Dionne Warwick reminds me of the queen of England

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2006

We were in Totnes, England in 1994, and 50th anniversary of D-Day, where I had trained for the invasion. It’s a small but famous town on the south coast of Devon. It is an Elizabethan village taken over by tourists in the summer, quaint in every respect, tiny stores as in the old days…mom and pop, and they wanted and kept it that way. They were soon to be honored by a royal visitor.

Totnes is a three-hour train ride from London and a special, well-guarded, train would bring Queen Elizabeth for less than a four-hour visit. From the station to the Guildhall was half a mile and the Queen’s special Bentley would be on the train for that short ride. But there was a problem in the Guildhall, the most important building in Totnes, where dignitaries would receive Her Majesty. My wife and I had been honored there because I was the first and only American soldier to return to that city since 1944.

The Guildhall flaw was obvious; there was no toilet. The Guildhall was built in 1600 and back then women were not allowed in that hall or the pubs. The “toilet” was a wall in the basement constantly flushed by a stream of water cleverly diverted from the nearby Dart River.

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The only solution was to create a bathroom and they did on the side at the top of stairs. It was necessary to provide the necessary plumbing for a room they called the “necessary” room. They purchased a brand spanking new toilet and vanity with lights and mirror. Totnes ladies, now allowed to be in the Guildhall, would be grateful because up to that day they had to retire across the street to the museum that had a necessary room.

All was in readiness including, I’m not kidding, a red velvet seat for her royal bottom.

The advance party for the Queen inspected every nook and cranny of the nearly 400-year-old Guildhall and agreed it would suffice…until someone upstairs flushed the toilet. My goodness, if you were coming up the stairs just as a person flushed the commode you could hear the water rushing by as though a dam had burst. It would not do…panic set in.

They hurriedly installed a second wall that jutted a bit over the stairwell and packed it with sound insulating material. But now, when ascending the stairs you had to stay to the right so as not to fracture your skull. This did not sit well with Totnes citizens who had collectively vowed never to change “one lovely thing” in the Guildhall.

To prove my point there is the “Brutus Stone.” It is the only remaining evidence that the Romans once occupied Totnes. No one knew how long that stone had been there or exactly what it had been. It was between the butcher shop and the bakery. It stuck out over the sidewalk a foot or so and you had to walk around it as it was guarded with an iron fence. Shoppers would tether their dogs to it, and the dogs found other uses.

Totnes hurdles to jump for the Queen’s visit took the cake until I read our “editor’s blog” describing what the SCCA possibly has to arrange and suffer… consequences of having Dionne Warwick grace our city. She and her managers have more gall than the President of North Korea. Her “must have” list takes nearly two pages…from the number of mirrors in her suite, two bottles of Cristal Champagne per concert, six glass ashtrays, 12-foot cargo van, named sodas but no Coca Cola, coffee, tea, one dark color limousine, with TV, telephone, mini-bar, and a station wagon “to meet the Artist at point of arrival and departure.” There is too much more on that Queen’s list for me to mention…but I know what I would tell Dionne.

Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com.