Sunday, March 27, 2011

Taking To The Streets: The royal wedding

When the Great News was announced, one's first thoughts were: ah, yes, the street party. That rare and strange event when the British indulge in some old-time knees-up. Chas 'n' Dave, the hokey cokey, Union Jack hats, triangular flags hanging across the road, plates of banana and cucumber sandwiches, family-sized bottles of lemonade, lashings of ginger beer, huge urns of tea, standing and singing the national anthem, comments as to how beautiful she is and how handsome he is, comments as to what a shame she is not there to see it, comments as to how proud she would have been of him, comments as to why is she there, the other one, comments as to how drunk will the brother get later, comments as to it's the sort of thing the British do well, comments as to do you remember other street parties ...

1977. The Queen's Silver Jubilee. A recreation ground in the north of England. Beer tents, a brass band, whippet-obedience competitions. A group of university sorts has been taking the waters. Many of them. Another group, of local sorts, squares up. Oh what fun. How to celebrate Her Majesty, with the echoes of the Sex Pistols' "God Save The Queen" somewhere in the background along with an ailing British economy, a rocky pound and a handout from the IMF the previous year.

1981. Charles and Diana. It is the end of July. You have returned from holiday, having been shocked at the sight of a shaky television broadcast on a Greek island in which Thatcher is addressing the nation. You have returned to expect to find the streets ablaze and houses razed to the ground. How to celebrate the heir to the throne and the greatest marital sham of all time. And somewhere in the background is the sound of The Beat's "Stand Down Margaret" and The Specials' "Ghost Town" with its gloomy prescriptions of economic and urban decay, violence and racism.

Thirty years on and it's the turn of Kate and Wills. Or Kate and Guillermo as the Spanish press insist on referring to them. With Enrique doing the embarrassing speech, filling the Bentley's hub-cabs with nails and attaching empty Heinz cans to the rear bumper, and Carlos probably giving not a moment's thought to thirty years previously. Isabel will be there, too, thinking ahead to the street parties for fifty golden years.

The parties of little Englands and little Britains on the streets of Mallorca. Trestles and tombolas. Special deliveries of John Smith and Tetleys. Someone has to organise the catering. Someone has to organise it all. There will be a committee, as there always is a committee. The British are masters and mistresses of forming two things - queues and committees. There will be a jazz band, as jazz bands there always are. But there will be no sound of the Sex Pistols. Posters of Kate and Guillermo will have been despatched from blighty. Grinning and loving big hair and a lack of hair adorning walls of the streets, held in place with sellotape. Something will have been arranged for charity because the British can't gather without arranging something for charity. Speakers will be turned up to hear the words spoken. A hush will descend. I do, and we all do. We British.

Tears will be shed, isn't she lovely, isn't he handsome. Once more the comments will be made. And some special Spanish friends will have been invited. Smiling and altogether confused by the fuss and not knowing whether they should stand when the national anthem is played yet again. The Tetleys will have been flowing sufficiently for some raucous, football-terrace-style, passionate belting-out of "The Queen". The day will have become warm enough for the singers to have discarded t-shirts and to display bellydom and body designs. Spanish neighbours will rest themselves on balcony railings and stare down blankly. The local police will hang around, observing through their sunglasses and starting to get agitated as they check their watches, the rules for permissions and the distance that the trestles are from the walls.

As the day turns into evening and as the tables are taken down and packed into the back of a white van and the drunks head off to the curry house or to the all-you-can-eat-for-six-euros chinky, the street party will be hailed as a great success. The newly-weds will be preparing for their luna de miel in wherever it is that they are celebrating it. The toasts for them will die away, but a warm feeling will persist. Of little England and little Britain in the warmth of Mallorca, while back in blighty there is the chill of an ailing economy and a rocky pound and where the streets fill with different types of event, like a quarter of a million heading for Hyde Park.

Any comments to please.

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