So, it finally landed, and it’s nearly finally all over. The Platinum Jubilee is coating the country in thick swirls of patriotic icing. It’s so thick you could smear it on the walls and make patterns in it with your finger, as Bobby Sands might have done in a dark corner of The Maze. Only Bobby Sands could never quite understand why we Brits love the Queen so much. If only he could have darted forward 40 years he might have been able to see what an absolute punchline our monarchy has become and then he might have stopped skipping breakfast like a naughty boy and could be in charge at Sinn Fein instead. Either way you wouldn’t have caught him waving a cheap plastic flag on The Mall this weekend. I’m no anti-royalist but that kind of stuff is strictly for other kinds of nuts. There is something quite marvellous about a patriotic gesture at a British gathering that requires a cheap flag manufactured in China. It’s something we do rather well. I suppose it can be said for patriotic gestures almost anywhere else in the world. Oh, and thank goodness, as everyone keeps saying, that we still have The Queen.
I’m pleased to say I haven’t taken in too much of the Jubilee this time round. Enough to get an idea but, not so much that I’ve stopped remembering there are far better things I could be doing with my time – like writing this, or sleeping. All in all it’s probably been a slightly more comfortable experience than the Diamond Jubilee when I walked along the Thames in rain that could best be described as unrelenting to watch a tastelessly decorated boat float past from such a distance that rendered even looking in the right direction a total waste of energy, and then walking all the way back as that wettest sort of rain persisted in resisting the urge to relent. In its own way it was a brilliantly British failure, the sort that only we could consider some sort of success. Since then The Royal Family have never looked back, doubtless because they couldn’t bear to come face to face with what was chasing them.
So, what I have seen has been patchy. I managed to miss The Trooping Of The Colour in its entirety due to being in the gym and then due to not turning on the TV to watch it when I got home. Many years ago I got to watch the event from an office window on Whitehall, and while I felt rather privileged at the time it never escaped me that in order to enjoy this kind of thing you must first find some mild thrill in watching grown men in plumed hats on horses ride along in formation for a while and then stop whenever someone in a notably more be-plumed hat starts shouting. The depth of heritage has never escaped me but I’m not quite so sure how this kind of exercise will help in the event of a nuclear attack. After that I’m told that the fun moved over to Buckingham Palace, whereupon any member of the higher echelons of the Royal Family that was not currently disgraced, in exile or dead were cordially invited to join The Queen in waving feebly at a staggeringly huge crowd that stretched far beyond their failing eyesight. Friday’s papers showed shots of Prince Louis playing up a bit and I was torn between thinking he’ll grow up to be a twat (which he almost certainly will) and just how very bored and baffled I would be in his shoes. Very firmly rather him than me.
Once all that died down I exposed myself (not literally) to a bit of evening time watching Kirsty Young manage to be smug, dour, dull and patronising all at the same time as she led us through the lighting of the beacons: an age old tradition that had until that point completely passed me by. In a day and age where we are encouraged not to set fire to stuff as much as we used to it seemed a touch wasteful, but it did have the great advantage of drawing the four corners of the United Kingdom together in a collective celebration of waste. Besides, it’s good practise as it will be the lighting of beacons that might just alert us to a rapidly approaching nuclear attack, presumably one that has already managed to fight its way past a particularly feathery cavalry charge. I’d had enough of Kirsty’s big comeback (many would be forgiven for thinking it was her jubilee) about three minutes in so you can imagine my delighting in finding her hosting the service of something-or-other on Friday morning. St Paul’s was packed with prats, most of them patting themselves on the back for getting an invite or busy swivelling their tanned, wattled necks for a glimpse of those icons of perpetual vacuity – The Sussexes. The whole thing looked about as enjoyable as counting grass and it struck me just how lucky Prince Charles really is: he got to go in last and leave first, the lucky old lunatic.
Moving on to Saturday, well that’s when the Queen, who spent all of Friday putting her feet up after the exertions of Thursday, finally got to enjoy about the only thing she ever seems to truly enjoy that doesn’t involve killing wild animals – watching people ride horses for money, from the comfort of her own castle. On this occasion even I got lured in and spent a good few hours with the Epsom Derby on silent in the background as I went about doing anything but watching the Epsom Derby. In the moments that my drifting peripheral vision crossed over with the TV’s beam I seem to have spotted an awful lot of short men wearing awful purple and gold blouses (apparently this means they’ve been awfully good at making horses go faster by hitting them), an awful lot of dicks in top hats and an awful lot of ill-judged summer dresses, crammed full and garishly topped, like an explosion of badly made cup cakes. It’s interesting which corners of society the camera tends to follow around at the races – it certainly isn’t the hordes of very jolly traveller community types that get all spruced up and lairy for these types of things, that just wouldn’t do. Of the one race I watched in full the winner was a horse with no jockey, which kind of says it all (the poor fellow that fell off probably had to drink his Jubilee lunch through a straw today). For another race (that I didn’t watch on principle) I saw a series of horses being very physically encouraged to enter their starting gate by a girl with a ponytail (what else?) and four amply gutted heavies. I’d say that when you have to cram a very reluctant horse into a cage to race it for money then there’s a chance you don’t really have that horse’s best interest at heart. Still, it’s the Platinum Jubilee, so let’s not worry too much about that.
After all my speculative guile I was wrong about last night’s Platinum Party at the Palace. It wasn’t dreadful. It was fucking abysmal. Much worse than even I could have predicted. So bad in fact that the ever-enthusiastic Kate and William seemed to be struggling, and their taste in music can’t be all that great to start with. I didn’t stay up for the very end because I felt so sad that this was the best we could do for the longest reigning monarch this country has ever had. 500 years ago they would have garrotted some swans and beheaded a few traitors which, on reflection, would have been much more fun to watch. In keeping with tradition it pissed down with rain most of last night, threatening to put paid to all those carefully laid street party plans. As I write this the streets of London are filled with garishly dressed sycophants and up and down the land next-door strangers are forcing themselves to spend the afternoon in some form of forced blissful union, which they hope will never need to be repeated. This has been my least pro-active Jubilee, and that makes it one of the best ever. In reality most of the country is in another country (or a crammed, testy airport lounge), watching the French Open or catching up on the laundry. I tip my hat to the Queen, as I feel duty must insist. The next time we’re brought together by royal decree on this scale I fear it will be to see Charles III take the throne. Only with that thought do I realise that it might have been better to enjoy it while it lasts. Then again, by this time tomorrow it will just be a memory, a cheap, discarded Chinese flag and a tacky mug with a broken handle being used as a pen holder. God save the Queen.
G B Hewitt. 05.06.2022
PS, If you get the chance please seek out a specially commissioned Jubilee poem by the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, called Queenhood. Even if you like poetry you’ll cringe. It is so, so bad that it somehow manages to be an insult to poetry, the English language, writing, words, vowels, consonants, punctuation, eyesight, the passing of time and, most crucially, The Queen. There is some truth in the notion that you know you must be a shit poet when you get made the poet laureate.