Jun 02

The Jubilee Stuff

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Another mislaid connotation: the Jubilee line. A relic of 1977, I’ll guess: and a millennial treasure. It’s silver, so it points backwards in time, as well as to Wembley or wherever. But we don’t think of the usual meaning of the name when we use it: it now says not the Queen, not monarchy, not even punk and Jarman, but modernity – and not old modernity but tomorrow’s: the future, which began the day before yesterday.

Space means time. I come to realize that the BBC team are in England, talking about early starts: ‘We’ve been ‘ere since 6:15!’, says Lawro, scorning those who’ve switched on at eight. But the commentators are out there: ‘8pm local time’, says Tyldesley, ‘High noon with you at home’. That shows his touch: to keep an eye on our clock, and note that our hour’s more resonant than his. The great phenomenological fact about this tournament is the timing: the players living across the world; the bleary TV at 7am, fading up to show a promising green pitch, a decent picture, a ball being knocked about at a distance. Perhaps I mean that it looks like it’s our time out there, where it’s really their time: a pleasant misconception.

Mike on the phone yesterday: watching in the morning turns out not to be strange: like mid-afternoon, ‘the sun streaming through the curtains’ – an odd image, but I think I know what he meant, trying to nail an atmosphere. – But, I say, it really feels like TransWorld Sport. Wholesome hours: muesli displaces crisps.

It needn’t be wholesome: walking out for bad croissants today, I pass England lads waiting for the pub to open, at ten am for goodness’ sake. It feels needless – even if you’re desperate to drink, you could get your own in – but they must have been after something specific: the sociality, the difference from a home which doesn’t feel the right place to do the viewing.

The space is not just empty: it’s ‘place’ too, if you like. The Far East: Japan: South Korea. Johnny Vaughan hits one image with footage of the Korean war: tasteless, beyond a good joke. Not funny enough to be worthwhile. But other images hover. South Korea in tournaments past: beating Italy 1966, blasting goals 1986. The J-League: a chance for Lineker to be self-deprecating. And beyond football, the mythologies. On one hand, the very old: the mountain: the Geisha: the fan: the tea: the emperor. On the other, the very new: the bullet train: the economic powerhouse (but is that yesteryear’s news, old as Gazza’s tears?): the tourists with complex cameras. No, come to think of it, those things aren’t new enough: Japan-as-modern has gone through another spin. It means a brand of twee: Hello Kitty: coy girls dressed in all the visiting teams’ colours. Manga – but what’s that about, really? I don’t know, and nor do most of the BBC’s audience. All that clicks is a general connection: those waifs and androgynes mean recent Japan, a version that’s stayed cool these last few years (or – it hasn’t? I’d hardly know). The trailers were ingenious and apt, but subject to the ignorance of the likes of me: did they, I wondered every time, contain detailed references I was missing?

The regularly glimpsed crowds will be something to remember: those eastern faces seem to have welcomed the world’s tribes, and the gesture looks friendly, bigger-hearted than anything my country could have managed. So much for queens.

The world is watching. Watching what? The world. The World Cup. It’s talking about it, too: talking about watching the World Cup. In pubs. Television, when it’s not showing the World Cup, is filming people in pubs, watching the World Cup on television. (They cheer in the background, so the presenter can’t hear the anchor’s questions while his suit gets splashed.) Pubs are showing the World Cup on television: and in between times, they show news programmes with features about people watching the World Cup on television, in pubs. People in pubs watch, and talk about it.

The world is watching the Jubilee.

The world is watching Big Brother: absurd third term to add to the mix. People who can’t watch themselves, or the World Cup, are sometimes being watched, nearly live, by the world, when it’s not watching the World Cup.

We meet, and talk about the Jubilee, and watching Big Brother, and watching the World Cup. People send messages on these newish machines with which they already feel ultra-adept. They vote this way for Big Brother, so that they can watch what they want. Big Brother shows repeats (Big Brother’s Little Brother), then goes to the adverts (about the World Cup), then goes live. I watch every match of the World Cup live, then watch it again, in whatever pieces they’ll serve up. If there was a programme about the World Cup being sliced into pieces, and assessing the coverage of the World Cup, I’d watch that. I’d write about it.

The England players, Tyldesley observes, don’t seem to know the national anthem’s first verse, let alone its second. Today’s rendition was meant to be more meaningful than those of other years. Terry Butcher in the R5 gantry may have been singing his heart out like it was still 1990. Three Lions: ‘Caged tigers’. ‘He was like a tig– like a lion’.

But what about the TV presenters: Dimbleby, old Labour man Parkinson, Philippa Forrester for goodness’ sake? Why do they do it: how does it feel? Are they following orders? Would they object to not being at the Jubilee? Do they expand their sense of what it’s about? Call it a People’s Celebration, and suddenly you’ve transformed the meaning and value. Very New Labour: Very Late Nineties. But is it wrong? Or does such talk truly respond to the times? Maybe the people (who are they?) really do come to feel, these days, that these big events are theirs, not moments when someone else has licensed them to have a good time. And if they do – are they right or wrong? Gratitude to the Queen: ‘She’s given me 50 years: I can wait here for 2 days’. ‘We’ve come to thank her’. That feels wrong, even grotesque (for how hard everyone works, for so little, only thus to abase themselves). But it may also encode that sentiment that republicans like to claim to share: it’s hard on the Queen: monarchy is a burden: let’s put them out of their misery.

