Off With Their Hats!
By Sunny Bleckinger
Monday. Queen Elizabeth II came to Amsterdam for a one-day visit in honour of the 400th birthday of the English Reformed Church in the Begijnhof. She was joined by her husband, Prince Phillip, and our own Queen Beatrix, making it the first time the church was ever visited by two queens at the same time. The event was closed to the general public; few were let in beyond a list of royal ‘friends’, a pack of wild reporters, and of course, the begijntjes—the all-female community who reside there in relative solitude and silence. If you weren’t invited, here’s what you missed:
09.53 a.m. Minister John Cowie practises stepping out of the church and greeting the queens. TV crews quietly search the courtyard for good camera placement. A dozen Dutch flags—and one British—which were hung earlier around the hof, gently flutter in the wind.
10.47 a.m. An elderly begijntje walks out to her picket fence for a final scrubbing. Her neighbour sees this and does the same—slightly more thoroughly. The entire courtyard is immaculate. The trees have been trimmed, the brick walkways were steam-cleaned last week, and a side door on the church is particularly shiny. (It was repainted three times—always the same dark green.)
12.13 p.m. Tourists continue to amble around the hof, despite the planned noontime lockdown. Some tourists wonder out loud if Prince Phillip will wear his kilt.
12.37 p.m. A Dutch police officer strides into the courtyard in ceremonial dress, including golden braids on his jacket and pristine white gloves. Two ladies ask him to pose for a picture. He consents. Shortly after, no more commoners are allowed onto the premises.
12.58 p.m. An extremely happy bomb-sniffing dog runs around the courtyard. He smells every crack and crevice, leaps over fences, wags his tail furiously. The dog has the time of his life. The trainer is ultra-serious. No bombs are found.
1.46 p.m. Invited guests, after passing a security check, slowly filter in wearing a variety of outfits. One of them, though not a royal consort, wears a kilt. Many begijntjes stand behind the windows of their homes, providing commentary on the entering guests. Comments include, but are not limited to: ‘Not much colour on these people,’ ‘Check out the one in the funky shoes… work it, girl,’ ‘Is that lady’s pink coat filthy? Unbelievable!’ ‘Look at that hair—looks like someone that would be on the Titanic,’ ‘It’s a cute outfit, but she shouldn’t show so much leg, not at her age.’
3.47 p.m. A pack of press hounds hustle in to their predesignated spot. A local cat sits nearby, cleaning itself in a lewd area. The press agree to ignore this.
4.22 p.m. A helicopter is heard circling overhead. Minister Cowie steps out of the church in full robes. Mayor Job Cohen arrives. It is believed that the two talk about the grey sky and the light, intermittent rainfall. It is then assumed that, given each man’s connections with higher positions of power, the clouds will part and the entire courtyard will be swathed in warm sunlight by 4.35 p.m.
4.35 p.m. The clouds part and the entire courtyard is swathed in warm sunlight. Outside, officials roll out a red carpet.
4.49 p.m. Both queens arrive. Prince Phillip is wearing trousers. Elizabeth looks weak and feeble next to the sturdy Beatrix. It is generally agreed that, if it came down to it, Beatrix would win in a bare-knuckle fistfight.
4.52 p.m. After three minutes of outside air, the queens and their entourage enter the church. Service begins.
5.17 p.m. Singing can be heard in the otherwise quiet courtyard. The congregation then turns to page seven in their pre-printed service booklets. One man near a window visibly yawns.
5.38 p.m. Service is concluded. The queens exit the church past a battery of press photographers. Before leaving the Begijnhof, they accept flowers from four ecstatic begijntjes standing by the door.
6.02 p.m. Municipal workers take down the flags. Iron barricades are loaded onto a truck outside. Some begijntjes begin to relax. Others, to recover. All is calm.