The weather matters. Saturday 1st June: 8pm, and the sky out of my window is still fading pale blue, weightless, benevolent. A jubilee weekend of rain would be a symbolic down: but then, we are long used to finding a meaning in the rain. Not just we aesthetes (‘I’m happy when it rains’; ‘You’re happy cos you’re cosy and the rain comes rattling in’), but British Life in its broader-stroking manner. ‘It wouldn’t be Wimbledon if it didn’t rain’: ‘Queuing’s our national pastime – especially queueing in the rain’ – all of that has its kernel, but has been stretched to banality. We may yet be able to test whether it gets wheeled out over these four days. But for now, the miracle of the sun: to which we adapt and flock instantly, despite the myth of a rainy people.
What is the date of the Jubilee anyway? Is there one? I look through yesterday’s Evening Standard (who needs the internet? a distraction from endless paper), and can’t ascertain it. The Jubilee is one day: the Jubilee is two days off: the Jubilee is a weekend. No, some conservative clown tells us when it’s finally dusted: this is the Queen’s Jubilee year. The climax, then, is halfway through.
Hopkins, as Euro 2000 neared: There’s something exciting about England going into a major tournament. That’s true, he said, even though it sounds like rubbish. True then, true now. Of course a tournament lacks something for us (‘us’) if we (we?) aren’t there – but there was a greater sliver of wisdom in his words: something about that ‘going into’. The approach to a tournament is temporal, but also spatial: a sense of falling to earth, landing on foreign soil, booking in. Think of the agglomeration of talent in one little wing of the world as a World Cup starts: the whole thing resembles a conference, a summit. Virtual world of abolished distance: but still, as the Manga ads declare, all those men must travel.
Prom at the Palace. David Dimbleby’s culture – his habitus. This music, these names, these titles, these ways of listening, are what is known to him: that’s the impression. Michael Parkinson’s voice has been trailing this event for weeks: now he is addressing the Queen herself. ‘Your Majesty -‘ I don’t know: how do you speak this stuff? ‘Much of the music tonight celebrates the historic link between music and the monarchy…. Conductor Laureate – Sir Andrew Davis’. The first tune sounds like ITV’s Champions’ League theme. Yet ‘God save the Queen’, they sing.
Historic links. What is the link? Is this event the most authentic of the weekend, because classical music is the music of the class to which the Queen is most closely affiliated? The monarchy itself can hardly be a class: too few of them. But there is a notional bond between it and – ‘the aristocracy’, ‘the nobility’, ‘the gentry’? Classical music is not only the music of that class: it is far more widely appreciated. Suburban families from Middlesbrough are here: the appeal of the music is wider. But is part of its appeal a connotation of the upper classes? (Classes? How many of them are there?) There is some connection implied, I feel: there is supposed to be some logic in the conjunction of classical and Queen. Pomp and circumstance: where ‘circumstance’ means ‘ceremony’, not what it means to me and you (‘circumstances permitting’).
Television. Being there and not being there: being here yet able to share. The notion is that people all over Britain – all over the world – will watch and listen to this programme, as a means of connection, homage. Fealty. The programme’s ratings are the index of loyalty – is that the idea?
But no good to mock this idea, in the abstract. The World Cup, great parallel of this event, is also ‘all about television’ for us. Television is old hat: 50s Coronation (hence – this); 60s JFK vs Nixon, Vietnam, Kenneth Wolstenholme – the new medium of another generation. But we are not done with it: TV becomes central to my life, as the World Cup arrives, and it was always indispensable for the footy. The right time to buy a licence. So – we are still a TV generation: not the TV generation, not even the MTV generation (what was that: those who were 17 in 1985?), but not one that can have these large-scale experiences without TV. It’s background (we take it for granted), yet it’s unavoidably obtrusive at a time like this. The significance of television lingers; the thing feels like an anachronism next to the kids’ business with mobile telephones, but even they wouldn’t dream of throwing it out of the window.
Channel 5 shows young women who shimmer in and out of scenes – not metaphorically, literally: a space on the screen wobbles and the character teleports. This is one kind of alternative.
The light is fading, 35 minutes in, 800 words down, as the keyboard mucks me about: and it brings out the ongoing orange gleam of a street-lamp opposite. (Memories: motorways; South-East London at night; the trek across midnight Norwich in October.) On and on, day and night, immensely far above the heads of passers-by – the post must be the height of four people. Would it be barbaric and inconsiderate to switch it off?
