Friends in high places made the Jubilee flotilla much more fun and much less wet. By friends in high places, I mean Harriet and her first floor office in County Hall by Waterloo Bridge which gives us all fantastic views of the boats going past. I put on the earrings I’ve made for the occasion (red, white and blue which would also do nicely for Bastille Day celebrations in France), wave my flag and eat my picnic. We all applaud a jolly good show and – as we look down at the plebs below – endeavour to not be too smug about our prime viewing spot; to avoid grace leading to pride, if you like.
Then it was the Jubilee concert, enjoyed on TV with good friends and takeaway pizza. Somewhat bored of the Guardian’s moaning about the injustices of an unelected monarchy and of my own inclinations to critique and overcomplicate stuff, I decide to have an evening of not seeing everything as a conspiracy. I determine that tonight’s gonna be a good, good night, and sit back to enjoy a quality ‘free’ concert. Ooops. Free concert, I mean. I’ll ditch the inverted commas as proof of my discarded cynicism.
I curl up on the sofa to enjoy the beautiful fireworks without asking if this is really a good use of tax-payer’s money; to hear ‘live and let die’ as a song not a foreign policy statement; to appreciate the beauty of the images of council flats skillfully projected onto the palace facade without pointing out that this could be construed as flaunting it; and to allow my confused British heart to be warmed by the Jubilee song without drawing attention to the way that the culture of the Commonwealth, in the form of drumming ‘slum dwellers’, is wheeled out alongside the military wives in an emotive bid to shift the world’s focus away from some of the injustices of both the past and the present. I try. And I do kind of manage it. Enjoyment never used to be this complex.
My discovery of the evening is that I still know the second verse of the national anthem: that’s what Brownies does for you. May she defend our laws and ever give us cause to sing with heart and voice: ‘God save the Queen’. Contemplating the words, I recognise that the Queen has actually done a pretty good job of it and that her kindness and self-effacement have certainly given a lot more cause to sing than the actions and attitudes of many other leaders and heads of state – monarchs and presidents, elected or otherwise – who use wealth and power to further their own ends and to serve their own agendas.
With this warm rush of emotion towards the person and character of the Queen, I head off to the Mall the following day with Ian, Ruth and the girls. Among the crowds, we wait, we hope, we crane our necks, we wave our flags, we laugh, we Mexican wave, we see, we cheer, and we sing. And we play a lot of I-spy to keep everyone going. Abbie’s eyes sparkle with excitement as she tells us that when the carriage passed Kate looked straight at her and called out that she liked her hair. We’re not totally convinced that this happened, but Abbie is, and she’s flying high off the back of it.
I reach the end of the Jubilee weekend realising that, as is the case with so many aspects of life, it’s all too easy to criticise at the expense of simultaneously drawing attention to what is good. Inevitably, the Jubilee raises questions of power, wealth, politics, identity, and belonging, which are never going to have straightforward answers and which should always be interrogated. But perhaps the weekend has also reminded me of the call to recognise goodness where it can be found, and to affirm it. To celebrate times and examples of community, generosity, hospitality and peace, laden – as they inevitably are – with all the ambiguities and incompleteness of the now and the not yet.
And so we continue: joyful in hope.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!