It was business almost as usual today in the Prince of Wales Pub in London's East End. But not quite: There was going to be a royal wedding on the telly -- an attraction the pub has not been able to offer in five years.
Most of the patrons were lunch-hour regulars, but the wedding brought in a few not usually seen in this working-class establishment, including a man with a suit, necktie and briefcase, the only items of their kind in the place. "I was shopping in the neighborhood," he explained.
He stood out in a crowd of people dressed mostly in nondesigner denims and open-necked shirts or T-shirts. Most were on a first-name basis with Sue, the almost-pretty barmaid who bustled around opening bottles and drawing drinks on tap. When there was a lull in business, Sue chatted with a customer who sipped a Guinness, although "Budweiser" was printed on his T-shirt in big, red letters. A sign behind the bar advertised "Fresh Sandwiches," but none was ordered. Sue nibbled on a sandwich brought in by a friend from somewhere else.
The royal wedding procession appeared on the screen almost as soon as the pub opened for business at 11 a.m. The taped music that serves as a sort of sonic wallpaper surrounding the pub's chatter wasn't turned off, but, in the middle of a song by Diana Ross and the Supremes, the volume was sharply reduced so that the BBC announcer's description of the proceedings could be heard clearly.
In one corner, the view of the television screen was obstructed. Nobody sat there. In another corner, behind the bar, a dart game sat neglected; you couldn't throw darts and watch the wedding at the same time. A slot machine near the door was still doing a constant business, emitting an occasional clatter of falling coins when someone got lucky.
At the Horn of Plenty, down the street, the barmaid had to ask her patrons to "Please shut up," and you could hear occasional shouts of "Where's the garnets?" or "Kiss 'er, Andy." But the regulars in the Prince of Wales maintained their dignity. Some adopted an air of nonchalance, even opposition, to the panorama on the screen.
"There goes a bloody lot of money," said a skeptic with a heavy provincial accent, watching brightly decked-out horses and a royal carriage proceeding slowly across the screen. He subsided for a few minutes and then chimed in again: "And the party afterward, I suppose that's at taxpayers' expense, too . . . all that caviar."
A few seats away, a middle-aged couple sat together doing identical crossword puzzles in two copies of the Daily Mirror. Neatly folded out of sight was a headline that filled nearly half the tabloid paper's front page: "Fergie's Wedding Message to Andy: I'm All Woman."
"Well, that's three," said the woman, while her partner explained that she meant three of the queen's children married off. "One more to go." There was a tone of relief in her voice as she considered Prince Andrew's promise to keep himself only unto Sarah Ferguson.
"They picked the right day for all this," she said, looking at the pageantry on the screen. "If they had it on tomorrow, we'd be watching the test match an international cricket match in which England faces New Zealand today ."
But in spite of the apparently cool attitudes, the twin crossword puzzles sat neglected while the couple stared intently at the screen. Their skeptical neighbor craned his neck into an awkward position to watch the procession even as he muttered, "Does she have any money of her own? Isn't she marrying into something nice?"
Others were more positive. "It's right," said the man with the necktie. "The right thing to do, and they're doing it right. I think we all feel proud, and we should. People have come to London for this day from all over the country and even overseas, just to stand outside of Westminster Abbey and to be able, later, to say they were there. It's not as important as Charles and Diana five years ago; it doesn't affect the throne in the same way. But it's a fine ceremony, and they're doing it right."
He turned back to the screen, standing almost like a soldier at attention, a warm glass of beer held upright, unnoticed, in his hand.
"Are they married yet?" asked a voice from the corner. The slot machine ground to a stop, and the gambler stepped away, putting a few coins in his pocket, looking around for a better view of the screen. Now, the royal pair were at the altar, and suddenly the pub was silent. Nobody ordered a drink, and all service stopped; nearly all motion was suspended.
Sue put her sandwich down, set her left elbow on the bar and rested her chin in her cupped left hand. Her blue eyes gleamed like a child's in front of a Christmas tree; her face lit up in a wistful smile that stayed there throughout the exchange of vows.
Then as the Archbishop of Canterbury began to recite the concluding "whom God has joined together . . . " the mood changed, and she took another bite of her sandwich.
As Andrew and Sarah went off-camera to sign the registry, Felicity Lott began singing Mozart on television, with a curious counterpoint from Diana Ross, who could still be heard, very quietly, from the pub's loudspeaker. Two men got up from the bar and started a game of darts, and the room returned to its normal air of subdued chatter.
In a third corner, a young couple had stood, looking at one another more than at the screen and taking alternate sips from a single glass of light ale. Before they left, he whispered something inaudible in her ear and her reply could barely be heard by someone standing very close: "Well, it won't be as grand as that."
They began to walk out arm in arm, but at the narrow door they had to break up and go, one behind the other, back into the world outside. For a moment, that made them the shortest procession in England that day. But in their small way, they seemed to have caught the spirit of the occasion.