I’m conflicted. A state of being that I appreciate befits me many more times a day than there are days in the week, but, on this issue, I’m especially conflicted. You see, I would usually call myself a republican, and happily so.
And yet, over the most ridiculously royalist past few days – I’ve found elements of my resolve crumbling like shortbread in a cup of English Breakfast.
Only a few short days ago, this blogpost could very easily have been the simplest of rants on my utter disbelief at how the entire nation ‒ usually able to contain itself with dignified decorum and the stiff upper lip for which we are known when disaster strikes, such as during the London bombings ‒ suddenly falls over itself in a bunting-strewn haze of anachronistic, imperialistic, faux-nostalgic, mindless and vomit-inducing fervour whenever anything remotely royal threatens to present itself on any sort of national level.
The sponsored national love-in that was the Royal Wedding was bad enough; the Diamond Jubilee threatened levels of bunting on a frankly apocalyptic scale…
Yes, I could have gone on for days and days about the utter hypocrisy of having an unelected head of state at the centre of what professes to be a democratic nation; about why the lot of them should just get the heck out and find jobs like the rest of us; about how the royal family is the definition of a stunted societal model left over from the middle ages that we’ve only still got through nothing more than default.
And, you’ll be pleased to know, about how sickening, reductive, conservative and medieval it is that a certain group of individuals should be so lauded upon, privileged, fawned over and admired for doing little more than a) being born b) getting up, getting dressed, smiling inanely for the camera (and sometimes speaking; heaven forfend, however do they manage?!) c) doing some charity work and d) managing not to fuck up their daily duty of merely existing (although they don’t always do that: Prince Andrew and Prince ‘Nazi’ Harry, I’m looking at you).
Because yes, they are the embodiment of everything terrible about our tabloid nation’s obsession with the unachievable, the rich and the celebrity (Pippa Middleton’s arse or her married sister’s latest Reiss purchase, anyone? How about Princess Diana being followed into a tunnel at speed, while we’re on the subject ‒ excuse my asking?), and as far as I can tell, are basically the same as the lot off The Only Way Is Essex or Keeping Up With The Kardashians (allow me to congratulate you profusely at this point if you have no idea who or what this is).
But, because this particular family is richer, more cosseted, speaks proper, oh – and have been doing their thing for hundreds of years, they’re suddenly acceptable ciphers upon which we are allowed, nay, positively encouraged, to hover our national, adoring, longing gaze. Well I don’t watch TOWIE – or the Kardashians, or Made in Chelsea, for that matter – so frankly, please count me the hell out.
You may be surprised to hear that I still harbour these notions.
But, while the sight of a Union Jack has as yet failed to truly fill me with joy ‒ indeed it’s more likely to fill me with images of right-wing protests, faded patriotism and misplaced imperialistic overtones, I have to say ‒ over the past few days, while watching the ridiculous pageantry on television with the full intention of laughing ironically throughout, I actually managed to get both Thames Pageant and Palace concert with only a hint of raised eyebrow.
In fact, shock horror, I actually found myself enjoying some of it, and appreciating the show (if only to revel in the BBC’s sublime lack of metaphors beyond ‘dampened’ and ‘spirits’ when it comes to rain.)
And suddenly, quite without warning, all sorts of royalist thoughts popped into my head.
The party of my usual thoughts, unused to such fervour ‒ and only just having stopped shouting Vive La République long enough to decry the recent media regression to practically nineteenth century pre-feminist values embodied quite literally in Kate Middleton’s blow dry and submission of personal identity into one of professional wife, clothes horse and imminent baby-maker ‒ hastily turned around and stared at these flighty incomers with barely concealed shock.
‘Oh shit, they’ve brought jam and cream and scones and…ooh, sponge cakes with them,’ whispered one, longingly.
‘And the bunting they’re holding, while imperialistic and by definition meaningless due to its association with the arbitrary concept of nation-statist patriotism,’ said another, ‘does look rather fetching.’
‘Rather liking fireworks and enjoying a concert with Paul McCartney and a light show in it doesn’t invalidate my previous argument, does it?’ a small thought asked fearfully.
