Friday, 6 November 2009

Royalty in the rain.

Though my exile to Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind was a hardship, it did provide experiences that I may never have had. One of those was being in the presence of Prince Philip. From my Deliverance From Jericho (Six Years in a Blind School) memoir, here is the account of how it happened.

Jericho received a second important visitor that year, and his coming temporarily took my mind off my troubles. Prince Philip visited Canada and one of his many stops was in Vancouver. Though a steady drizzle fell all that day, everybody was in a state of heightened anticipation. Before the prince was due to arrive, a woman from the Administration Building knocked on each classroom door to brief us. "All of you kids must wait by the parking lot to welcome His Highness," she instructed. "None of you is to stand on the road. You wait on the sidewalk next to it. Here are some Union Jacks for you to wave when the motorcade comes." The woman handed Mr Lao a box of flags to distribute to us and left.

The same messenger returned a while later to announce that the prince was about to arrive. Everyone crowded around the parking lot's perimeter, waiting for the big moment. "He's coming!" the woman proclaimed. As we franticly waved our Union Jacks, two long black vehicles drove swiftly around the lot before stopping in front of the bowling alley and swimming pool. The Jericho staff had erected a covered podium on the lawn next to the building, where we all dutifully gathered, waved our flags, and listened attentively. Since I was at the back of the crowd, I could not see what our regal visitor looked like. After a school staff member introduced the prince, he stepped up to the microphone. "I see your weathermen must have known of my visit here today. All this rain makes me feel quite at home," he quipped. I failed to understand why everyone rocked with laughter, not knowing how habitually damp the climate of England was. His Highness then delivered a long speech filled with the sort of generalities which members of the Royal Family are wont to say at public appearances. My mind wandered as the prince spoke, so I am unable to recall specific details of his speech. All I remember was that some important person with a posh accent was droning on and on while we became increasingly chilled.

After Prince Philip finished and the school officials thanked him for visiting, His Highness' staff members gave all of us blind students a ride in their black limousines. I suspect the deaf children were given the same privilege. The size of the vehicle to which we were led astonished me. I had never seen any car that large before. It even had a set of grey folding chairs which were squeezed between the front and back seats, allowing many of us to fit in each vehicle. I was not in the car with the prince but my group rode with two other officials. As the chauffeur drove through downtown Vancouver, we were oblivious of the honour granted to us. My classmates and I became engrossed in chatting among ourselves while the men in the front seat discussed arrangements for His Highness' next appointment.

When we returned to our classrooms, Tracy, a platinum blond intermediate dorm girl with a bossy voice, came around to collect our flags. "We don't have them anymore. Some deaf kids yanked them out of our hands and ran away," several of us lied. I felt strongly tempted to hand mine back to Tracy and expose the deception we agreed to but my nerve failed me. I never heard if punishments were meted out to those unfortunate students who we blamed, but we justified our covetousness by thinking that we ought to have been given those flags as mementos.

Deliverance from Jericho contains many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. This 196-page paperback sells for $25.00 through the PayPal-equipped Inscribe writers group website. It also contains 6 black and white photographs.

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