ser·en·dip·i·ty | \ˌser-ən-ˈdi-pə-tē \
Definition of serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way, as in "a fortunate stroke of serendipity"
London, England in May. The fragrance of spring flowers mingles with the acidic smell of petrol from the cars that chokes the streets. I jostle and elbow my way down the street towards Trafalgar Square, looking up more than I look ahead, absorbing the height and depth of the experience.
My starting point had been Westminster Abbey, the British Parliament buildings and Big Ben. The Gothic architecture of these old buildings is as ornate on the inside as they are on the outside. The iron gates leading to #10 Downing Street stopped me on Parliament Street, and I shrugged and ticked another site off my list. As close as I could get, anyways.
With my camera around my neck and my knapsack on my back, I wait for the light at the top of the street, so I can cross to the square. Watching people is one of my favourite pastimes, and taking in London’s famous landmarks offers endless opportunities. I cross with a crowd of people and enter the square, squinting up at Nelson in all his conquering glory at the top of his pedestal. Using my dogeared London A-Z, I located Canada House and the National Museum, but decide to sit awhile and have a snack among the pigeons and Canada geese in the square.
As I eye a pigeon intent on a handout, a bustle of activity at the top end of the square catches my eye. Police officers on motorbikes and a motorcade of cars appear to be stopped in front of St.-Martin-in-the-Field, the old church nestled on the corner. The road is blocked off, I notice, and a cluster of tourists with cameras stand on the sidewalk, gesturing excitedly with each other and watching the doors of across the street. I wander over to them, curious about the spectacle.
“What’s going on?” I ask a couple of older people.
“The prince is in there,” one replies in an Australian drawl.
“The prince?” I ask, forgetting where I was for just a moment. “Which prince?”
Just then, the doors to the church opened, and Prince Charles emerges from the dark interior. Behind him, three elderly men outfitted in full historic military regalia follow.
“Who are they?” I ask the Australian, fighting for a view with the Japanese tourists beside me, and lifting my camera as high as I can to get a better shot.
“The Chelsea Pensioners,” he said.
“Hey, Prince Charles, over here!” Someone to my left shouts.
Prince Charles looks up for a brief moment, fixes his eyes on us, and waves.
NOTE: Chelsea Pensioners are British army veterans who live at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The ones I saw 26 years ago likely served in the First World War, or maybe even the Boer War (they were in fact quite elderly). There are about 300 currently living at the hospital, who served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and World War II. The Royal Hospital is a Grade I and II listed site, left to the Pensioners by Charles II and Sir Christopher Wren.