Kensington Palace

After enjoying a nostalgic lunch at Stick & Bowl, I walked towards Kensington Gardens. 
During the first few months of my life in London, I used to visit the garden almost every other day with a bag of peanuts. The peanuts were for a colony of squirrels which lived in and around the Flower Walk. Most of the squirrels were incredibly tame and very eager for the peanuts. They perched on the top of the fence which divided the walkway and the flowerbeds and stretched out their tiny (& muddy) hands towards me. Some of them were so bold that they stood there and kept on stuffing their cheek pouches with the nuts until the pouches were nearly bursting. Even though I knew that they were after a free snack, I was comforted by the way they welcomed me.

The most famous fixture of Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, is situated in the west side of the park…

In 1689, a simple two story mansion was bought by King William III and Queen Mary II, who jointly reigned United Kingdom during the 17th century. The couple commissioned Sir Christphor Wren for re-designing the house to be suitable in size and style for a reigning monarch. And the transformation resulted in a Baroque-style palace which has become a residence for a various royal family members, from William & Mary to William & Kate.

Another famous resident was Queen Victoria…

She was born in the North Drawing Room on 24 May 1819 and continued to reside at the palace until she moved her household to Buckingham Palace in 1838 after her accession.

The King’s Staircase leading to the King’s Apartment…

The trompe l’œil which adorned this masculine staircase was painted by William Kent for the first Hanovarian monarch, George I.

Another trompe l’œil by the same artist was found in the Cupola Room…

The Privy Chamber of George I was an orgy of tromp l’œil. The walls and woodworks were painted over in order to make them imitate other than timber and plaster…

The presence of the actors in costume definitely helped me imagine how the Georgian royal life had been in their time…



Court dresses of the time were on display and the dress looked fairly ridiculous…

It resembled a piece of furniture rather than clothing. 

I was familiar with the design of the dress through period paintings such as by Gainsborough…

However, it looked very odd in reality.

After the King’s Apartment, I moved on to the Queen’s Apartment…

The Queen’s Apartment was more private and intimate than a grand setting of the King’s. The ceilings were lower and the rooms were smaller. The windows, which overlooked a quiet part of the royal park, introduced a plenty of light into the cozy family rooms.

A coat with a black sash adorned by a white corsage in the middle of the room cut a lonely figure. This mourning coat was worn by George II after whose queen, Caroline of Anspach, died from post-operation infection. It was a rarity in royal marriage but the King was devoted to the queen and her death devastated him. The way the coat was displayed depicted the sorrow of the king exquisitely.

A large part of the exhibits at the palace belonged to Queen Victoria and her brood.

Queen Victoria and her grandchildren…

Toys belonged to the Queen herself and her children…

I was struck by the similarity between Prince Albert Edward, later Edward VII and the present Queen’s late sister, Princrss Margaret…

Their eyes were exactly the same.

I was also surprised to see how petite the Queen Victoria was…

She was married in this dress on the 10th February 1840. The height difference between the petite queen and her German prince is pretty impressive, isn’t it? It is as great as mine and Hubbie’s – me, 5’2″ and him 6’4″!

We all know that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s marriage was one of the most loving and successful royal marriages in the history and the exhibits reflected how they were doted on each other.

Jewellery gifted to Victoria from Albert…

A plaster cast of one of their offspring and a few miniatures…

Kensington Palace became world-famous when Princess Diana took up residence in here. As a result, a number of her dresses were on display…

I wanted to have tea at the Orangery but alas, it was closed for a private function. Being desperate for a refreshment, I ended up using the cafeteria next to a gift shop and found they weren’t that great. The cakes were dry and too few seatings for too many people. Oh well, I would better plan a picnic in the park next time, I sighed. Weather permitted, of course…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Happy Birthday, Ma’am!

As I came out of a bath with nothing other than a towel wrapped around my head like a turban and aloe body butter all over my naked body, there was a live TV broadcast on the screen, showing Her Majesty The Queen was about to light a celebratory beacon for her 90th birthday. Hubbie was not yet home and Mr.B, being a born naturist himself, didn’t mind my nakedness, but I felt very embarrassed about standing in front of the Queen in this state even though she had no way of knowing it. Still, I didn’t want to miss the spectacle and therefore carried on standing in the middle of the room and staring at the screen, stark naked.