‘Ah bollocks,’ said the loudest one. ‘I suppose we’ll just have to let the buggers in.’
Hold the bloody revolution: A top 10 list
And so, ladies and gentlemen of the assembled court, here fucking goes: my top 10 list of why, for the duration of current monarch’s lifetime at least, I reckon we don’t quite need to have that revolution just yet.
1. She’s an old woman, and by all accounts, quite a sweet and sensible one.
And, despite all of the above, who personally resents an old woman, really? I don’t. I mean, bless her, she’s met anyone who’s anyone (dahling) and been around for a heck of a while, so I bet she has some amazing stories to tell (the most interesting thing by a long way about most old people, I reckon).But the poor dear can barely get a word in edge ways for all the handshaking and hand waving she has to do. It must be tiresome beyond imagining to be conveniently parachuted into every single opening of an envelope and more, amid the knowledge that you’re only seeing but a false, ridiculously-curated, pretentious and sycophantic version of everything and can’t even enter a room without there being a severe danger of someone within the immediate vicinity wetting themselves (and I don’t mean Prince Philip).
And yet, at the end of it all, the woman is just someone’s grandma. Hell, my grandma has trouble even getting though a family meal without switching off, so fair play to Liz. Let’s just let her have her reign, and we can sort out the bloody mess when she’s been laid to rest.
2. Which brings me on to my second point. Being Queen is hardly her fault.
Basically, she’s done the best she can in a job she didn’t ask for, given the utter boredom and let’s face it, duty-bound constraints of the position. Despite the trappings and the totally undeserved privilege entirely funded by the taxpayer who can only dream of such luxury, it must be a cruelly gilded cage indeed to find oneself metaphorically chained within – a palace, yes, but also the site of a life of boring obligation that includes, to name but one recent example, entertaining the questionable heads of states of nations for whom ‘Human Rights’ are something that happens in other countries, and who effectively pose serious questions about your legitimacy as a concept – well, that’s another thing entirely.
She’s also had certain elements of the media and paparazzi follow her every life move (and those of her family) like dogs scavenging a pile of leftovers, and she didn’t even audition for The X Factor or Big Brother, for crying out loud. In all seriousness, while the Queen is one of the most-protected individuals on the planet, it bears repeating that a life throughout which you are basically public property must get pretty damn crap sometimes.
Not to mention that sixty years in any single job is enough to make me want to run very fast in the opposite direction, preferably off the nearest bridge, particularly if I had no choice in the matter ‒ so frankly, she deserves a bloody boat ride just for that achievement. And the poor woman hasn’t even been to Greece – that most beautiful of classical nations! I mean, the tragedy of it all.
3. At the same time, she’s basically benign in terms of power ‒ so usually quietly ignorable.
Yes, as republican campaigners Republic rightly point out, she is ridiculously and unacceptably beyond reproach in terms of what she says to our elected leaders – but in terms of actual constitutional power, she’s de facto a lame horse, which I guess is fair enough, as long as the ridiculous farce stops once she’s gone. (Because before we get too misty-eyed about that, her lack of power is emphatically not her doing and nothing to particularly hold her in esteem about. It’s the doing of centuries of British history in which the question of how much parliament and monarch should share power has been wrestled with in variously hysterical scenes over the course of our constitutional history. Yes, it’s rendered the Queen benign, but in the end – if we look at history, if you remove the ‘God-given’ reason for her existence, you remove the reason for her existence full stop. SIGH. I digress.)
4. Having reigned for so long, she’s provided all the media with a happy chance to look at everything through the lens of the ‘past 60 years’
Even if it has nothing to do with the Queen herself, which for a history geek like me, is nothing if not passingly interesting…
5. She’s a hell of a lot better than the prospect of President Cameron (shudder).
Not sure what the solution is to this one, because – as his greatness Sir Thomas More pointed out many centuries ago – the desire to want to accede to such a seat of power and pomp should automatically rule anyone out of the running (the only, if slightly backhanded, justification for accidental hereditary accession that I can possibly accept).