Into the artifice of eternity: that’s where goals go, snatched from the flow of time and the run of play, caught on film (which means, what – imprinted by light on some mysterious substance nature neglected to provide) and rerun. These retro shows run the same goals over and over: even the same interviews. The sweetness of Alf Ramsey’s high-voiced response at the 1970 airport: how does it feel to be back? ‘I feel great’: unconvincing, superficial, brave. Moments made out of nothing, moves improvised as play developed: hopeful hits, bids that could have failed. Yet they succeed, and are made into moving monuments: over and over Maradona dances past Reid and Fenwick (I’m slightly surprised such an obviously hurtful match is reshown so much here: it’s our own involvement that does it, clearly, for you’ll never again see the brace against Belgium on the BBC), again and again Owen picks up Beckham’s threaded pass, takes off, beats one, two, what pace, lets fly, across the keeper, into the far corner, without fear, like he didn’t know this game was meant to be difficult, and could teach that lesson to the old heads. Over and over: too many times. Contingency made into necessity: not just an action replay (look what happened!), but opening credits (almost art, something that couldn’t not have happened). We live football, like everything else, as it happens: but these moments are too readily reified into what must always have been. I want to see some other footage: a camera following Amoros through the heat of the quarter-final in 1986: what Bobby Robson did and said when Waddle hit the bar from the halfway line in 1990, a moment they refuse to show.

Tuesday 4th June. Dimbleby commentating from the palace with a telegenic historian who works (did he really say this?) at the Tower of London. From ten or so the Queen sets off East: golden coach bumping and wobbling. The reason: it’s an old relic. It feels important: watch the footage, as those who’ve waited all night on the pavements watch their glimpses. Yet it’s repellent too, terribly annoying. Switch to ITV: savour the nonchalance with which all that nonsense is displaced by Clive and Ron watching Belgium-Japan. It ends 2-2: fine exciting game with good goals, and Japan get a great solo goal ruled out. They all have coloured hair: ‘Western’ aspiration? Odd desire of these Japanese to be like us – like the US – but that could be a misconception. Maybe their culture’s had a more distinctive trajectory than that: even in imitation, it might have formed something unique.

I have the DLR in mind, a crazy mazy route to the centre. But I find myself walking across the heath: through the white day’s wind, through the funfair parked here for one last day. Serial stalls, isomporphic, where you play to win a trophy, but win a lesser version even if you lose. Gorillas in the Mist (mournful apes), Tigers and so on. It’s sweet; when I’m thinking of playing a woman points out, ‘Last day of the fair’. Speaking of which, the Big Wheel is turning, in virtually the same spot as Easter 1993. Working-class melancholy – that’s the connotation gleaned easily from the transience of it, even if the weather were better than it was. (Too easily: the risk of misconstrual. Last Orders, ‘Reader Meet Author’.) The fair is accompanied by pop music, as it is in kitchen-sink films circa 1960 (in those, it’s always the same song, one I’ve never seen named).

I look up at the circles traced by a great swinging, lurching bucket and its nerved riders, and the playing track’s identity comes to me: Rod Stewart’s ‘Downtown Train’. Predictable thoughts follow: ‘Wow: how good would the original have to be to beat this cover?’: ‘It hasn’t sounded this good since 1989!’: ‘I haven’t heard it since 1989’. Some other sensation flutters around these: the utter fit of song and ride: Rod’s four-square stance and belted blast, and these iron cradles on their courses against the sky.
In the park I look at hilltop gatherings, half-hope it’s Sinister, the old gang on unknown missions.

If you’re not a monarchist you’re a republican. I don’t dislike that word, though it has such mixed meanings. In Ireland it comes to mean extremism, ‘die-hards’ as O’Casey’s people call them. Obscurity of the logic, standard in UK news services, of the division between Nationalism and Republicanism. Sure, one means the SDLP (though their name doesn’t name Nation) and one Sinn Fein, but the connotations might as well be reversed: to be moderate is to want to leave the Republic as it is (for it exists, or so they say, down South), to be extreme is to insist on realizing the unity of the Nation, the true life which breathes beneath the apparatus of the modern State. (The Republic too, though, has been virtual: already in 1916 it existed or didn’t exist, depending on whether you chose to believe.)

USA, and the word changes colour. Bogus bifurcation of terms: ‘What are you, a republican or a democrat?’ Both sound desirable, and possibly inextricable.

But in England it’s not about territory, or macro-economic policy – it simply means, in effect, anti-royalist. The nagging question is, why should anti-royalists have to be republicans? Why the need to collect whatever baggage that word brings: why not start again, with some other name? An inversion of Brecht. ‘Some of our contemporary writers think that they have freed themselves from capitalism, but have only freed themselves from grammar’: here, those who seek to upheave the social order don’t trouble to refuse the name they’re given.

A back street, past the theatre: between a boozer and a junk shop the flags are strung on several wires. They flap like weak pennants, cheap plastic furled in on itself: but they’re full union squares, scattered to the ground, hanging in lines of contingency in the air. What a picture it would make, the random, day-after scatter of three colours in the sky.

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