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Happy and glorious, shiny and endless

June 4, 2022

Despite my somewhat lukewarm attitude towards the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in London, there was one aspect on Thursday that never fails to impress. We do military ceremonies exceedingly well. So well, in fact, that we really ought to offer consultancy services to foreign countries less skilled in the art.

Others put plenty of effort into their parades. But goose-stepping Russians and North Koreans tend to be outriders for the stars of the show: the long lines of scary-looking nuclear missiles capable of destroying a city in an instant that rumble past The Leader on massive trailers. Rather vulgar compared with the main attraction that led the Irish Guards into the parade ground for the Trooping of the Colour: a sweet-looking Irish Wolfhound called Seamus.

We had massed bands on horseback, precision marching by Guardsmen melting under their impossibly large bearskins, ancient costumes and gold braid everywhere. Our senior royals reviewed the troops on horseback. The lesser lights, in horse-drawn carriages, proceeded, as royals do, towards their gathering point in a nearby building, not some temporary podium or in a long line on the Kremlin Wall.

I’m not a connoisseur of military parades, but the ceremony that marks the Queen’s Birthday (not her real birthday of course) beats the hell out of every such event I’ve glimpsed elsewhere. Only the French Bastille Day parade comes close, with the gleaming cuirasses of the Republican Guard and those fearsome sappers from the Légion étrangère with their bushy beards and gleaming silver axes. By comparison, Vladimir Putin’s presidential guard look like cutouts from some 1950s board game re-enacting the events of 1812. When Putin minces past them, one half expects Rod Steiger in full Napoleon rig to pop out from behind a gilded curtain and make rude faces at him.

Yes, we British really are the best in the world at this kind of thing. No matter that our entire army consists of a few thousand soldiers, a similar number of bureaucrats and enough generals to populate a respectable-sized street party, I never fail to be impressed. You could almost forget, unless the BBC reminded you, that these magnificent actors in the pageant are actually employed to defend the country, and to kill people if needed – something that’s beyond my experience. They have my greatest respect, at a time when their counterparts in Ukraine in their war against Russia are daily reminding us what the real job of soldiering is about.

I’m sad to think it won’t be long before they’re employed to decorate another event at which we’re “world leaders”, to use the vacuous phrase beloved of our useless prime minister: a state funeral. The combination of ceremonial, centuries-old tradition, stunning settings and exquisite music never fails to choke me up, be it the farewell to Winston Churchill (the only one I’ve attended in person), Princess Diana, the Queen Mother or the Duke of Edinburgh. The Queen’s send-off will surely be a five-hankie event in our house. After all, she’s the only monarch I’ve ever known. When she goes, for some reason I will feel mortal in a way I didn’t when my parents died. And without question, it will be the mother of all funerals.

When she’s gone, will all the weird rituals beloved of monarchy go with her, swept away by a modernising King Charles? Will the funny hats, the bowing, the scraping, the bizarre titles and the quaint customs follow the Groom of the Stool (who tended to Henry VIII’s intestinal functions) into the pages of history? Probably not. I suspect we’ll have to wait until King William takes the throne for the horses to be replaced by electric tricycles – all we’ll be able to afford by then.

As the Jubilee weekend proceeds with yet more events dreamed up by creative bureaucrats relatively unemployed since the London Olympics, it feels like an endless succession of Sundays. Plenty to watch, see and do. Plenty of excuses to raise a glass to a lady whom we have taken for granted in normal times, mocked occasionally for her old-fashioned ways but for whom most of us feel in our heart of hearts a deep respect, whatever our views on the monarchy. She seems no less a permanent fixture than the much-abused statue of Churchill in Parliament Square, yet her absence from most of the festivities tells its own story.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, because old age turns most of us all into gargoyles, as evidenced by some of the older royals who attended the service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday. Best we remember our old queen by her beautiful smile, which has survived the decades intact.

Best also to remember that behind the unknowable mystique she has cultivated for seventy years sits a human being, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who deserves a bit of peace and quiet while the youngsters play.

From → History, Social, UK

  1. A wholly unrelated question here Steve, which I only ask because you clearly have more fully functioning marbles than most (including yours truly) and I value your opinion, but do you think that it’s perhaps too late to do anything worthwhile to mitigate global warming? Not that the world’s governments actually will do anything worthwhile – I don’t believe that for a moment – but whether it’s theoretically possible for them to do so? I ask because just before the email arrived notifying me of a new post of yours, which I always look forward to, I’d just finished reading this report, and it made me feel quite ill IT made me feel ill thinking about the future we are leaving to my three children and three grandchildren. Leaving to everyone’s children and grandchildren –

    • Thanks Ronnie. Your post was listed as spam for some reason. Don’t take it personally! Anyway, I found it. Thanks for the link. At the risk of sounding trite, I’m optimistic for the future without any logical reason for being so. Eyes wide shut perhaps. S

  2. Roddy Bourke permalink

    Good article Steve Tom admired the Queen and the pomp and splendour
    and the horses of course. Also it’s a tangible link to history. I hope you and P are keeping well.

    • Thanks Roddy. Just spent the last three days in Scotland. Not quite as much enthusiasm up here! S

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