Diamond Jubilee - a few last thoughts

I feel no compelling need to express my thoughts on this event and add to the vast number of column inches, television and radio time already devoted to the event. However I do think the capricious BBC coverage of the event indicates a great deal about the values of the society we live in. And judging from the newspaper commentaries it seems we do not like what we see in the mirror. After all the producers are only reflecting what they consider or perceive to be the general Zeitgeist of the nation.

I have had my say concerning the river pageant in an earlier post. The Jubilee concert on Monday evening was clearly a wonderful event for all those who are nostalgic for a period when popular music was composed by authentically talented musicians and also performed well by them. Good to see Lang Lang, despite his undoubted uncanny virtuosity, being accurately and deservedly placed among popular musicians and entertainers rather than taking an undeserved place in the pantheon of serious classical pianists.

The production was a technical and theatrical tour de force. Why ever was it cut short at the end in an act of barbaric dismemberment when the credits rolled before the incredible firework display was even finished? Those of us living abroad felt so disappointed that our time in virtual Britain was so ruthlessly cut short. One simple answer here: the ubiquitous adoration of the golden calf that has encompassed minds in almost every aspect of social life today. The Old and not the New Testament is becoming increasingly relevant to contemporary events as time passes.

The procession to and Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul's cathedral was treated with appropriate gravitas and knowledge by the BBC announcer Huw Edwards and the eminent historian Simon Schama. Edwards even accurately described the custom Bentley that had been recently manufactured for the Queen. He could also have mentioned the significance of the mascots - not a trivial and simple decorative object as some may assume - one of them on a Rolls-Royce Phantom IV had belonged to the Queen Mother (Britannia atop the globe). The Queen has her own transferable mascot for use on her official cars. The mascot on the Bentley was designed by the artist Edward Seago in the form of St George on a horse poised over a slain dragon. Much thought went into the selection and design of these accessories. My thoughts on this come from the fact we did spend a great deal of time looking at these interesting and historic motor vehicles from the Royal Mews. We learnt little about them unfortunately. Far more fitting than that frightful question posed to a child 'What do you think of the old lady in the carriage'?

At last we were being treated to a knowledgeable and serious commentary with discernible and significant content. This did not imply that the encounter would be a boring affair. Media producers are terrified of boring audiences whose intelligence they grossly underestimate hence all the other trivial inserts we have been treated to - the jubilee sick bags with Queen's head took the biscuit for me however - a result of the the palace generously not controlling memorabilia produced for the event. The good taste of spin-off merchants cannot be relied upon - no self regulation in evidence here. Surely it is better not to know of the existence of such dross.

The notion of respect in all aspects of human life and cultural interaction is an exponentially diminishing quality, something the media reflects and at times exacerbates. Respect for privacy and the value of an individual life has inexorably leached away since the unprecedented mass deaths and horrors of the Second World War. Even as I write the lack of sacred reverence for life has descended to the brutal murder of children in Syria, Mexican decapitations and human rights issues in China - quite apart from other undoubted but unreported horrors.

Many of you may have noticed the intense and quite profound involvement of the Queen in the religious ceremony in St. Paul's cathedral, unlike her other expressions of calm joy or even stoicism during this celebration. Her gaze fixed with great concentration on the Archbishop of Canterbury, hanging on his every word, in a manner quite unlike other people she encountered throughout the celebrations. In those very moving religious moments she was told that she had indeed shown goodness, done her duty these last sixty years as the anointed of God (a part of the ceremony considered at her Coronation to be so so sacred it was not filmed as was the rest). 

"I don’t think it’s at all fanciful to say that, in all her public engagements, our Queen has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others; she has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race. She has made her ‘public’ happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy, fulfilled and at home in these encounters. The same, of course, can manifestly be said of Prince Philip; and our prayers and thoughts are very much with him this morning. To declare a lifelong dedication is to take a huge risk, to embark on a costly venture. But it is also to respond to the promise of a vision that brings joy.

And perhaps that is the challenge that this Jubilee sets before us in nation and Commonwealth. St Paul implies that we should be so overwhelmed by the promise of a shared joy far greater than narrow individual fulfilment, that we find the strength to take the risks and make the sacrifices – even if this seems to reduce our individual hopes of secure enjoyment."

Yet she is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, humble enough and even needing to be, as it were, 'judged' by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  He, unlike we secular folk, gazes upon a hierachy of saints in reference rather beyond the human compass. He is perhaps one of the few people whose opinion of the Queen as a person and soul is of major importance to her. She like all of us is approaching the inevitable and is perhaps looking back upon her passing of years. She was seen to weep - an extraordinary and affecting sight. 

The Queen is a deeply committed Christian which goes far to explain her unimpeachable behaviour both in her public and private life. Why should this surprise us? Because at least in Britain we are predominantly a secular society (including my rather vain self) which knows and practises little today of the constraints, selfless duties and sacrifices inherent in the seriously Christian, indeed, religious outlook on life. Such lives often involve denial rather than the increasingly instant gratification demanded by such 'slaves to mammon' and sensation as we have become, unprecedently fertilised in part by the two-edged sword of the internet.

The Queen is an extraordinary person but human after all. For many of her subjects who are leading lives of 'quiet desperation' she remains a symbol of constancy in a rapidly and frighteningly changing world. It is clear from the outpouring of violent even desperate enthusiasm and 'love' during this Diamond Jubilee that we tribal beings desperately need such symbols both psychologically and practically for our well being, joy and happiness.

For instructive comparison with past Jubilees I would refer you to the extraordinary resource of British Pathe which I stumbled across whilst researching my latest book. My subject, my great uncle the Australian concert pianist Edward Cahill (a supreme monarchist if ever there was one, professing an undying love for Queen Mary), witnessed the State Drive to St Paul's during the Silver Jubilee of George V in May 1935. One notices the same vast crowds but less controlled by security arrangements and health and safety regulations. Also vastly more mounted cavalry regiments as the British Empire was still intact. The King's speech which forms the background to the film is eloquent, heartfelt and deeply moving.

Also a link to a fragment of film of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria:


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