In Her Majesty’s Silent Service
“Mom, I want to get a picture with him!”
“Kaitlyn, he’s doing his job. Leave the poor man be.”
“Terry, make your daughter listen to me.”
“Kaitlyn, please listen to your mother and leave the guard alone. I’m sure he’s had to deal with enough tourists trying to get pictures with him today.”
Terry was right and wrong, all at the same time. I, along with nearly every other member of the Queen’s Guard, have tourists take pictures of us at a seemingly endless rate. I’m fortunate enough to begin my duty at a relatively early hour of the day, meaning the majority of people who cross my path are commuters rather than tourists. However, the sentry who takes up the guard after my tour of duty in the rotation ends deals with far more people than I.
The Americans are the worst. Loud, brash, insistent on spelling words like colour and aeroplane improperly. The Americans are the visitors that drive the less experienced sentries mad. I personally have a hot and cold relationship with them. On one hand, their country’s repressive drinking age means that young Americans are more likely to be drunk tourists. Drunk tourists never cease to add amusement to my day. On the other hand, I cannot interact with them. I cannot laugh, smile, nor otherwise act in such a manner that distracts me from my post.
‘You may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty.’
So it is. So it was. So it shall be. All in the service of our majesty, the Queen.
“I wonder when he’s going to move next.”
“The internet says they’re supposed to move every 10 minutes.”
“Oh what the fuck. It feels like we’ve been here an hour already.”
The second young lad was right, while the third was wrong. I, like all other members of the guard, do march every ten minutes at my post. The group had only been standing watching for a little over three minutes. It’s peculiar the details you begin to remember and which you begin to forget when your task is largely to remain silent for two hours at a time. If bystanders don’t say their names or don’t do anything to cause me to yell at them, they all blend together as voices in my memory. By the same token, I’ve learned to tell the amount of time that has passed in a ten minute increment within ten seconds in my head.
“Try saying something funny to him.”
Heard it. Your mum said it better.
“It didn’t work. Try again.”
“Fuck off. You want to make him laugh, you try.”
Saying something louder doesn’t make it funnier. It just makes it louder. That’s how science works.
“What if we ask him question until he answers?”
“Do you like it when I do this?”
The first lad grabbed the second lad’s leg and began thrusting his pelvis at it rapidly and rhythmically. This led to the second boy smacking his friend, then running off while the first boy chased after. If I didn’t see that skit nearly every day from a teen, I’d probably find it funny. Instead, it just bored me.
Every once in a while, one of the passers-by will ask a question I wished I could answer. While the wording my vary by person, the six questions I hear the most frequently are asked in a manner similar to the following.
- Are you a real solider? [Yes.]
- Do you like your fuzzy hat? [My uniform is a representation of my country and my duty. I love my country and I honour my duty. Therefore, I love my fuzzy hat.]
- Are you hungry/thirsty/tired? [It’s irrelevant while I am at my post.]
- Have you ever had to use your gun? [Fire it? No. Port arms for someone not heeding my warnings? Only twice so far. I don’t particularly see this number rising, as my post is no longer one that the public can walk directly to. A rope prevents the public from getting closer than ten meters from my post.]
- I want to take him home with me. [Not a question, but the answer is no. This answer remains the same independent of your attractiveness, at least while I’m on my tour of duty.]
- What would make him smile?
That last question — as innocent and simple as it may be — is one that brings a particularly high level of consternation to my mind. As I mentioned before, we are not to stand easy while on guard. The intense focus necessary to perform our duties is more than just a solider’s training. It is about protecting and honouring the Crown. That’s not to say I was immune from cracking a smile as a guard. But every day I endeavored to be as serious about my job as possible.
“Why isn’t the man in the funny suit moving?”
“He’s a guard for the Queen.”
“But I don’t see the Queen.”
Children like that small girl confused about the lack of the Queen’s presence bring me the closest to smiling or laughter. One day, very early in my time as a member of the Queen’s Guard, a small girl from somewhere in the Commonwealth (I believe Canada based on her accent, but time has faded the memory) walked under the ropes and started making her way towards me. Her parents yelled after her, causing the child to stop mere paces from where I would have been forced to shout at her to stand back. For the next few seconds, the parents pleaded with the child to cross the ropes, while the girl insisted that she wanted to hug me. Had I not been on duty, I would have immediately walked up and embraced the child. However, had I not been on duty, the entire event would never have occurred.
Our present day child had more questions for her father.
“Can I pet the kitty cat?”
A small kitten — likely no more than three or four months old — had crossed the street, strutting under the ropes like it owned the whole of England. It walked up to me, rubbing itself against the leg of my trousers. I could hear it purring loudly, in spite of the sound of the public around me.
“No, the kitty is on the other side of the ropes. You can’t go on the other side of the ropes.”
“Do you think he’ll pet it?”
I could not pet the cat, as the child had asked. That did not, however, stop my heart from being warmed as the cuddly grey feline snuggled up against my legs. The cat circled me, its tail reaching up and tickling the backs of my calves lightly. Its purring with rhythmic and fast. I found my own breathing speeding up so as to match the purring in time.
After a second pass, the cat stopped in front of me. It stood on all fours, patiently staring up at me as I glanced back down at it. The kitten sat, wrapping its tail around its tiny body. It cocked its head slightly to the right, never breaking its gaze with me.
“Meow?” said the cat, questioningly.
I smiled, first at the cat, then at the man and his daughter watching us. The kitten, seemingly content with my response, sauntered away, chasing after a fallen leaf that had blown by a few moments prior.