It has been an exhilarating four days, and nothing I can say will add anything original to the overall summing up. I hadn’t intended to be here in the UK for the Diamond Jubilee or the 2012 Olympics, but the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. In this case, I’m glad. Firsthand impressions from the thick of the fray are always better, even though we didn’t even do anything really, except sit in front of the TV, desperately waiting for a break in events that would allow us to dash to the loo (my admiration for the Queen includes the aplomb with which she deals with that little problem – you never see her casting her eyes around for the door with the “ladies” sign).
There was no street party here, though some of us did fly our Union flags and the wind whipped them about wildly. Some people don’t know that flying the Union Jack upside down is a distress signal, and I have to wonder if anyone responded to those that were wrongly hung. It is very tempting for a pedant like me to go and knock on doors and kindly point that out, but age has given me a little wisdom and I respect the gesture: they probably don’t even realize that the Union flag has broad and narrow diagonal white stripes.
We all know that we Brits do these pageantry things better than anyone else. We have centuries of experience, and an almost continuous line of monarchy that goes back over a thousand years, so the weight of history is behind it all and that gives even the most superficially ludicrous aspects a gravitas they wouldn’t have at, say, a Hollywood wedding. The Germans and Austrians used to be good at it, too, when they had their “k. u. k.” – royal and imperial events – and even into the third Reich, if you can consider those rallies with an unbiased eye. Perhaps it’s in our common gene pool – we are, after all, largely Anglo-Saxon.
The atmosphere throughout the land has been buoyant and bright, in spite of the economic and political misery. All that was forgotten, along with the weather. The weather, of course, has never deterred the British – if it rains on our parade, we just don our patriotic plastic macs, put up our brollies and consider it as something else to laugh at. Sunny parades are the exception, and those of us who remember the Coronation in 1953 also remember the rain. Doggedly camping out in soggy sleeping bags on damp pavements for royal occasions is all part of our national heritage and character.
The sight of those drenched singers on the boat of the London Philharmonic Orchestra as they belted out “Land of Hope and Glory” with their beautifully coiffed hair hanging in rats’ tails sums it all up, along with the example set by the Queen and Prince Philip as they stood steadfastly behind their seats on the royal barge throughout the hours of the River Pageant, the Duke even dancing a little jig to the Sailor’s Hornpipe. With role models like that, who could fail to be inspired?
There is no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of her subjects love their monarch and her consort. It is a personal affection, deep and strong, born of esteem and admiration. The number of times the national anthem was spontaneously sung, with meaning and feeling especially at the words “happy and glorious”, proves that. The chants of “God save the Queen” outside St Paul’s Cathedral, drowning out the weak voices of the anti-monarchy protesters, and the cries of “Philip! Philip! Philip!” at the close of the Jubilee concert outside Buckingham Palace when Prince Charles mentioned that his father was in hospital, provide further proof.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh don’t go around with a fixed toothy smile on their faces, and cameras have often caught them looking grim when in fact they were simply keeping that stiff upper lip. Her subjects know that, and we recognise the sincerity of that wonderful beaming smile when she really is pleased. We know she was touched, and that she enjoyed the celebrations. The sight of that old Lancaster and its accompanying Spitfires and Hurricane in the fly-past never fails to move her and older Britons.
I don’t personally recall any time in the past when the first and third verses of our national anthem have been sung so frequently, and with such fervour: the singers meant every word.
The stamina of the Queen is amazing (a word heard far too often lately). Her programme of visits and occasions in this Jubilee year would tax the strength of any woman in her prime, let alone an 86-year-old, and her husband, almost 91, is alongside or two steps behind her most of the time. At an age when she could be sitting at home with her corgis, horses and other hobbies, enjoying a well-earned retirement, she has re-dedicated herself to the service of her country. And as the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in his excellent sermon on Tuesday, “dedicated” is more than “very enthusiastic”.
Oh yes, God save the Queen!