But while having an elected President as well as a Prime Minister (à la France) runs the risk of muddying the water with the dirty business of party politics and its attendant sleaze, it would certainly put democracy – that least of all evils – back at the centre of this great land. And while Cameron would be the last man I’d pick – electing someone for the (greatly reduced, ceremonial-only, mind) role seems a far better option than the current system of chance and mindless lifelong privilege. But it seems only fair to let the current octogenarian keep her job – if only to keep it off a certain David’s grubby mitts for as long as humanly possible.
6. The BBC coverage.
Without the Queen, how would the BBC possibly be able to stick all its most unintentionally hilarious presenters together to give them a chance to earn their wages for the interminable minutes of coverage of Royal events that they find themselves having to fill? I mean, we could manufacture some equivalent British ‘Bastille Day’ and do similar things for a far less royalist cause, but really – would it ever present comedy as golden as the sight of experienced presenter Matt Baker and Cambridge-educated professional broadcaster Sophie Raworth going gaga over the unprecedented spectacle of seeing A. Boat. Yes, A BOAT, I TELL YOU, ON THE RIVER THAMES!?? IN THE RAIN?! No, it absolutely would not.
7. Despite the cynicism, even I can admit that old Queenie really does give us all a good excuse for a concert
…and a proper get-together-albeit-with-a-spurious-cause. Because really, if you can’t adorn a stage with fuck-off golden lions and invite a rapidly-aging, rubbery old Beatle out to play for your bloody Diamond Jubilee, then when the hell can you? Although I’m fairly sure I could have lived out my days without ever seeing Grace Jones make love to a hula hoop, Rolf Harris in a bowtie singing about boys, or Gary Barlow dribble (practically literally) behind the Queen’s departing pastel-clad figure, saying that.
8. The Queen’s mere existence and current non-death ‒ which, we’ve established is pretty damn miraculous simply in itself (keep up at the back!) ‒ gives us all an excuse to sit around, eating cake
…smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, crisps, fairy cakes and sausage rolls without so much a whisper of guilt (there’s a sodding Union Jack on them, OK!? The diet is but a mere technicality in the face of my patriotic duty) ‒ and friends get to make wonderful and glorious spreads such as these (pictured). Yays all round!
Also, we get days off work whenever anyone in her immediately family decides to do anything, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream of declaring a holiday every time I breathed in and out (oh, OKAY then, got married or reigned for 60 years, bloody hell, same thing, hold your horseguards!)
9. The Union Flag
(or Jack, whatever – I know the land/sea rule but apparently no-one else cares, sigh), for all its connotations, misappropriations, corruptions, nationalistic undertones and suggestions of a bygone and faded imperialistic age, it actually ‒ whisper it ‒ looks quite nice up against buildings and what not, never mind plastered over anything that sits still long enough. Red, white and blue, who knew?!
10. She has corgis.
Yes, so they’re pampered beyond belief and accompany the family to their many ridiculously-sized estates when the assorted motley lot bugger off to indulge in a spot of high-class blood sports. But going back to the point: the woman owns, loves, and surrounds herself with corgis – the happiest, cutest, fluffiest dogs alive! Enough said.
But after her, though, let’s just do the proper thing and relegate the royals to history, where they belong. We can have one last hurrah when it comes to her funeral, and then call the whole thing off.
Yes, all the Royal Palaces, their contents, collections, stories and archives of former residents are without question and rightly among our most treasured and protected markers of heritage, history and cultural meaning.
But they should be highly-prized museums and National Trust properties, as many of them already are; open to the public as the beautiful but anachronistic symbols of privilege – and awe-inspiring not just because of their beauty and extent to which they inform history, but because of how jaw-droppingly out of touch they are with how the rest of us live now.
Democracy is imperfect, as one well-known wartime Prime Minister is alleged to have said. But the idea of actively and legally enshrining non-democratic privileges in this day and age, even if the bug-eyed British public does largely profess to love the ridiculously illogical farce of it all, is just nonsensical and…
Oh, you know what? Sod it ‒ to pillage the words of another famous Queen: let’s all just bugger off and eat cake.