This and That – Jubilee Edition

We were distracted Sunday morning by the Jubilee procession of the boats on the Thames, as covered by BBC America. Blondie noticed that none of her various friends in Britain were on-line Sunday morning; presumably they were all off at various street parties, celebrating Her Majesty’s sixtieth year on the throne. She turned on the television and we were glued to it for an hour and a half: yep, the Brits really do know how to pull off a spectacle, although the dogs were increasingly distraught because it was time for walkies, dammit, and we never watch TV during the day, so there was their tiny domestic universe being rocked. The various long shots did look like Canaletto’s views of the Thames; the parties, the people, the banners, the displays along the riverbank buildings … and above all, the boats. What a feat of organization that must have been – to get them there at the start, to keep them together for the convoy up the river … and then, of course, to disperse them all afterwards.

I looked it up – the last Jubilee was Queen Victoria’s, in 1897. There probably isn’t anyone alive now who remembers that one, unless they were a drooling infant at the time and have lived to be over 110 years old. You have to go back to Louis the XIV and the 17th century to find a monarch who lasted longer. There won’t be another Jubilee for a British monarch in our lifetime, so you really can’t blame them for going all hands on deck for the Jubilee. It looks as if it is all a fantastic celebration … and I hope, more than anything that it gives ordinary Brits a kind of sense of self, and of national pride again. They were a great nation, with a glorious past, who did fantastic things all during the 19th century … and I hope against hope that something – anything can arrest the horrible downward slide, which everyone who visits Britain or lives there has noted. My grandparents and great-aunt all recollected Britain fondly; it was once a rather pleasant, industrious, sober and polite place, full of small pleasures and quiet beauties; eccentric perhaps, and definitely class-ridden, and certainly not devoid of snobbery and injustice, but still… All of Britain’s nicer qualities are now comprehensively wrecked, seemingly – unless you are very, very rich.

I can’t help seeing that when one of the British papers that we read online; whenever they run a photo-feature of times of yore – there was one just this week, of pictures taken of British life the year when Elizabeth came to the throne – the comment sections fill up with nostalgic memories from readers; It wasn’t all that bad, back then, and there is this pervasive feeling that the best of Britain’s gifts and capabilities have been shamefully squandered, and the working and middle classes beaten constantly over the head about all those things they should be ashamed of by the intellectual class. The past is not just a foreign place, but a better one and a more honest one, even with the defects noted. I wonder if this doesn’t account for the popularity of all those TV series and movies set in the 19th and early 20th century. Even with economic disparities, painfully ugly industrialization and poisonously suffocating snobbery – that past was a confident, optimistic place, a successful and a safer place for individuals, with seeminly wider horizons than are presently available.

Anyway – Long may Elizabeth II reign; so do we all wish, especially when considering Prince Charles. Oddly enough, in pictures of the Royals at the Thames flotilla, he looks every bit as old as his father.

(Cross-posted at NCO Brief, and at my book-blog.)

3 thoughts on “This and That – Jubilee Edition”

  1. “the last Jubilee was Queen Victoria’s, in 1897. There probably isn’t anyone alive now who remembers that one, unless they were a drooling infant at the time and have lived to be over 110 years old.”

    The Gerontology Research Group attempts to keep a list of everyone in the world who is 110 years old or older. In order to be listed the person’s age must be validated by documents, government records, or similar evidence.

    One person on the list was born in 1896, Besse Cooper of Georgia (Aug. 26, 1896), and 2 were born in 1897, Dina Manfredini, born in Italy and now living in Iowa (Apr. 4, 1897), and Jiroemon Kimura of Japan (Apr. 19, 1897)

    The oldest living person who would have been a subject of Victoria is Grace Jones of England who was born on Dec. 7, 1899 and is 112 years old.

  2. ” All of Britain’s nicer qualities are now comprehensively wrecked, seemingly – unless you are very, very rich.”

    Well, not really. I have friends and relations there, and have been over several times recently. I have walked miles around London and various parts of its suburbs, ridden the Underground extensively, without incident. The welfare state and the dependency culture is probably further advanced that in the USA in general, although it’s not clear it’s worse than New York or Chicago. You’re more likely to get burglarized in a middle-class area in England than you would be in the States, and probably more likely to get vandalized. You’re more likely to get shot in the States, although our middle-class areas are pretty safe. It’s easy to forget how many parts of the US we mentally classify as no-go areas and avoid hardly without thinking. My mother lives in suburban Detroit in a pleasant and leafy area where I walk around unconcerned when back for a visit. (Ironically, it’s not far from Eight Mile Road, which everybody worldwide knows from Eminem. I love telling non-Detroiters my mother lives there.) Yet I know how to drive across the Detroit area safely; if you plotted the track it would look like the track of a drunken worm. Brits are learning how to avoid their no-go areas, so they mentally discount them just like we do. Frankly, you don’t want to be in either country’s no-go areas, but in your own country, you have the local knowledge of how to avoid them. Reading Victor Davis Hanson’s accounts of rural life in the contemporary Central Valley of California, I would much rather live in England than there. The taxes are lower, for one thing, counting state taxes too.

    Everyplace is screwed up. Most middle-class people in the US and the UK live in parts that aren’t too badly screwed up and have learned how to work around the parts that are. It’s very hard to make sound judgements about which country is, overall, worse of from anecdotal evidence. Of course ordinary Brits have a lot of nostalgia for the days when England was much safer, coherent, and orderly. Many Americans feel the same way about our country. Those days were also much poorer, far less healthy, and in many ways far less socially mobile than our days. Life was hellish for certain classes of people, too, who are better off now.

    Ideally, we can forge a new synthesis that can recover some of the good features of those days both in the US and the UK, while keeping the good things we have gained. Our chances of achieving that aren’t all that different from England’s.

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