Sweden looks ripe for invasion if this is the best they've got to offer
08.09.2011 - 08.09.2011 22 °C
Travelling broadens your horizons they say. It also broadens the range of things you're willing to do when visiting a city. I've never lived in London, but grew up not far outside it and still make regular-ish trips to the capital. However, in all that time I have never been to, or even so much as considered going to see, the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace. Yet I go Stockholm and, caught up in the delight of an unexpectedly sunny Thursday morning, before I know it my boring-bullshit-tourists-do defences are down and I'm making my way to see how the Swedish army pretend like they're defending their monarch while wearing silly uniforms. Here's how it went down...
I'll say this for the Swedish ceremony; it has the advantage of there being no giant iron fence separating spectators from soldiers as at Buck Pal. This cuts both ways. Being corralled behind a limp rope cordon may offer a better view of the marching and flag-swapping business, but it also allows you to see the troops at close quarters and realise that beneath those Bismarck-like helmets are some right wet-behind-the-ears poindexters. There's one speccy lad in particular who looks all of about 17 yet appears to be in charge of a section of the soldiers marshalling the ever-growing number of tourists into the designated spectator areas. It soon becomes clear I'm not the only one to have noticed his lack of an air of authority, since one of his men has taken it upon himself to intimidate a group of visiting primary school children by marching straight at them every time they start to stray too far across some invisible line that separates civilians and military men. Maybe it made him feel like a big man.
Talking of underwhelming officers, there's one particularly tubs important-looking guy who barely strays from one spot at the top of the courtyard in which the action takes place for the duration, and in fact does little other than wearily wave an arm every now and again in order to intimate to a group of Far Eastern tourists to move back. This photo is pretty slimming (he's the guy on the right), someone should tell him to check it out;
Public speaking duties are left to the oldest man in uniform who, after ages spent waiting around for the clock to turn 12.15pm, reels off a potted history of the Swedish crown and the gubbins we are about to witness. This is followed by more waiting around, but then a wave of excited multilingual whispers and the opening salvos of camera shutters being released announce the fact that a phalanx of soldiers is making its way out of a door in a colonnaded building at the far side of the parade ground, and before I know it I'm struggling to see above/around/through a forest of arms brandishing more cameras than greet Cheryl Cole every time she does something unremarkable in a public place;
This batch of soldiers are soon followed by two colleagues from the same platoon (I have no idea if that's the right term or not) who take a more scenic route around the courtyard before lining up in front of the rest. One of this duo carries the flag that is central to this whole caboodle, which at first sight would appear to be a tattered Swedish flag, but turns out to be a special one with a jagged edge (presumably to make it more of an honour to receive - a standard shop-bought rectangular one wouldn't have the same cachet, but then again I'm one of the least military-minded people alive so what would I know). It's surely no coincidence that the guard chosen to for this role is the tallest of the men lined up. After all, this whole thing is steeped in symbolism so, if the flag is the Swedish royal family, the last person you want to fuck with is the really lanky guy who could deploy the tactic of raising his arms up to take it out of your reach.
The tall guy holds the flag out at 45 degrees as proceedings move into phase two; the arrival of the new guards. Entering through a gateway, apparently straight off the street, they march in lines and turn to face the old guard. Unfortunately they overshoot slightly, prompting some amateur-hour leftward shuffling until they are in line with their counterparts.
A few of the newbies peel off to march up to the palace and talk to the above-mentioned stationary fatso, perhaps seeking his encouragement to take the flag off of a bigger boy.
Permission granted, old guard turn and depart from whence they came, as the the new lot march up to join their leaders, leaving a noticeably short member of the platoon to wrest control of the flag from its lofty bearer (I wager this may have been a deliberately conceived little-meets-large pairing to amuse us spectators).
The rest of his company then line up behind him, and...and... There's some shouting, presenting of weapons and no doubt some more marching, but I've kinda lost interest by this stage, what with no-one looking like they're shaping up to fire a rifle let alone any of the cannons dotted about the courtyard. What is more, in retrospect my photos all look more or less the same, and having been forced back several rows over the course of half an hour as elderly tourists with sharp elbows and no knowledge of the phrase "Excuse me", a lot of them were taken from on high and consequently show more architecture than armed forces. Here's a nice one to end on, of the thin dark blue who stand between the Swedish crown and unknown republican-commie agitators getting their way;
So what did I learn? That the spectacle of the changing of the guard draws mainly spatially-unaware Continental teens and digital SLR-toting mature Asian tourists all of whom, despite being about a foot shorter than me, somehow manage to obscure my view of much of what is taking place only a matter of metres in front of me. My advice to any prospective attendees would be to get there early, or even better to sack it off altogether and spend your time walking the beautiful streets of Gamla Stan while most tourists are trapped watching half an hour of inaccurate marching and synchronised gun-waving.