved everyone wrong; he took to it like a duck to water (that can’t be the right expression for dealing with a colostomy bag!), he was open and talked about it, dealt with everything, took advice from the Stoma nurses. Brilliant and it was reversed eventually. He found that as difficult as having the colostomy in the first place, adjusting to ‘being normal’ again, but he did it.
The Royal Wedding was a bit of an anti-climax for my Dad because he was ‘nil by mouth’ for nearly seven days, so no wedding cake or champagne for him. I helped him take part by having his share (and even though it was hospital food, it was delicious). It was a weird day, sitting by my Dad’s bed, him a bit groggy, coming to terms with what had happened, while the rest of us were very excited by having the Royal Wedding to watch. Fortunately, the coverage went on for ages because I was allowed to be with my Dad all day; it always seems a bit rude reading a book or the newspaper. Thanks to Charles and Diana I was well occupied.
I look at the tea towel and think ‘that day was surreal’. Everyone else I knew had a great day, lazing around with a day off work; I spent it in Ealing Hospital. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My Dad was alive and well.
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