Schmalz overload in Westminster: three days to go

"Happy days are here again , oh, the skies above are clear again..."

Oh, dear, oh dear oh dear.

So here’s the deal. I went into town this morning. Like you do. The first I noticed of anything was when I came out of Pret and headed across the road. The road in question leads up to the front of Westminster Abbey, which looms over us like a gleaming historical presence every day. I do find it very grounding, and beautiful. (And the clock’s always wrong; I like that.) So today, I notice these big yellow arches on the pavement. They have appeared over the weekend and are – I quickly intuit – security barriers…

The next thing I see is two poor souls in Westminster Council uniforms, yellow and brown (I know – puh-lease), with these pathetic little straw brooms, like what you’d have in your house, and they’re desperately and inadequately sweeping the pavement with them…

Ohdeargod so I hurry past that spectacle and up into a completely deserted office, where I spend half the day writing a lighthearted blog post on “how green is the royal wedding.” I mean, I’ve had Elvis fridge magnets, I have a wide tolerance for all sorts of things, and I thought it was kind of funny. I did tons and tons of reading.

But reading is one thing… I saw a giant press stand up already in front of the Abbey, with journalists all over it, huge microphones and cameras and big black things, and a Japanese couple happily beaming as they spoke into a big fuzzy microphone in the street; I saw those security barriers up close because I went through one of them – they’re not activated yet, obviously. There are two people camping out next to the Abbey already.

My big mistake was forgetting and trying to walk up to Green Park station through the two parks. I hadn’t managed to get out at lunchtime, to speak of, and wanted the walk; but even in St James Park there are giant lights fitted up; it should have been a sign. When you get up to the Mall, enormous flags hanging from the poles, but what really got me was the ropes, the yellow ropes that hang from the poles, with tassels on the ends of them: the golden cords. That bind us to the remnants of the Empire. Up and down the Mall, as far as you can see. They are huge. They’re totally out of scale to us, the tiny humans who only walk below, they make us like dolls.

Well, I’ve seen the pictures of Regent Street. Someone said that “the royal family are masters of iconography,” but if they really were, you’d think they wouldn’t be so thrilled with this:

Regent Street. Just don't mention the War.

Then there’s the sheer size of the flags, and the press stand opposite Buck House, and a built press enclosure with actual windows (but all built from FSC-certified wood, I can tell you) – and about 20 satellite dishes inside the press area in the park (there will be more like 200), and the massive halogen lights, and the journalists milling, and a man with his very impressive uniform, crossing the street in front of me, actually carrying a whip – and over us looming all these flags, flags and more flags, with their giant yellow cords – the dwarfingness and stultifyingness of every aspect of it. It’s designed to block out all thought.

It is royal pageantry. It has existed, in whatever form we were capable of, since time immemorial, and its purpose was to intimidate and impress, to dominate. I recently read an incredibly vivid description of Elizabeth I’s coronation at Westminster Abbey. A few years ago, reading another biography by the same author, I read an incredibly vivid description of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s coronation in Westminster Abbey. They dominated with riches beyond compare (Elizabeth wore one of the first pairs of real silk stockings); nowadays, as Orwell predicted, domination comes via media presence, security machines and CSR machinery (they are called The Firm, after all), and, above all, by sentimentality and kitsch.

So, the photos of street parties from the Coronation; instructions on how to make or get some vintage, New Austerity bunting, and pictures of cupcakes; nostalgia crossed with wishful thinking, all those pictures of happy little cross-eyed children of the 1950s eating sandwiches in the street, ah those were the days we were all happier then oh yes we were Mabel… the weird news that Kate Middleton bought three bikinis last week, for her honeymoon. For some reason that really got me. For her sake, too, I mean, but also: I don’t want to know. This is an attempt to turn us all back into children. We’re beyond it, right? I mean, we’re grownups now, we don’t need the royal family to do fun things so we can live vicariously through them, we don’t need them to show us what real living looks like? We’re not as proud of their children as of our own?

There was a big interview in maybe the Telegraph with little Clementine Hambro, the little bridesmaid Diana stopped and spoke to at her own wedding, see above, now 35 and a gardening columnist for The Lady. Oh Peter York, where are you now? This all made sense when I read your column on Sunday. Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe this is me finally getting it.

It is as banal as death. And this is just the first proper taste of it we’ve had since Princess Diana died. Something in me blanched inside, when Kate Middleton started flashing that ring around on the engagement day. It was like seeing a ghost.

Of course I wish them well. They look a lot happier than his parents did, you know, good luck to the kids, I say.

So I was moaning to someone on the phone tonight about all this – while also gradually realising that I think what I’m experiencing may be just the sudden onset of some poorly timed PMT – and I said: “But I usually LIKE kitsch!”

“Yes but this isn’t kitsch,” he replied, “This is a bad joke.”

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