Long to rain over us

Well, thank God that’s all over: the longest Bank Holiday of my life. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee turned out to be a good weekend for publicans, but much less so for republicans. At times during the dampened pageantry, feudal circumstance and flag-waving fever I genuinely felt quite alone. Out of step. Locked out of the love-in. It was an odd feeling. I had no interest in last year’s Royal Wedding, but it only lasted a day and was easily avoided. This loop of God Save The Queen and hip-hip-hoorays ran from Saturday to Tuesday, each day festooned with itinerary highlights and spectacles to ring round in the commemorative Radio Times. Street parties, flypasts, parades, concerts, bonfires, unpaid stewards, rosy-cheeked children, face-painted adults, those plastic Union Jack hats with elastic under the chin, Union Jack bunting unfurled, Union Jack cava uncorked … I saw a woman walking down our street with two flags attached to either side of her head, as if she was a car during the World Cup. I wished the neighbours good weather for their street jamboree – kitchen tables in the road, official roadblock, cars cleared – although I’m afraid they didn’t get it.

I don’t seek outsider status. I never felt that much like a rebel, or an outcast, growing up. Even when I had uncompromising hair in the mid-80s. Voting for Neil Kinnock in 1987 and 1992 felt nominally out of sync with the consensus – an act of rebellion in its own, NME-sponsored way. My views on certain issues have become rather entrenched and extreme in the past ten years, I admit, but we won’t go there. Politically, I was disenfranchised by New Labour and the Iraq war and it felt at the time like a pretty permanent situation. I had no idea just how repulsive a subsequent Tory government might be. But I’m hardly alone in this assessment. If the Spectator is going after Cameron and Osborne, it’s hardly storming the barricades to decry them as remote, self-serving, silver-spoon-fed buffoons.

But the Jubilee? I have been seriously overwhelmed by the apparently universal waves of approbation for the Queen. It’s as if the nation has been drugged and somehow I find myself mysteriously immune. A million people, “subjects”, subjecting themselves to the humiliation and inconvenience of attending a public event in London at a time of heightened security and threatened rain, with no guarantee that they’ll actually see the Queen? I did my level best to avoid the TV coverage, but saw the worst of it on Channel 4 News, which maintained a certain distance, but nonetheless covered all aspects of the festivities. It would be idiotic to deny that hundreds of thousands of people – and not all of them with the commonsense waiver of tourism – had a fantastic time at the boat thing and the pop concert and the Waitrose garden party and what looked a protest march up the Mall but was actually an act of self-kettlement and had no complaint. All those people walking up a pedestrianised road to watch the Royal Family on a balcony on large video screens, erected by the Greater London Assembly and thus paid for by the cash-strapped citizens of the most expensive city in Britain. I did as London Transport advised me to and avoided Central London for four days.

What got into people? I don’t mean to mock or to undermine, I merely ask the question. It’s clear that any shade of republicanism at a time of public holiday and extra drinking is unwelcome. I typed a few incendiary Tweets, but I did not take to the streets to wave a placard. I sincerely believe, as previously stated, that the Royal Family should be privatised for tourism, and that the 86-year-old Queen and the 91-year-old Duke should be allowed a peaceful retirement. Their eldest son, too. By all means call William a “King” but strip him of all constitutional powers (I heard someone on the news last night reminding us that the monarch has important political duties, to open Parliament and to choose Prime Ministers, but this is bollocks, she doesn’t, and shouldn’t anyway, have any democratic leverage) and let him generate tourist money for a PLC. If we replaced the Queen with an elected head of state, one who was re-elected every four or five years, I could live with that. This person might not be able to command a nation to wave OK!-sponsored flags and shout “Long live the Queen” from behind crash barriers to the news cameras, but it would stop this country looking like a museum exhibit. Even in the edited highlights, I grew weary of seeing grown men and women, but mostly men of course, dressed in garters and braid and wearing impractical headgear. Dressing up is fun, but these costumes smack of the Tudors, and The Tudors is a period drama on telly. How embarrassing that people still look like this on state occasions. I am a great fan of the state, but not on days like this.

Which brings me to my final moan. I am not a spoilsport. Ordinary people deserve a day off now and again. This is not about how much money it cost – although you can expect the pre-Jubilee estimates to spiral upwards as the true charges come in – but the simple equation at the heart of it: we, the people, saying “Thanks!” to a woman who had no choice but to take the job in 1952, for not jacking it in, or dying, in the meantime. At least other celebrities who have us gathered in large numbers, cheering and spending our money, give us a bit of themselves. We do not, and cannot, know this woman, or her family. She is, by definition and design, remote. Perhaps she should have our sympathy as well as our respect and admiration. Though her daily life is not enviable, she is considerably richer than even some of David Cameron’s old schoolmates. She likes horses and dogs, we know this much, but spends most of her life waving, travelling and dressing up, and not with her horses and dogs. It’s a waste of a life. And now her husband has caught an infection, which must have royally ruined her weekend, and all because he was made to stand in the rain and cold for four hours on a Saturday while some boats went past.

Meanwhile, the killing joke, unpaid “subjects” from Plymouth, Bath and Bristol who had slept under a bridge and had to change into their steward’s uniforms in the street, worse high-viz jackets so as to stop other “subjects” moving freely about public streets. Good on John Prescott for demanding an investigation in the company that hired them.

When I was an NME-reading idealist, I would have assumed that the musicians I admired would no more play for the Queen than to play Sun City. But on Sunday night, nearly all of them did, or so it seemed. Statues, in my utopian vision, were to be kicked over. Serfdom was a thing of the past. I was knocked back on Twitter for expressing my dismay that Madness would lend their talent and reputation to such an event as the Diamond Jubilee Concert, but I can’t help it. I’ve just always had them down as occupiers of the left field rather than the establishment. What I have discovered is that the battle lines have been moved. It’s now fine to support the monarchy (and by extension our attachment to the long-gone Empire and all its ceremonial trappings and honours), but still be a bit left wing. I mean, we expect those who’ve accepted a knighthood – Cliff, Elton, Macca, Tom – to bow and scrape before the monarch who tapped them on the shoulder with a sword (does she actually do that?), and even excuse the likes of Robbie and Gary, who must be angling for similar royal appointment in the future, but where do Madness fit in? Sir Suggs? Sir Woody? Sir Chas? What about Ed Sheeran? Is he, too, a royalist? (He’s 21, so perhaps he has yet to formulate any political opinions?) As for the comedians, of whom I definitely ask too much, I guess they’re in the noble tradition of Billy Connolly, Spike Milligan and Ben Elton in cosying up to the Royals, and that doing the Jubilee Concert is no worse than doing the Royal Variety Show. But I expect my satirists to stay outside the tent so that they can urinate in, and find the acceptance of orders of the British Empire antagonistic to this important position. Should I stop worrying about all this?

At one end of the scale there’s Melanie Philips in the Mail – a paper whose post-flotilla coverage even outstripped the Telegraph‘s 17 unbroken pages – claiming a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat at the flag-waving multitude on the banks of the Thames; at the other end there’s Owen Jones, a young man prepared to nail his colours to the mast and declare himself a republican on telly. I’m at the Jones end of the spectrum, but it’s lonely out here.


Game of throne

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.)