Beeating of the retreat 

Rather too often one arises on a Friday morning to a dull repeating beat thudding through the brain. This Friday was no different, but instead of the nauseous tune of repentance it was a military tattoo. Of course I had been sitting under the sweltering English sun watching the Beating of the Retreat the prior evening.

I hadn’t been to a military parade since I was in shorts and sandals – The Trooping of the Colour if my memory serves me correctly. My abiding memory was being hoisted up onto a fence and talking to a soldier. This soldier was wearing a bearskin hat, which I was adamant was not made from said skin! I attempted to begin a discourse with him on this subject while he politely nodded away at me – but ultimately shot me down (he was a soldier after all!).

So when a friend offered me tickets this week I jumped at the chance. There was a swell of people congregating near Horse Guards Parade, so a quick drink was needed at the appropriately named but awful pub ‘The Princess of Wales’. I spied a veteran at the bar with a lapel full of medals and few other chaps wearing old military ties; one assumed that they would be joining us in the stands.

A beautiful early summer evening beside the eternal picnickers at Green Park was unfurling and we sauntered to the venue; the security were all serving soldiers with impeccable manners and natural unflappability – take a note Heathrow and Gatwick. They even turned a blind eye to my friend’s hip flask, even though she is half Iranian! Well done chaps.

The beating of the retreat dates back to 16th century England and was first used to recall nearby patrolling units to their castle. It is now the lead up to Brenda’s official birthday on Saturday, in the form of a bold and loud military tattoo.

So, there were a lot of very talented bellicose men marching with instruments or in the case of some playing whilst dressage ridding a half ton beast. The Scots Guards were at their usual bombastic best, red jackets given an extra sparkle by the evening sun, and the horses elegant and superbly ridden. There was even a March and song from a German band – whose clothes and marching styles are today rather more understated than they were halfway through the last century. 

The date coincided with the 200th anniversary of Waterloo and we were treated to a rather eccentric version of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. Someone in crowd, perhaps me, found it peculiar and muttered rather loudly “I didn’t come to see the bloody cast of My Fair Lady prancing about….I want gunfire!” In hindsight maybe we should have had our hip flasks confiscated.

I didn’t have to wait long for the guns. A re-enactment of the battle was quickly unfurling and a rather over-zealous actor was playing the role of Wellington marvellously. Mini cannons and ancient guns were ferociously firing blanks in front of an audience with a lot of grey hair…I did think at one moment that the St John’s ambulance may be called into action rather a lot! Loud booms shook the air and the waves could be physically felt – despite knowledge that we would win I felt a great joy and beating the frogs!

We wound down with a last post and the National Anthem (sadly no Brenda but Camilla was on show). And a host of fireworks glittered the night sky with a baseline of heavy cannon fire, which as the grandson of a Major in the Royal Artillery was an absolute joy to hear.

A wholly British evening that one often forgets about in the usual drudgery of London life – far more interesting to me than a pop concert. There is a great combination of tradition and eccentricity which only us on these green and pleasant lands do so well; and so say all of us!

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