Mark Boulton

Maam as in jam

It was May in 2014. A couple of months earlier, I'd been approached by a friend of mine who said that he'd been asked to put together a Welsh delegation of tech entrepreneurs for a visit to London for something high profile and would I be interested. 'Sure, why not?'. And that was the end of it. Probably nothing would come of it, but it was fleetingly nice to be asked.

In early June, whilst I was scrabbling around in the morning rush to get the children out of the door to school whilst trying to make myself look half-presentable and washing the crusty bits of porridge off my shoulder (that a crying child had deposited there) a rather posh looking envelope appeared on my door mat.

Opening it, it said something along the lines of:

The Master of the House requests the pleasure of your company at Buckingham Palace for the UK Technology Reception. Wear a morning suit.

Or something like that.

Of course, I thought it was an expensive and somewhat elaborate hoax. A few hours later another friend pinged me on Twitter: 'did you get your invitation?'. 'I thought it was a piss-take!'. So, in a few weeks time, I was going to a shindig in Buckingham Palace. Cool.

The day arrived – a beautiful, cloudless and warm summers day in London – and there I was in my posh new grey suit standing at the gates of Buckingham palace. There were maybe a 150 people making their way through the gates, into the courtyard, and up the Grand Staircase. It looks exactly how it's portrayed in The Crown.

The architecture and art of Buckingham Palace is distinctly royal. Buckingham Palace is not going to win any architecture awards, or even hearts and minds of the British public. It's an austere, serious building. A building of Royal business. Sometimes a home, but they rather it wasn't. In fact, Queen Victoria almost left the place to absolute ruin she hated it so much.

Anyway, we were ushered up the Grand Staircase and into the Picture Gallery where we were promptly told there would be no photograph taking, and, oh, here's a lovely cold glass of champagne. Really good Champagne, too. As you'd expect. There I was, on a hot day in Buckingham Palace, drinking cold Champagne amongst a hundred tech entrepreneurs. Yes, I felt a bit out of my depth. So, as the offspring of every architect will tell you, I did what I was encouraged to do since I was a small boy; I looked up the walls and examined the ceiling.

There wasn't much going on up on the ceiling – although the mouldings were nice – so my gaze came back to the walls and the many, many priceless works of art on the walls. Constable, Titian, the list went on. Some of these paintings I hadn't seen since I did art history in college. It was a little while into this quiet moment to myself that I realised I'd probably had too much Champagne and I was getting peckish. Looking over to a door off to one side, I noticed a little queue forming. Just like every well-behaving British person, I joined it. 'Brilliant', I thought, 'A buffet'.

The queue meandered through several grand rooms adjoining the picture gallery. I was happily chatting with my queue-mates looking forward to some of the best coronation chicken sandwiches I'd ever tasted.

Eventually the queue reached another door and there were two palace guards and staff standing next to it. There was a bit of a hubbub happening beyond the half opened door. The first palace official turned to me and quickly and smartly said:

'Good evening sir. You are about to meet Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke Of Edinburgh. On first addressing, you must refer to Her Majesty as 'Your Majesty'. On subsequent addressing, 'Ma'am, as in Jam'. For His Royal Highness, the subsequent addressing is simply 'sir''

Then it happened. No sooner as I'd thought: 'What?', there I was, feeling hungry and somewhat squiffy on good champagne, shaking The Queen's hand and all I could think about was the word 'Jam'. Or was it 'Ham'?

And all I wanted, more than anything at that moment, was a coronation chicken sandwich.

And, no, I didn't get one.

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