Voices: Boozy, bawdy and bilingual: The coronation was a very British celebration

No holy oil for the masses, but plenty of holy water. If we are meant to believe that it was in this moment that the Almighty conferred his blessing upon his chosen son of Earth, then the signs were there that even the Lord himself couldn’t resist just a touch of scepticism about the whole thing.

The crowds had waited for hours, some of them for days. The first heavenly drops landed almost on the beat of the very first clip-clop of the very first hoof of the King’s procession. Thirty or 40 deep on both sides of The Mall, the multitudes reached, as one, for one of the lesser-known coronation artefacts: the Hood of Gore-Tex.

What most of them saw, in the end, was a flash of gold. The roof of a carriage, and the knowledge, if not necessarily visual confirmation, that a King was contained within.

While the pipers piped, the ordinary folk bobbed up and down on tiptoes as if it were the Last Night of the Proms.

For the most part, history went by on the phone screen of the person in the row in front. Such things are a nuisance, normally. On this rare occasion, it was a valuable public service. Not so much a video recorder as a makeshift periscope. An infinity mirror, almost, with screens pointed at screens pointed at screens pointed at screens, vanishing to imperceptible nothing somewhere near the burger vans lined up by the lake in St James’s Park.

The crowds that swept down from Green Park station at dawn all knew what they were doing. Most of them – quite possibly all of them – were living out this ritual for the third time in a year. A coronation may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, but The Mall has rarely been more processed down than in the last 12 months.

They all had chairs, umbrellas, sandwiches, and their preferred spots to put them in. Two down from me, they had cans of Corona Extra lager for the coronation, and were very much into them by 7.45am. It has, by any measure, been a big few years for all things corona-related.

One man had secured the perimeter of his camping spot by plunging tree branches into the earth all around him and then impaling upon each of them, one by one, the night’s empty cans. (Cider, mainly, but several Budweiser, and a couple of craft IPAs. An extra bank holiday is not a gift to be wasted.)

They all had hints and tips, too. “No phone signal?” a very nice Brummie lady called Sam asked me. “Go into your mobile data settings. Drop down to 4G only and you’ll get on. We were next to some geeks at the funeral. They showed us it. It works.” It did, as well, if only for a few minutes.

Mainly, they waited. They waited and they waited and they waited. They saw the King sweep past on his way to the abbey, and for a second second’s glimpse, they waited and waited hours more for him to sweep back again on his return.

There was real community in the waiting. While in the abbey down the road, His Majesty was publicly devoting himself to a life of service, one man near me humbly sacrificed the last full drop of juice in his portable battery charger to revive a stranger’s dying vape.

Throughout the long ceremonials, the rain barely relented. Wild numbers have been bandied around about global TV audiences, up into the billions. But those who actually came and waited, barely saw. You could just about hear the voice of Bryn Terfel, fading away from a faraway speaker, and then the sounds of the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Two Frenchmen tried their best, but with varying degrees of success, to hit every “Amen” in the refrain of “Zadok the Priest”.

There were four big words that no one missed: “God Save the King!” as exhorted by the archbishop. His Majesty may have waited 70 years to hear them. Down here, it felt like even longer.

Over in the Palace of Westminster, there was no shortage of conflagration about which members of parliament had been invited and which had not. The B-listers and their staff gathered around tables in the parliamentary canteen in front of a giant TV, and then snuck out onto the street to see the carriage ride past.

Even in real life, it was like watching it on the TV. A king and queen, crowns on heads, ermine on shoulders, riding past in a carriage of solid gold. It felt impossible that you could almost reach out and touch it and yet somehow not slip through a wormhole and end up in the wrong century.

At the end of the procession, the barriers were lifted and the people on each side of The Mall rushed on to fill the thoroughfare. Again, they didn’t see much. A flash of diamond this time, up on a far-off balcony, and a wave of the hand.

It’s completely mad, all this... course it is. But there is nothing new or radical about the cynicism towards it. Outraged objections to monarchy are as old as monarchy itself. Our one – tamed, self-aware, made fun of almost, hardly taken seriously even by the family upholding it – is not exactly the greatest aberration around these days. Nor is it, on the accumulated evidence of constitutional monarchies around the world, by any means a bad way to run a country.

In a rare interview, Prince Philip was once asked for how long he and his family would go around doing the things they do, opening doors, cutting ribbons, waving out of carriage windows. He gave a quick and sharp answer. “For as long as the people want us to,” he said.

At this precise moment, the people very much do want all this to carry on, but it may not last. King Charles III is the oldest person ever to take part in this thousand-year-old ceremony. He also, quite possibly, faces the most serious challenge – to keep the people wanting more. They might not wait around in the rain for ever.