Since I got back from Mallorca I’ve been tapping away at the keyboard like crazy in an attempt to make up for two idyllic weeks that I really don’t regret at all. First I had to check proofs and indexes for Fortress Europe, which is due out at the end of the summer. This is really quite a satisfying and not especially demanding task, since it means that a project which consumed more than two years of my life is now close to completion.
I’ve also been putting together a new book proposal for my US publisher, which is now about ready to send off. Last but not least, I’ve been writing an article for The Week/First Post, which hopefully should come out tomorrow.
So as you might imagine I’ve spent a lot of time looking at a computer screen and I haven’t been out and about much, except for a few essential shopping expeditions and excursions into the countryside, which is looking wonderfully lush and green after the craggy grandeur of the Mallorcan Tramuntana.
Even so, it hasn’t exactly escaped my notice that Her Majesty is celebrating sixty years on the throne and her faithful subjects are celebrating with her. The streets of Matlock are already draped with Union Jacks and the flag of Saint George, and there are very few shops here or in any of the local towns that haven’t got flags or a picture of the Queen in their windows.
Antique shops have dug up plates, old magazines and other royal memorabilia. Even in my own house it’s impossible to escape it. Yesterday a leaflet arrived inviting me to ‘celebrate the Queen with flowers’ at a flowershow in a local church – an invitation that I have no intention of accepting.
On the contrary, occasions like this tend to fill me with alienation rather than patriotic fervour, not to mention dumbfounded incomprehension at the continued willingness of so many of my fellow citizens to celebrate an archaic symbol of deference, class privilege and inherited wealth that really belongs in a museum or a theme park rather than a real country.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve nothing against Elizabeth II personally. I even think she is very good at her job, which is being the Queen. It’s just that I don’t see the need for the Royal Family – or royal families in general – in a modern democracy, and I don’t see why vast sums of money and seemingly limitless adulation should be lavished on an institution whose prominence in British society derives from an ancient, nonsensical but very useful belief that monarchs are instruments of the almighty.
OK, I know people don’t say that about the Queen any more, which is something like progress. And I know it’s only pomp and ritual when the Queen turns up in parliament to announce that ‘my government will do this’ and ‘my government will do that.’
But whenever I see her do it on the tele, I invariably find myself muttering like some old drunk talking to himself in a bar that it’s not YOUR government, it’s OURS. Whatever I think, it’s clear that many of my countrymen will never let go of these ancestral relics.
Many clearly believe that the Royal Family is an essential institution that makes us different from other countries, even if they don’t make us great. And we British – or rather we English – love to feel different and often prefer to look down at the rest of the world from an elevated position.
For some the Royal Family provides continuity and a sense of national belonging – not to mention the good old days when artists drew pictures of Queen Victoria, the imperial matriarch, with so many of her colonial subjects sitting around her skirts like children. Others may just enjoy another holiday and the chance to hold a street party – something that many countries do all the time without the Queen’s permission.
As for me, I’m going into ‘internal exile’ till it’s all over, which means that I will either be firmly ensconced in my study or out in the hills, where hopefully, there won’t be a flag in sight.