Saturday, 2 June 2012

By Royal Dissent

6th June 1977. 
Dear Diary,it's very exciting. Not only are we staying with my Uncle Stanley and Aunty Barbara in Maidenhead, but tonight we're going to Windsor Great Park to see the Queen. Apparently she's going to have a bonfire, seems a bit strange in June, don't we have them in November? Oh well, she *is* the Queen... My Dad's rotten, no, not that one, he still won't let me listen to the new song God save the Queen, I can't see why, it being the Jubilee.
My memories of that day are quite clear. My brother remembers less, he was 7, and as for my flatmate? Well she'd not even started school properly. I can remember us calmly driving from Maidenhead in to Windsor, parking up and then sauntering in to the park. It was very exciting, genuinely, the first beacon wasn't going to be lit until after dark which meant we got to stay up late! Oh yes.

I can remember the wait being quite long, no idea how long, but we waited patiently for her to pass. Which, eventually she did, she waved, we waved back. And then we left. Got back in our Jade Green Ford Escort and, if memory serves me correctly, drove all the way back to the North East. We preferred to travel at night then. Fewer cars on the rubbish roads.

What I didn't realise at the time, and I've only just discovered, is that the Queen was late. I'm not sure whether she was late coming to the park or late actually lighting the beacon, but late never the less. She's never late. And it was reading about her being stuck in the crowds that made me write the above preamble. You see, I can't remember the crowds. Maybe they were lower in the park, maybe closer to the beacon. It matters not, they were simply not near us.

Or at least, again, that's my recollection.

My flatmate might argue that my recollection is about as reliable as an ice tea pot, using the incident of me going to buy grapefruit and returning with melon as quod erat demonstrandum. But I would have remembered the crowds. Or police cordons. Or barriers. I would have remembered bridges being closed and issues, issues, issues.

But there were none.

The Queen turned up, cadged a light off her sister, started a fire, and went home for gin. Simple.

Unlike this weekend. Some things haven't changed. Johnny Rotten is still on the scene, err, flogging butter. And Apple, who launched their Apple II (snappy!) on the 5th June are, I believe, still making an occasional device. But the rest has changed. The world has gone mad.

With each step around London I was becoming increasingly dispassionate, disillusioned even, with the forthcoming Jubilee. It wasn't for the fact that the Queen has been doing her duty for sixty years, this I think is a wonderful dedication to duty. It might be a job with a shed load of benefits, but would you want to do it? No, my issues were with the commercialisation of everything. The icing on the cake was an advert for bottled water. I first saw this in Bank station as I walked between the Central Line and the DLR. A bottle of water wearing a crown at a jaunty angle. Oh FFS. Really? How much did the advertising creative who came up with that get paid?

Everywhere there were crowns. And Union flags. And indications of what you must buy to celebrate. There were programmes, events, competitions and... Exhibitions. All with the same, gushing, get-them-in-and-get-them-spending cynical view that was simply leaving me stone cold.

The spirit of the pageantry and, yes, anarchy of '77 long since burnt away.

Or was it?

As we sat in the bar at the Royal Opera House sipping champagne on Thursday evening, my flatmate showed me pictures of an exhibition she'd been to that day. Called Diamond Geezer, it was showing at the William Wilson Gallery lurking in a former jewellery workshop in Hatton Garden. She described the pieces, the ideas, the connections and I thought, yes, I must try to get there.

What she also told me about were some very close to the knuckle postcards. My advice to her was if she had the chance the next day to go and get them before they were sold out, or, worse still, were removed because of legal interference. And then we went in to see Salome, which I talked about last night.

Anyway. We were chatting on MSN, I mean exchanging interesting and relevant insight that would help the task that were engaged in, when the subject of the gallery came up, I again said she should get the cards and emphasised it by saying:

If you don't you'll kick yourself when they are withdrawn
And if that happens and you do you'll have subversive art
I'm almost tempted to see if I can get down there and back without anyone noticing.
And with that another lunchtime distraction was born. Keep in mind that Google maps reckoned it would take me 28 minutes to get from my client's office to Chancery Lane. So in a lunch hour I could just about get there and back... I was going to have to stretch the point.

Besides, if I'm seeing a show about guilty pleasures, I should do it as a guilty pleasure, it's only right.

I scooted off to Holland Park for the trip back East. I was even almost on time! The gallery was a little tricky to find, fortunately, my flatmate knew the way which certainly saved a lot of hassle. I was initially struck by the way to the gallery entrance, through a fascinating courtyard between the buildings.

On arrival we met one of the gallery's directors, Debra Wilson, who was kind enough to talk with us about the art and give an insight to the inspiration or story of the various pieces. I'll not dwell to much on the pieces as, frankly, my flatmate has given a much better view over at her blog. What did strike me though was almost the lack of the subversive. Initially I thought there was some, the burning of legal tender to produce diamonds being one, the tearing, again of legal tender, being the other. But, sadly, these had been done, apparently, with permission. No crime. No one way trip to the tower. All terribly civilised.

Even A taste of Honey by Cathy Lomax felt positively respectful, yes it does present a far more seductive portrait of the young Queen than we're used to it, but, so what? As I was reminded later in the day reading the Evening Standard, she wasn't born to be Queen, like her father she had the top job thrust upon her whether she liked it or not. I imagine her dad having to die to get the job would count as not liking it. Anyway, if you have the time have a look at a photograph of the image by the artist over at Flickr.

There was a conceptual piece by the other director of the gallery, Chiara Williams, called Queen and Consort that was rather interesting. I have to say I'm truly glad Debra was on hand to explain it. Essentially it was a commentary on the Duke of Edinburgh, his position outside the inner circle and the mess created by his inevitable gaffs. All of this seemed fair enough. Until I thought about it later in connection with the Lomax portrait and the many late night discussions I've had with my flatmate regarding men. And this is my view, whatever people think of the DoE and EII, the reality is that at one time they were both young, in love and... He made her laugh. If you're to believe the almost inevitable comments, one of which appeared in the Standard, about the Queen having a wicked sense of humour then, actually, you can see where the DoE fits in.

So what if he annoys a few people. I imagine he was pretty pissed off when he discovered the love of his life was suddenly being turned from a young vivacious woman in to a head of state. And there for me is the irony. In terms of all the potentially subversive art, the most subversive thing about the monarchy was, actually, part of the monarchy. And his representation as a bit of an erect prick would probably have made him laugh. Or make yet another guffaw inducing comment.

It matters not. As much as the Queen has dedicated most of her life to the country, then, let's not forget, so has he.

I would agree with my flatmate that The Great Frock 'n' Robe Swindle newspaper was worth collecting. It's amusing and, almost certainly, anti-monarch. Which I'm most definitely not. But the paper itself is quintessentially British. Having read it from cover to cover I'd argue that it is no more subversive than Spitting Image was in the eighties. Yes, comments were made, yes, people would be shocked. But you know what (and this might be the red wine kicking in) the very fact that as a nation we can be so subversive and continue to keep our liberty says an awful lot for how good our system is. Warts and all.

Whatever the faults, and goodness there are many, I would rather a Monarchy that didn't oppress comment and, indeed, had one of the most likely to offend people at it's heart, than something, well, like anyone else has. It's not ideal.

But it's ours.

And on that thought I realised just how right the exhibition's description was. It was about our guilty little secret. The secret that, as a nation, however dysfunctional, we can come together and celebrate by whatever means a representation of a flawed system that's kept us together since a bunch of Normans decided that Hastings looked nice this time of year.

That sounds pretty subversive to me.

Ladies and Gentleman, be upstanding and raise your glass. To the Queen.

No comments:

Post a Comment