How did you find the set-up which help the Queen to light the beacon? Personally, I found it rather unnecessarily elaborate. Probably due to a safety concern regarding how the beacon should be lit in the presence of the Queen, a column which held the beacon on top was placed very far away from her and a long fuse was raid on the ground between them. After celebratory three cheers from Prince Charles, the Queen in a headscarf approached a periscope-like contraption with floral decorations. This waist-height structure had a dog-legged top end and from there a fuse was hanging out like a short piece of rope. The way the end waited to be lit comically resemble the one from children’s comics, like Tom & Jerry, and the idea started my giggle.

Then, the aid handed the Queen a flaming torch and she duly lit the fuse. A spark hissed and slithered like a firecracker as it travelled along the cord, leaving a shroud of smoke. ‘What will happen once the spark reaches the top?’ Oh no, instead of igniting the beacon with great gusto, the spark disappeared into a heap of logs! The suspense amongst all the people surrounding the beacon was palpable. A bluish grey smoke lingering around the spent fuse on the ground was like the epitome of the awkwardness. I found myself praying ‘Please don’t let it be a flop!’ As the beacon eventually started to smoulder, a military band commenced to play Happy Birthday To You and relieved well wishers, including me, joined to sing along with it. If there were a fly on the wall, the scene in the living room must have looked surreal – a naked woman in a turban belting out a birthday song in front of the TV in the semi-darkness of early evening…

Despite living in London, I never camped by the palaces or anywhere to catch a glimpse of the member of the Royal Family. However, I had a few lucky occasions to see some of them in the flesh. And they were the Queen and Prince Charles.

I saw Prince Charles at Battersea Park about 11 years ago. The Prince’s charity, Prince’s Trust, was hosting an event at the park and I was happen to be in the vicinity, doing my lunchtime rollerblading. Tony Blair, then the Prime Minister, came out of the marquee to greet the Prince when his car and two motorcycle police officers arrived. I remember that I was struck by the modest size of his entourage. The Prince came out of the car with a huge smile and the two men shook hand in a juvial manner before disappearing into the marquee. I could imagine that they were bumping into each other fairly often and therefore the encounter that afternoon was not that special. But for me, seeing those world famous people in one go was pretty unusual and even more remarkable was that I was the only spectator there! The visit must have been one of those unpublished low-key ones in which he was not meant to mingle with the public. And therefore, the security and the entourage were minimal.

So, what impression did Prince Charles left me with after this brief encounter? Well, I hope I don’t sound disrespectful but he looked, how should I put it, a sort of…”grey”. His hair was turning grey and he was wearing light grey suits. The day was a typical overcast autumy day with a featureless grey sky which didn’t help the matter. Oh well, he was a prince, not one of those selfie-obsessed overly polished reality TV stars. So it didn’t matter…

My encounter with the Queen happened on one February afternoon in 2007. Mr.B and I were on our way home and found a small crowd gathering in front of the Ricjard Desmond Children’s Centre on Peerless Street…

And the Bentley with the Royal Standard parked by the entrance…

OMG! Is the Queen here?!

We waited, waited and waited patiently behind the barrier. We could see her and her entourage through the glazed walls, slowly making their way down floor by floor…

In the meantime, the Royal Standard was flattering in the cold breeze…

I had never seen any smarter car than this royal Bentley. No dirt, no scratch. I thought I could do my make-up with their shiny wheel caps, using them as a mirror…

When the Queen was about to exit the building, a bagpiper took up his position by the door and started to play the tune…

Then like on a cue, photographers started to click away. While we were waiting, a female police officer on the right was asking me about the carrier bag Mr.B was in. She had a chihuahua & Pomeranian mix and wanted to the same one for her pooch…

Instead of doing a royal walk-about, the Queen climbed into the Bentley. We were told she no longer did a walk-about except for much bigger occasions because of her age. Well, who can blame her…

Still, she gave a wave towards our direction…

I thought Her Majesty definitely noticed Mr.B poking his head out over the barrier…

Then, the Bentley glided over the Tarmac and the Queen was gone. It was worth waiting in the cold breeze, wasn’t it, MrB?

She must be the busiest 90 years old lady on earth. However, keeping herself in demand instead of putting her feet up is the key to her incredible youthfulness and vitality. I wish you a very happy birthday to you Ma’am. Long live Queen Elizabeth!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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