Police horses and pearlies, cadets and marching bands all assembled in the Sunday morning cold, alongside veterans, local dignitaries and others wanting to pay their respects. The nearby plaque to those who died in a V1 bomb attack in 1944 was a sombre reminder of why the Remembrance parade starts here.
As I arrived I saw uniforms being adjusted and frantic phone calls made to those cutting it fine for the prompt start. John, the local Pearly King and his son Darren, the Pearly Prince, were both in attendance, sparkling and weighed down in their traditional Cockney suits.
As the varied groups gathered in formation, I noticed how they held themselves and what their hands were doing. Even before the parade began, body language in uniform was stiff and formal. The Honourable Artillery Company and the army cadets clasped hands behind their backs, while the police cadets held their arms stiffly by their sides, hands curled and closed. Chests were puffed out, shoulders back, legs stiff and breathing restricted. Feet stood close together, boots polished and shiny.
The drummers were more relaxed as they waited, despite their starring role at the head of the parade. I thought about the heavy drums they held strapped in front of them, and the effect that carrying the weight while playing and marching would have on their bodies over the next hour or so.
The troops massed into line, an officer barked the command and the parade moved off. Every so often a leader shouted an order to keep the disparate marchers in time. Each group saluted as they passed the local fire station, with firefighters standing helmeted and to attention outside.
Rigid military bearing is the opposite of the free open movement I’m working towards with the Alexander Technique, and I was acutely aware of the contrast as the soldiers marched by. I felt uncomfortable as I watched their taut faces and held body language. I felt relieved and breathed more easily when they had moved on.
The parade continued, marching to the drummers’ beat and collecting more officials and children’s groups. We all came to a quiet standstill at the war memorial, where hundreds of people had gathered for an outdoor inter-faith service.
The crowd hushed as the trumpeter sounded the Last Post and we stood for two minutes in silence. Representatives of local groups and members of the public laid poppy wreaths then the crowd dispersed to warm themselves in the coffee shops nearby.