Decades ago I bought this book. It invites delicious speculation.
It is simply a catalogue of the presents received by Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten on their marriage in 1947.
They are still married as I write, and Elizabeth went on to become Queen of England, which she still is. The presents were put on display; no harm in that, we all do that, perhaps on the table in the living room (as in my own case), or at the back of the Function Room in the Hotel; yes, we all do that. On this ocasion the wedding planners had to hire a hall in which to display the gifts, because there were 2,548 of them, some of them a bit big.
Well, this book lists them all. They tell you who donated the item, and they describe it in neutral language, according equal status to each one, as it is the thought that counts, not the value. After the wedding was all over, I expect that the happy couple sat down to write thank-you letters, and, some weeks later, set off on their honeymoon.
I expect they put their holiday clothes in their Watajoy travelling bag (see 609 above). Some of these presents seem immediately useful, like that one, but others must surely have been put into storage, carefully indexed and labelled so that they could be brought out when the donor planned a visit. When I was in Buckingham Palace a few years ago, in connection with a school thing, I did look around to see if I could spot any of those wedding presents, but the interesting thing is – I did not see a single one of them! HRH, of course, could hardly have expected me to be on the lookout for the presents. The security people would have done their research and found out that I wasn’t even born when the marriage took place, and was unconnected with any of the 2,548 donors. But little did they know how carefully I have studied that catalogue of gifts. I cast my eyes eagerly around, as Prince Philip shook my hand, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Watajoy bags, or the porphyry tazza (surely some kind of coffee mug), but to no avail. I noticed that the Palace was a sizeable building, so I figured that those presents must all be in a cellar or attic, which must have the general appearance of Xanadu at the beginning of Citizen Kane.
Now, I’m going to list a selection of these presents for you. Here they are, with occasional notes added.
44 Miss Doris D. Crockett
One pair of nylon stockings.
54 Miss M. A. Francis
Pair of silver grape scissors.
125 Mr. Rogert Hart
Pair of nylon stockings.
139 Miss Pamela Mungomery
Ten pounds of icing sugar from Queensland.
169 Mrs. C. St. Aubyn Ratcliffe (Margery Hart)
Book, “Furry Folk and Fairies,” Two Editions, by the donor.
272 Albert Richard Sportswear, Milwaukee, U. S. A.
A weather-proof coat interlined with Spun Sun.
We see some patterns emerging. As a matter of fact the royal couple received at least 128 pairs of nylon stockings, including some sent, rather improperly one almost feels, by gentlemen. These stockings must have stood HRH in jolly good stead for many a year. Maybe she even still has a few left today, so long as she has avoided the temptation to use them as ties in the garden, which I know a lot of folk do.
And some people seem to have taken this wedding as a suitable occasion for some self-promotion, or as an advertising opportunity. Certainly many people who had managed to get themselves into print did not hestitate to send in a copy, or more, of their book. So I say to their Highnesses, look, in retirement I work at the Oxfam Bookshop in Southampton, so if you still have some of these books, especially the ones signed by the author, maybe you could just send them down to us here, as you know, you would not get much for them in a car boot sale; it simply isn’t worth it.
294 The Government of Queensland
500 cases of Tinned Pineapples to be distributed as The Princess Elizabeth desires.
312 Captain Stephen Van Neck
Pigskin handbag made entirely by hand and containing 3382 small stitches.
327 Miss Rhoda Chappel Hodge
A Wading Stick.
361 Mrs. A. Wheatley
Pair of hand knitted bedroom slippers.
400 Commander A. Betts-Brown, Royal Navy
Chest of tea.
561 The Misses Jones and Edge
Small bust in biscuit of Queen Victoria, dated 1891.
657 Mrs. Nichol amd Miss Margaret Nichol
A plastic cushion.
721 Mr. Billy Saaiman
An ostrich egg.
727 Miss E. Mosenthal
Book, by the donor, “But Economical – No.”
778 Miss Grace E. MacDonald
Two pairs of bed socks.
807 Miss S. Vaughan Lee
A monumental glass spirit bottle.
906 The Mayor and Citizens of Durham
943 The Aberdovey Branch of The Women’s Institute
Books, “Poor Man’s Tapestry” by Oliver Onions, and “Tomboy in Lace” by Berta Ruck.
985 Mrs. E. Bebb and Miss D. Bebb
Book, “The Man who is Different” by E. D. Bebb.
1026 Miss L. Dickinson
Hand-knitted tea cosy.
1129 Mr. N. Y. Nutt
A hurricane pipe.
1299 The Reverend Robert and Mrs. Hyde
A bath sponge.
1246 Field Marshall The Viscount Alexander of Tunis and the Viscountess Alexander
A porphyry tazza.
1305 Mr. Horace Smith and Miss Sybil Smith
A pigskin case fitted with shoehorns and bootjacks.
1312 Madame Poklewaka-Koziell
A case of cigarette-extinguishers.
1483 The Directors, Staff and Workpeople of Two-way Talkie Limited.
A two-way talkie.
1509 Miss L. Wilson
A bulb bowl and bulbs.
1513 Mr. and Mrs. Cavanagh
An automatic potato peeler.
1587 Miss Alice Bredt
Recording of a duet made by the donor.
1617 Commander W. A. Kosianowski-Lorenz, Royal Navy
An album with photographs of the Polish Navy’s activities.
1680 The Pupils of the State English Grammar School, Prague
A South Moravian peasant girl’s costume.
1743 Monsieur Vincent Locorotendo
Pair of blue suede shoes.
1756 Mr. Reginald Guyler
Brown felt hat made by the donor.
1834 Miss Jill and master Jeremy Cotton
1894 Mrs. H. G. Cronk
A waste-paper basket.
1940 Miss D. L. Amer
Three toy rabbits, stuffed and washable, made by the donor.
2046 Mrs. C. Anderson
A pair of grape scissors.
2071 Mr. and Mrs. G. D. Fenn
Two recordings of “Hear my Prayer” made by Master Michael Fenn.
2147 Mr. H. H. Proctor
A portable wireless and spare batteries.
2154 Miss Julie A. Alloro
2379 Mrs. G. Pratt
A papier-mache jewel case.
2436 Skipper, Mate and Crew, S. R. S. “Upholder,” West Wandsworth
2480 Hungarian Students of the Law of the University of Budapest
A statue of Santa Claus.
2487 The 1st Ullapool, 4th Ross-shire Girl Guide Company
A water colour drawing of Ullapool.
Do you notice, reader, how well the royal couple were equipped by these presents for almost any exigency? Stuck for an ashtray somewhere, they need have had no concern – they had not one but an entire case of cigarette extinguishers. Similarly, when needing to cut grapes, they had a second, or fall-back, pair of grape scissors. And I haven’t even got one pair of these specialised scissors. It seems so unfair.
Anyway I wish them well of their presents, as I’m sure they still have them, along with many others from other occasions. Just a word to the wise: some of these things might have cult value by now, and it might be worth looking them up on Abe or Ebay. Start with Tomboy in Lace, or the two-way talkie.
What a wonderful world we live in. If anyone (especially anyone from the Palace) wants to buy this book from me, I would consider offers starting in the region of £500. Would consider exchange for a porphyry tazza.