Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nostalgia Trip: The wedding

Sadly, I was not wrong. I had hoped that I might have been, but had known that this would be a forlorn hope. My solace is that I had been right.

Street parties there will be. Union flag bunting there will be. The inevitable charity event will coincide. The British at play, doing what the British do, which is to organise, so long as the organisation involves tea and cake, probably a tombola and the imploring of God to save the Queen and to wish the newly-weds a long life.

I am not anti-monarchist. I am royalist agnostic and royalist apathetic. The British royal family means little, except as the source of occasional amusement. The Queen, who has now assumed the role of the British nation's favourite grandmother, one handed down in true hereditary fashion from the previous holder of the title, has always been there. Of the royals, she offers a certain comfort. I have never not known there to be The Queen. Like some old LP disc, you know she's around somewhere, stashed in the loft, gathering dust, but she can always be dragged out in some act of nostalgia.

The Queen and the royals and I go back a long way. When I was small, we used to be ushered to the end of the school lane once a year so that we could wave our little flags as Her Majesty rode past in the royal Bentley en route to the passing-out parade at Sandhurst. Mothers would wear flowery summer frocks and hats, as though they were attending the village fête, rather than standing on a roadside for a few seconds of Liz in her limo.

Some years later, I found myself in the inner sanctums of royalty, the palaces of Kensington and Buckingham. On leaving school, I worked for Johnson Wax, which was by appointment and which had the gig for polishing the floors. Of the various royals who I encountered, only one - who wasn't really a royal anyway - seemed to have a lot going for him. Snowdon. He was grounded enough to take the time to explain the workings of his glass-blowing that had created a phantasmagorical peacock that hung from one wall of his workshop and also to insist that the head-housekeeper gave the "men" Fremlins beer to drink, rather than tea.

But this was all a long time ago. It is nostalgic, like the royal family itself. And with time has come an indifference, one that is so profound that I have no particular feelings about the merits or not of having a royal family. They're all generally harmless enough, and a proneness to wackiness makes them, on balance, an institution worth persevering with.

Except, of course, Kate and Wills aren't wacky. Well, not yet anyway. They are unremarkable enough that I can't even manage to form an impression of Kate in my mind. I don't know what she looks like. It was never like this with Diana. As a couple, they are bland and distinctly middle of the road. They are royalty that has been focus-grouped; uncontroversial and uncontentious, the New Labour of a "Daily Mail" brand of monarchy.

I would feel the same wherever I was, but in Mallorca there is an additional feeling. It is a sense of unease at displays of overt Britishness or Englishness, of nationhood in a foreign land that comes no more assertively than through Rule Britannia or God Save The Queen and scattering her enemies and making them fall, confounding their politics and frustrating their knavish tricks. The wedding and the street parties are the nationalistic refinement of the British to the more common lack of refinement of the football shirt and "England till I die".

There is a further sense of unease. That the street party is all an act of nostalgia, one of Brooke, the church clock at ten to three and there still being honey for tea. The meadows of Grantchester on the tarmac or terraces of Mallorca. Like a village fête transported hundreds of miles and transported through time with little union flags and mothers in flowery dresses.

But then, in years to come, some will look back and remember the street party for His Royal Baldness and the woman whose face I don't know. They will remember a knees-up and standing to attention. How wonderful it all was. A little bit of Britain in Mallorca; and they will look back with nostalgia. And, you know, it might even be fond.

Any comments to please.

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