Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Lovely Jubilee

How embarrassed am I?! Ever since I miss-read a Daily Mail headline saying “The Lovely Jubilee”, I’ve been planning a street party to commemorate the anniversary of the first edition of Only Fools and Horses. What a fool I am. Apparently the “lovely jubilee” has nothing to do with Del Boy’s iconic catchphrase (it’s not spelt that way, who knew?), and is instead a celebration of the fact that the queen, god bless ‘er, has sat on her throne now for 60 years. Long to reign over us indeed. Yet I can’t help but think that the lads from Nelson Mandela House would be a better way to mark the passing of time here in Britain. Their story of struggling to make ends meet, their evasion of the law and their na├»ve optimism has more resonance with me than tales of crowns and palaces ever will. After all, who doesn’t look at their own life and wonder, why do only fools and horses work? “Poppycock!” they cry. “This is a time to rejoice, not to whinge and whine and moan and talk of democracy. Let’s put up the bunting, wave our flags, cheer for all that is good about being British!” Well, I hate to disagree… No, wait, scrub that. I love to disagree! So let’s take a look at some of the ludicrous arguments used to insult our intelligence and justify the existence of the octogenarian scrounger.

1. The Queen Works Really, Really, Hard.

The queen has had a rough old life. She’s 86 you know. 86! Although, since she has two birthdays a year, perhaps she’s actually 172. And she’s still working! In the past five years she’s been to the United States, Turkey, Oman, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates, Slovenia and Slovakia. She’s even been to Belgium. What a hectic schedule that is, travelling first class around the world to interesting places. And when she’s there they treat her like, er, royalty. There’s the dinners, the banquets, the formal state occasions, the luncheons with presidents and prime ministers, the vicious Bruce Lee-style pheasant killings. The list goes on and on. Then there’s the waving. If she ever ends up with carpel tunnel or RSI she’d have a damn good claim at an employment tribunal. To make it worse, there’s no let up, the queen is the queen all day, every day. Even when she’s asleep. Of course, the training for the job wasn’t a huge deal. No exams, no coursework, no group presentation with a powerpoint display. All she had to do was be born. A princess. Simple.

2. She Does More Good Than Harm

This is what I have come to think of as the Earlobe vs Appendix debate. On the one hand are those who think that, while queeny may be of little constitutional value, she does at least give the nation something splendidly pretty to look at. Decked out in a spangly tiara and carrying a gold mace around, she is every inch an earlobe: useless but at least you can hang jewellery on it. However, I am inclined to think of her more as society’s appendix – an anachronistic relic of an earlier stage of human development, utterly pointless and ignored until something goes horribly wrong. At which point it can cause an enormous amount of grief and is generally a right royal pain in the arse. Think Diana conspiracy theories, the queen mum’s vodka habit, or any time Philip opens his stupid, racist mouth.

3. The Queen is Good for Tourism

To plagiarise Mark Steel, I doubt that anyone has ever gone to Paris, travelled to the top of the Eiffel Tower and thought, “Wow! The view is incredible, but somehow spoiled by the lack of a monarch.” The television is full of vox pops showcasing the stereotypical tourist, hoping to catch a glimpse of “your fabulous queen Elizabeth!” But if this is the case, then why do tourists come at any other time? Surely they’d only turn up once every 25 years, knowing she was a dead cert for a golden carriage drive-by. Why does anybody go to a museum? More people take photos outside Buckingham Palace or the Tower of London than are ever pictured next to a royal. Shakespeare’s been dead for close on 400 years but people still go to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Besides, if Point 1 is to be believed, she’s never in the bloody country anyway.

4. The Monarchy Prevents Fascism

I kid you not. I once had a discussion with a work colleague who insisted that the monarchy would save us from fascism if ever the need arose. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I don’t really like the queen, but if the Nazis ever came to power, she’d be able to put a stop to it.” Which is, of course, a killer argument if we ignore reality. And history. And the facts. The one time when fascism posed a mortal threat to this allegedly green and pleasant land – the 1920s and 1930s – our esteemed royalty rather failed the anti-fascist test. Standard texts tell you that Edward VIII abdicated because he simply couldn’t live without the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. Apparently the king marrying an American socialite divorcee would not sit well with the country’s weak constitution. What these noble and austere tomes omit to tell us is that good ol’ Eddie was a Hitler-loving fascist – and that’s the real reason he couldn’t carry on as king. After he quit his life of throne sitting, he sieg heiled his way around Europe. One young civil servant who met the, then, duke of Westminster described him as “pretty fifth column”.

Not to mention that the queen mum, god rest ‘er soul, wrote letters to friends recommending Mein Kampf for a spot of light reading, pointing out Hitler’s “obvious sincerity”. Or that princess Margaret spent her life spouting all kinds of vicious racist and anti-Semitic bullshit. Oh, but what if it was true? What if the royals really were our first and last line of defence against the Nazis? For a start Liz would have to stop inviting wannabe fuhrers to her garden parties. Prince Harry – who, like his brother, is starting to look increasingly like his father – would have to pick out different fancy dress costumes. And then we’d have to rename UAF as One Unites Against Fascism. It really doesn’t bear thinking about. 

5. But She’s A Really Sweet Old Lady

“She is ever so lovely though. Once I queued for over nine hours to meet her, and when I finally got to shake her hand, she said, “How long have you been here”, and I said, “over nine hours” and she gave me such a sweet smile. You could tell from the way that she looked at me that she thought I was special.” And indeed you are. This is the one that really irks me, that really makes me grind my teeth. It’s the argument that we should ignore the pomp and ceremony, the bluff and bluster, and see the queen for what she really is – a little old lady who’s just like our mum or our nan. Except she’s not. According to Forbes she’s worth in the region of £310 million. And that doesn’t include the paintings and the palaces, the estates and the jewels. It doesn’t even include the bloody swans. She’s not like you and me. And she’s certainly nothing like my mum.

My dear old ma is 71 this year. Never once has she missed a family birthday, never once has she put less than a tenner in a card, the choice of which involved a lengthy deliberation to ensure she picked the one that contained the sentiment she wasn’t confident enough to express in her own words. For four or five days a week she helps look after my sisters, both in middle age, both with health problems. She cooks, she cleans, she washes, she runs errands. When crises hit, she’s there fussing, caring, helping in whatever way she can. Each week she gets by on a basic pension, eeking out the cash to make sure she’s got some cake or biscuits to give to the grandkids if she sees them. In winter she turns on the halogen heater in her bedroom, and lights one of the rings on the kitchen stove to keep warm. There are no chauffeur-driven limousines. No official visits. No state banquets. And yet I have learned more about love, respect, dignity and compassion from this woman than I ever could have done from any member of the royal family. Where’s her fucking jubilee?

And there’s the rub. While the rich and the privileged toast the jubilee, there are millions of people, just like my mother – real people, ‘ordinary’ people - who inspire us every day, who shiver with the cold, who just about scrape by, who struggle to find work, and yet remain completely ignored. Following the death of princess Charlotte, Tom Paine once surveyed perceptions of the wealthy royals and the impoverished multitude and concluded that we “pity the plumage and forget the dying bird”. Tragically his words are as valid today as they were three hundred years ago. Austerity may bite, but don’t worry, not only are we all in this together – this time next year we’ll all be millionaires.