Old Faces, Different Place

Three days ago, I got up at an ungodly hour to go to London for the day. I was going to an awards ceremony at St James’ Palace for completing my gold Duke of Edinburgh at 6th form college (I wrote about college in my 2-parter blog posts “College Days”) A trip to London is always exciting; I worked out I’ve been five times in the last two years which makes me feel like a seasoned London traveller, although I’m really not. It’s a 3 1/2 hour train ride from here in Lancaster.

The awards ceremony involves going to a part of St James’ Palace that tourists never get to look around, meeting Prince Edward, and getting certificates, which is one of those things that’s only going to happen once.

I didn’t think I was likely to see any of the people from college at the ceremony, as we all finished this thing just over a year ago, and there have been opportunities to attend an awards ceremony before now. There’d been a delay with my application though, so this was the first one I got invited to. I actually really hoped I wouldn’t see anyone from college, because as I wrote in some earlier posts, my social anxiety was at its most vicious while I was at college, meaning I didn’t make any proper friends and got extremely nervous around everyone I knew there 24/7.

I’m pretty sure I made my DofE group hate me on the walking expeditions too. I’m not the most athletic of people and I was not prepared for the amount of walking we had to do at all. The actual qualifying expedition was 4 days long, but we had to do 2 other shorter practice expeditions, which were also the stuff of nightmares. So basically I was the runt limping behind everyone, while several of the other girls were doing PE A levels and netball extra-curricular etc. My feet always swelled up at the end of the first day meaning there was very little I could do but carry on through sheer will power the following days. To be fair, my group was genuinely very supportive occasionally when I was struggling, especially climbing Pen Y Ghent, one of Yorkshire’s three peaks (aka murder).

Social anxiety with my group was cranked up to the highest level on the walks, so I appeared shy and indifferent to them, and never really felt part of the group. I was the only who wasn’t already friends with anyone in the group from high school. Three of them who were close friends were all really outgoing girls with a lively (but often dirty) sense of humour, and I barely spoke and resultingly was barely spoken to. But I wasn’t up for quitting, because that would be a waste of the money my parents had paid. I enjoyed doing my Skill and Volunteering section, for which I did stuff on my church’s radio station and kids’ club. The sports section was tolerable; I just went to the gym for 6 months for that.

When I walked into the palace courtyard (Friary Court I think?) with my dad to queue up for the ceremony, there was already a long snaking queue. First I saw a girl who was in two of my classes at college and now goes to the same university as me, studying the same course, but besides all this we’ve only ever had about two proper conversations. We exchanged friendly “Hello, Y’oright?”s as I walked past but as, I said to Dad “I didn’t even know she did DofE.”

Then as soon as soon as we got to the back of the queue, I found myself in front of a girl who was part of my friendship group at college. I don’t know how we ended up in front and not behind her, I mildly stressed out afterwards because this probably means I unwittingly jumped the queue, and this is a uniquely British thing apparently, but under no circumstances do you jump the queue.

Anyway, I said Hi and asked how she was doing at university without any anxiety but in an ironic turn of the tables, she acted awkward with me. I was fully prepared to have an anxiety-free conversation with her, but it looked like she didn’t want to talk to me so I shut up. I’m not sure why it had to be like that, as I was comparatively a lot less shy with her than I was with others at college, and we had talked often on the train commuting there and back. Then again, we didn’t keep in touch and when I tried to add her and this other friend on facebook while still at college(!), they rejected my friend requests (I concluded this was because of my shyness and as a result got more shy around them)

So the next 20 minutes of queuing were a tad awkward. My dad, love him, is a bit of an eccentric and wasn’t about to supress his eccentricity for some suit and tie event at a palace– he started making unfunny jokes about the soldier guys with the big black hats, and was quoting Plato and stuff, as per usual. I could tell my friend and her mum behind us were listening but I just kind of laughed along with it and tried to change the topics. The worst was when Dad got so carried away looking up at the architecture and providing commentary that he didn’t notice the queue moving along, so nobody behind him could move forward. I tried to get his attenton 3 times before resorting to tapping him on the shoulder. All along, shifty looks from aforementioned “friend” and friend’s mum.

But all in all that was the most colourful thing that really happened. I mean, I saw a couple of people from my DofE group and said hello to the one who made eye contact with me. Mercifully, the other one never seemed to notice I was there.

The room our presentation was in was very picture book-esque. Basically everything was red, with gold chandaliers, picture frames, mirrors– it was beautiful. It was a long, rectangular room, with parents sat in rows of chairs along one of the long walls, and students in opposite rows on the other side. When Barbara, our college’s head of DofE had ticked my name off on her clipboard she instructed “Just find someone you know who you can sit with.” I panicked like Dear aliens please carry me off to another planet now but then this girl who was sat on the front row got my attention and said “Hey, I think you were in my form right?” so I took that as my license to sit next to her.

There was a speaker, explanations of the protocol for meeting Prince Edward, and a lot of waiting around as we were arranged to stand in these “semi-circles” according to our height order. I was the third shortest person of the 35 of us from college, so was put at the front. I could see my dad sitting with the parents making no secret that something was erking him, because he was making a cringe face for at least 15 minutes. They told us to “think of a funny story” about DofE to tell the prince, so I really hoped he wasn’t going to talk to us individually because the wittiest story I could think of was how we had to walk an extra 3 miles around an unmapped stone wall on our expedition this one day.

Luckily, he talked to us as a group and talking was optional. He was a really nice guy, joking around with us and asking questions without it being an interrogation. It was great meeting him.

We had group pictures taken, certificates handed out, and after 2 hours it was time to go. As we were all flocking out I asked Dad why he’d been pulling that face, saying how I’d been paranoid my hair looked weird or something and he explained that it was because they’d clearly got the height order wrong with this one girl and nobody tried to rearrange her. He didn’t realise we were walking right behind the girl he was on about as he mentioned her name none too quietly, but luckily she was engrossed in conversation and didn’t overhear!

All in all it was a great day, and all the potential social “situations” that could’ve happened, didn’t.

I’m sincerely sorry that I’ve ended up writing you an essay, but waffle seems to be an irrepressable habit of mine!

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