‘National mood’: the phrase springs to hand like chewing gum at a time like this. ‘The national mood seemed to swing behind the Queen as the year progressed’: ‘The England team’s progress seemed to buoy the national mood, causing strangers to smile at each other in the streets’. It sounds a lot like a chimera: what else could it be? It could, I suppose, be an agglomeration of similar moods, imaginatively totted up to form a persuasive total: mood as analogous to representative democracy. But moods are all different, and all fickle. What could be more evanescent than a mood? And can a stroll down Kensington High Street or through Cambridge Corn Exchange tell you the mood of Kensington and Cambridge, let alone the nation? Possibly collective mood is an enabling fiction: it enables, for instance, texts like this, which are parasitical upon the doubted idea that some emotions are being temporarily held in common.
Build-up: to a big game, or a tournament. What does it mean? They are getting ready, we have to find things to say while we wait. Or: they are ready and waiting: the start has been artificially postponed: we are readying ourselves. Which means, reading, hearing, watching sufficient texts, voices and images to realize the true importance of this thing that’s about to happen: sufficient to reflect on the moment of it ourselves: to have the significance reverberate and ricochet around the inside of our heads. The build-up: is it us drumming our fingers, wondering when they’ll get down to it; or the time we take to grasp the meaning of what they’re about to do?
Build-up to the Jubilee: the same task, but maybe all that is really happening is the passing of time till the arrival of an arbitrary date, which couldn’t be moved forward.
To be a Londoner, in one version I recognize, is to ride the rails, day in and out: and to read the Metro in the morning, the Standard in the evening. Much of Metro is text rewritten from elsewhere, including the Standard. The latter is different: barbed, energetic, smarmy, loud, dirty, assertive, insinuating. It must be prepared in haste, but there’s so darned much of it. The Standard, unlike the Metro, was always someone else’s: it comes to you crumpled and soiled, enhancing the image its identity has earned. The Standard is for weariness, alcohol in the blood: Metro’s gratuity a compensation for the excessive price of a coffee for the train.
Metro: It’s Jubilee fever / ‘Millions of revellers are expected to descend on London during the next few days for the climax to the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. The weather promises to stay fair and more than 200 private street parties have been planned. More than 100 festivals, processions and fairs have also been organized at parks throughout the capital…. Celebrations will reach a peak on Tuesday with a grand procession and RAF flypast. Up to 1.5 million people are estimated to be planning to turn out for the spectacle’. Tuesday.
A Glorious Celebration: The Golden Jubilee: Your London Travel Guide. From? ‘The Queen’s Golden Jubilee’ (golden crown, purple script): a temporary committee, a quango starring Michael Hesltine, the Duchess of Bournemouth, lettered suits, PR cynics. British Rail – British Rail? never – but look, the old logo is still here: the untranslatable orange image of two tracks crossing, like two opposing aeroplanes too close for comfort. This can’t have altered in 30 years. But ‘British Rail’ is surely banned (though I’ll hear a mounted policeman, his vocabulary a blessed decade out of date, direct us to it two nights later), so what do they call it here? ‘National Rail’: this is the name for a denationalized rail network. Or even – get this – ‘Train’.
‘Underground’: that’s still simple enough, its logo unchanged though now it appears, scandalously, on subterranean posters selling us privatization. But London Transport? No, ‘TransportforLondon’ (their italics: which I take as another version of the old Guardian makeover, hence really a late-80s form). On first reading of this leaflet, I’d been impressed by TransportforLondon’s existence: wow, another body bent on helping us out, maybe like the Assembly signalled, I assume, by red and blue ‘London’. But no, TransportforLondon must be a renamed London Transport: for the only place I find that last phrase is in a recommendation of the London Transport Museum. Is it only an oversight that stops that yet being the TransportforLondon museum?
So much I don’t know, so much we don’t notice: the mere names of the organizations we interact with every day. Changes seem sinister. Can anyone prove they aren’t?
England kick off tomorrow. A sense of utter overkill about its approach: all the documentaries priming us, the pundits picking their teams, Gabby Logan saying she knows where we’ll be, we know what time it is, we know what channel it’s on – bombardment as tautology. And yet when Sweeney calls at 6:45, a man who knows as much football as almost anyone, he doesn’t know when England are playing. He’s not too bothered: the performance of the Double-winner, yes, but real. So there is an outside to the mania, even for a football fan.