Friday 29 April 2011

life is very long, when you're lonely....

That photo was taken back in the summer of 1981, when that 7 year-old boy was excited as anyone about the Royal Wedding.  I don't remember watching the ceremony itself, but I do remember the celebratory cardboard and tissue paper top-hat that I made at school to mark the occasion, and I remember the big party that we had in the garden of the local village pub.  There was bunting, and the whole village came out to celebrate the fairytale wedding.  There were lots of party games, and I won the obstacle race.... as I recall, it involved climbing over hay bales and crawling under stuff.  My prize was a packet of Chewits.  Well worth the winning, I think you'll agree.

Of course, everyone knows how that particular fairytale turned out.

I must admit, I've been a little taken aback by the fuss and flag-waving that has accompanied the wedding of William and Kate.  Perhaps I'm being naive, but I sort of assumed that Diana had taught us that marrying your prince isn't always all it's cracked up to be.  This new royal couple seem to be cut from a very different cloth: where Diana was twenty years old and blinking shyly like a baby doe, Kate is 29 years old, has a decent degree and has been together with William for something like eight years.  Perhaps nothing can really prepare her for life from now onwards, but I suspect there's more to her than glossy hair, good teeth and a mother who used to be an air hostess.  William may be starting to resemble his father more and his mother less as he gets older, but for all that he was born into a protective royal bubble, he is markedly different to his father and seems altogether more worldly-wise, wary of what happened to his mother, no doubt.

I wish them luck and happiness.

That said, I wouldn't be distressed if we scrapped the whole unhappy institution of the monarchy entirely.  The news has been full of people waving their flags and fawning on about how wonderful this all is and how no other country in the world could pull off pageantry like this and how it makes you proud to be British.  Actually, no it doesn't.  I don't object to people choosing to sleep out in the streets to catch a glimpse of the royal procession as it goes past, but I certainly don't understand the impulse. It's not the monarchy that makes me proud to be British, it's things like the NHS.

Johann Hari puts his finger on it:

"In most countries in the world, parents can tell their kids that if they work hard and do everything right, they could grow up to be the head of state and the symbol of their nation. Not us. Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one particular aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The American head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps. Is that a contrast that fills you with pride?  No, it’s not the biggest problem we have. But it does have a subtly deforming effect on Britain’s character that the ultimate symbol of our country – our sovereign – is picked on the most snobbish criteria of all: darling, do you know who his father was? Kids in Britain grow up knowing that we all bow and curtsey in front of a person simply because of their unearned, uninteresting bloodline. This snobbery then subtly soaks out through the society, tweaking us to be deferential to unearned and talentless wealth, simply because it’s there".

The monarchy enshrines the idea that some people are born better than other people.  Getting excited about the fact that a simple "commoner" can marry into this does not change or conceal this fundamental truth, rather it highlights it.  I turned the radio on this morning, and after about sixty seconds of listening to 5Live talking in awestruck tones as the guests arrived at the Abbey and everyone awaited the arrival of the bride, I switched over to 6Music to listen to Huey Morgan playing records by Black Grape, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and the Fleet Foxes.

I wish no harm to the Queen or to her family.  Privileged they may be, but when I see this 85-year old, I can't help but think that she's trapped in a cage of her dedication and service to her "duty".  It might be a gilded cage, but it's still a cage.  She's been Queen now for something like 52 years, so perhaps she knows no other life, but she surely wouldn't be human if she didn't occasionally yearn to live a more normal life and to escape the drudgery of her duty to her people that barely allows her to take time off sick.  I'm sure lots of people will snort at that and wish they were trapped in a similar cage, but would you really?  I also quite like the Duke of Edinburgh: he's often thought of as an anachronistic old curmudgeon, but he's also the man who, when Wills and Harry were about to be refused the right to walk behind their mother's coffin in 1997, said that if that's what they wanted to do, then he would damn well stand at their sides as they did it.  At a time when the Windsors were apparently afraid of the reaction of the crowd to their perceived guilt over Diana's death, that's the very human reaction of a grandfather and not of the patriarch of an Institution under threat.  For that, he perhaps deserves some respect for the man he is... but not deference because of what he represents.

I popped out at about 11am this morning to buy a coffee and to run a few errands: the streets were eerily quiet, as though it was 7am on a Sunday morning.  Lots of shops were closed, and the ones that were open were a little startled to see me, sometimes scurrying out of the back room where they had been watching the ceremony on the television.  It was 2 for 1 on commemorative mugs and bags at Connaught House though, so my New York friends will be pleased....

Good luck to the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  I wish them health and happiness.  I just won't be out waving my flag and singing the national anthem in their honour.  If you are doing exactly that, then good luck to you too.  You can doff your caps and tug your forelocks at whoever you like.

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