A visiting head of state being driven to Buckingham Palace this week failed to notice the enormous trouble and expense that Britain had gone to in lining the entire length of the Mall with his country’s national flag.
President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana arrived in London on Wednesday and was driven straight to a royal reception. But the official driver charged with whisking him to Buckingham Palace said the President completely failed to look out of the window, despite several hints from the driver’s seat. ‘He was reading the instructions for the new watch he got at the airport’ said Ken Smithson, the official chauffeur who drove him to meet the Queen. ‘As we came through Admiralty Arch, the sun was shining down the Mall and all you could see was union flags and the red, yellow and green of Ghana. It brought a patriotic lump to my throat, to be honest, I thought we’d done him proud’ said Mr Smithson. But President Kufour apparently remained transfixed by his new watch, cursing the unexpected beeps that came when he pressed various buttons.
There are over a hundred flagpoles in the Mall, and for official visits, the avenue is lined with alternate flags of Britain and the visiting head of state, denoting the partnership and peace between the two nations. Staff from the Royal Parks generally take a week to ten days ensuring that all the flags look just right for the moment the visiting national leader arrives. The enormous flags also have to be washed and pressed before they are put up and the entire operation costs Britain hundreds of thousands of pounds.
‘I kept saying to him. Looks like they’ve laid on quite a welcome for you sir…’ but he never looked up once. He just said ‘How do you stop it beeping on the hour?’ and ‘Why are the two different times on the digital bit?’
Talks between the President and trade minister Ian McCartney went ahead as planned although progress was hampered by Mr McCartney reportedly saying ‘What’s that bloody beeping noise I keep hearing.’