Hey, I celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee along with everybody else in 1977. I was 12 and not yet a republican. The country had three TV channels and most cinemas had one screen. We didn’t have a street party in Winsford Way, because it was a through road, but there was a modest crisps-and-jelly affair for the kids in Jean and Geoff’s back garden, which I seem to remember appreciating, despite being the oldest there and approaching the quagmire of teenage. Mum bought us Jubilee-themed t-shirts – white with a Union Jack “J” on them, I think – and we wore them without protest and certainly without irony. My brother and I rode our bikes round the estate to see which houses had decorations outside. It was quite a few.
I must have been dimly aware of the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen but if so, it is not mentioned in my diary, only the fireworks on telly and the day off school and the lighting of the beacons, also on telly. Perhaps news really did travel more slowly to the provinces in those days. Punk certainly didn’t enter my life until 1979.
As a fully grown adult in 2002, I had to sit through the Queen’s Golden Jubilee as a card-carrying armchair anti-monarchist; by this time I had long come to regard the Monarchy as an outmoded, offensive and defunct proposition. The very idea of a bloodline denoting an income based upon tax and a caste system that actually categorises the majority as “subjects” is surely a relic from another century, and not even the 20th.
We may not be able to stop landowners handing down their wealth to their heirs (well, we could tax them harder like the postwar government did, but unless we’re going to stage an actual revolution – in this heat? – the rich won’t be stripped of their assets any time soon), but we can surely take the Royals off the civil list. No? Even at cut price and by selling off their yacht and putting a gift shop in Buckingham Palace, they still cost the state £32.1 million a year in grants and direct subsidy, and the fawning celebrations for this latest Jubilee are not going to come cheap. Not with all those boats! (Although it’s delightful to know that tourists will have to pay to enter certain public thoroughfares at the weekend. Glad you came?) Actually, in the fine tradition of public events, it’s being mostly funded by private money, but the taxpayer is stumping up for the not-inconsiderable security bill.
The Queen herself has a personal fortune of £310 million, mainly from property, so she doesn’t need to work again. She’s old; let her retire. So is her heir; let him retire too – he’s got plenty of retirementy things to be getting on with. If we’re going to keep this eccentric family as living waxworks for tourism, which is an option, then cut them loose, turn them into a private corporation and let them manage their own finances without state handouts. If they want jobs where they don’t have to pay tax, then they should become the head of the IMF. (Surely the Tories would stand up and cheer the notion of privatising them?)
I think what I’m really against this weekend is not the Queen asking us to celebrate her not-insignificant 60 years on the throne, but the four-day weekend itself. Two bank holidays? Really? (And this was originally a New Labour initiative, I believe.) And there was I thinking the economy was in peril. I’ve just received my weekly email from Transport For London and it basically tells me not to bother going into Central London between Friday and Tuesday. Similar advice will be sent out for the Olympics and the Paralympics, a grotesque carnival of corporate self-interest and cross-promotion whose admirable sporting achievements will struggle to be seen and heard above the din of product placement. (Cheery cartoon posters on the trains warn those of us who live here and whose council tax paid for the Olympics to avoid certain key stations, change our journeys, work from home and generally get ready to have our working lives disrupted for the best part of a month. Other posters ask us to volunteer to clean the streets of London for nothing, and entice us to do so by jokily telling us that it’s like when your Mum comes round your flat except your flat in London and your Mum is the “rest of the world”. This initiative is sponsored by Fabreze and other cleaning brands linked with huge multinational petrochemical corporations, which begs the question: why don’t they put their sponsorship money into paying people without jobs to clean up? I thought that’s what this recovery was all about?)
This is no summer to live in the capital. (And God help you if you are disabled; I saw a report on Channel 4 News which showed a wheelchair user getting on the Piccadilly line at Heathrow and being literally unable to get off the train for the whole line, having to travel all the way back to Heathrow to escape the London Underground. Still, they did rather spring the Olympics on us, didn’t they?)
I admit it: I dislike forced jollity. I’m all for fun, don’t get me wrong, but I like to decide when I’m going to have it. (I’m not much use on New Year’s Eve, either, but I am great at spontaneously getting the beers and rosé in and turning an afternoon into a long night without warning. And not always on my own!) I find it difficult to get worked up about things the Royals have achieved, as they have the biggest head start in Britain. When one of them found a girlfriend willing to sacrifice all vestiges of normality and privacy in return for marrying into his eccentric family a year ago, I was expected to be excited about that. I wasn’t.
If you’re interested, the Guardian did a very informative pictorial spread on the weekend’s festivities, with all the sailing ships and everything. It’s here. (It being a republican paper, it also shows you how much the Queen costs.) I’m planning on avoiding the whole thing by going to the cinema for four whole days (cool, dark, serves chilled beverages etc.). It will be good practice for the Olympics. If I may risk an athletics allusion, don’t get me started on the Olympics.
(Oh, I’m really looking forward to Euro 2012. I hope those far-right Ukrainians are excited that their Mum ie. the rest of the world, is coming round their flat.)