Queen Elizabeth knighted, awarded medals or otherwise decorated 150 men and women at Buckingham Palace yesterday as knots of Londoners gathered beyond the iron fence to see whatever might be seen since the July 29 wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Dianna Spencer has worked this capital into a general lather of loyalty.
At these great ceremonies, in which distinguished work in government, the military and outstanding life work in general are honored by the crown, people enter by what the palace calls the grand entrance, possibly because it is.
You cross a gravel court, pass through monumental iron gates in which naked ladies are shown hanging down from heaven holding the crown, and enter an inmost courtyard, where, to your surprise, two yellow Labradors bounce out of car trunks.
"No, they are not going to be knighted today," said the master of one of the mutts. "They are police dogs," and they sniff out bombs and things.
Dawdling in the court for a bit -- every dog is expected to do his duty and you may as well take advantage of it -- you conclude it's safe to enter the palace lobby, turn left and ascend the architect Nash's spectacular stairway, then down a corridor hung with pictures by Rubens, Hoppner, Van Dyke, Benjamin West, etc., until you reach the state ballroom.
Here there are 300 gilt chairs with red damask seats, 150 of them occupied by guests and the remainder awaiting the recipients of the queen's honors.
It must be the only place in the world that all the women wear hats.
"They're trotted out for the occasion," said a unique hatless lady, "and most of them seem pretty knocked about to me."
So much for women judging women.
"The queen will enter at 11," said an aide de camp. "She will stand in front of this chair. After the national anthem is played by the orchestra she will ask you to be seated. Please keep your voices down, do not stand up and do not applaud.
"By the way, is there anyone here who is to receive an award? Nobody? Good. Because if you were, you're in the wrong place."
The orchestra struck up and in marched the yeomen of the guard, their pikes on their shoulders, taking up stations behind the queen's position. Right on time the queen entered, asked guests to sit down and without further ado reached for a sword.
A name was announced, the man took four steps foward, made a right-angle turn to the left and bowed. He then took three steps in this new direction, where he knelt down on a red bench provided for the occasion with a hand-grip on the right side (as for bathtubs for the elderly) and the queen silently dubbed him on each shoulder.
He rose, bowed, had a ribbon and medal hung about his neck by the queen, spoke five to 15 seconds with her, marched backward three steps, bowed and departed.
Meanwhile, the queen already had the decoration for the next person to be honored. One man announced the name, another handed the appropriate decoration on a velvet cushion to the queen. A high naval officer stood to one side, prodding the honoree to move along when his name was called or, even more often, to keep him from bounding up before the queen too soon.
Several of the men were not used to walking backward, though an honored newspaper publisher seemed especially good at it, and several of the women curtsied with the grace of a right tackle.
Nobody, except possibly a foreigner, smiled when the queen gave the Victorian Medal to yeoman bed goer Thomas John.
"It is a singularly rewarding job?" one asked in a whisper.
"He makes sure the beds in the royal quarters are all right I believe," said a knowledgeable man, "he is of the queen's bodyguard and the title bed goer is centuries-old."
In other words, wipe that grin off.
"He is not to be confused," said the authority, "with the yeoman bed hanger, whose original function was to prod the cloth bed hangins to make sure no traitor was concealed."
It wouldn't even have to be a traitor to make trouble.
The queen maintained a pleasant appropriate expression during the two hours and 15 minutes she stood. Not one of the recipients left without a pleasant, if brief, chat with her, which she ended by extending her hand to be shaken, giving just the least forward thrust in some cases to inspire the person to let go and get going.
While chatting, she massaged her left hand with her right to keep them occupied. If the person seemed more nervous than ordinary, the queen smiled with particular warmth.
A gentleman from the Fiji islands squatted down instead of merely bowing, and the queen never blinked an eye. It is the gesture of respect in those islands, apparently, but quite a novelty amid the mirrors, blazing lights and gold.
This palace only came into its own with Queen Victoria, whose medallion is above the velvet canopy over the thrones.
The huges doors are glass, about 20 feet high, enclosed in elaborate frames with full entablatures and broken pediments rising to 33 feet. Above them the cream-colored walls rise a few more feet, then burst out into a gilded Ionic cornice. Pairs of Ionic pilasters, their volutes gilded, are disposed along the walls.
Musicians sit in a gallery in the back of the room. They are dressed in scarlet and a madman chooses the music they play.
The overture before the queen's arrival included the ancient traditional hymn, "Lady Be Good," and as the first batch of distinguished Britons entered the back of the room, headed by Vice Adm. Sir William Snaveley, Sir James Craig, Sir Percy Cradock and Sir Phillip Lynch, the orchestra played "There Is Nothing Like a Dame." But they were not all sailors.
A somewhat jazzed-up march from "The Magic Flute" (a reckless fiddling with the tempo that would never be allowed in the White House at Washington), restored stateliness up to a point.
The queen was dressed in flowered or patterned green silk with considerable yellow segments in it and low-heeled black shoes, very much as a Washington woman would dress to attend a charity board meeting if she dressed properly. There seemed to be a large sapphire over toward her left shoulder, but nothing showy.
The English are excellent at not wearing perfumes in the morning, and after the ceremony you could join the leisurely crowd in no great hurry to leave the magnificent room without dying of an overdose of musk, as you frequently do in Washington.
Outdoors the heavens opened and many were soaked. The advantage of expensive well-cut English suits is that they don't melt or erupt into wrinkles before your eyes. Cabs do not pick up in front of the palace, since it is an English myth that people visiting the palace do not need them to arrive or depart in. In fact, many sad little drowned cats were seen looking hopeful as hundreds of taxis sped past the palace at the usual London speed of light.
Those keenest for their dignity, or merely tired of the soggy shirt against the chest, bopped in to the queen's gallery to see her Canalettos. Canaletto was among the very first to use Prussian blue in painting, and you could learn much else from his splendid Venetian paintings on display and it was still raining cats and dogs, but once you're soaked why not forget it and save cab fare.
It is not hard to sense the binding or bonding effect of these palace ceremonies on the Britons. A celebrated admiral, a local cop, a nurse, a yeoman bed goer -- excellence in all directions among all manner of folk is recognized and honored, and through the intermediary of the queen who honors them all they share each other's honors.
No reception followed. The English are geniuses at knowing when not to have them. The room was too small for most family members to attend, and outside they flocked around clicking pictures and keeping stiff upper lips and thinking the old man or cousin Emma or whoever had been honored by the queen, had turned out pretty well after all.