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.)