Tales Of The City: No time for sentimental knee-benders

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The Independent Online

" Can preeze tell us," asked the Chinese lady tourist outside Westminster Abbey, "why all people cheer and dress in nice clothing today?"

" Can preeze tell us," asked the Chinese lady tourist outside Westminster Abbey, "why all people cheer and dress in nice clothing today?"

"Coronation anniversary," said the young policeman, shortly, "you know, the Queen."

"Caw - a - nayshaw...?" said the Chinese lady falteringly.

"Crowning, crowning," said the cop, mimicking with a flat hand the placing of State Crown on Royal Head. "Fifty years since she was crowned, you know?"

The woman looked puzzled. The policeman's little charade had seemed alarmingly expressive of someone being bashed on the head for half a century. And as the abbey filled with 2,200-odd members of the nobility, clergy, diplomats, members of the royal household and a thousand commoners, it was time to wonder - have we been whacked on the head too often by apologists for the monarchy, sentimental knee-benders, jubilee party-lovers, queen-worshipping rock stars and hypocritical politicians?

In the abbey, it was easy to feel that things had changed a lot since the 27-year-old princess was crowned. The CCTV screens dotted around the nave showed some footage from 1953. There was the Queen, looking young and rather beautiful, but understandably alarmed as a silk canopy was placed about her, like screens being arranged around a ward patient, and Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, loomed over her like a magus performing a sacrifice, until she disappeared from view. Monday's event was more informal, light and breezy. The women guests had all dressed up in peach and apple-green silks, as though for a country wedding. The Queen, no longer the prisoner of history or the plaything of destiny, was smiling with her subjects, glad they've all made it together for half a century.

But then they went and messed it all up. The Dean of Westminster, Wesley Carr, suggested that the congregation should "in respectful homage make [the Queen's] commitment their own". What did this mean? It meant that, instead of celebrating the old girl's longevity, we in the abbey listened to Bible readings on the theme of Commitment to God, to Service, to Responsibility and to Respect, then had to affirm, out loud, our solidarity with the Queen in these matters. It should have been an expression of joint moral undertaking by monarch and subject. But really, it was hard to listen to 2,000 people intoning: "I commit myself with Elizabeth our Queen to act responsibly and justly" without being reminded of a primary school assembly, where the mixed infants promise, in chorus, to be terribly kind to poor people and sick animals.

Then Her Madge decided to give knighthoods to Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Along with being a Duke and an Earl, they're now Knight Commanders of the Royal Victorian Order. Don't ask what feats of intrepid public service justified these glamorous rewards (getting the wife pregnant? Womanising on yachts? Playing a lot of golf? Going bald?), because answer is there none. Except to guarantee that anyone given a bona fide knighthood for his years of creative achievement, political brilliance, martial skill or diplomatic heroism might feel that the coinage is just a touch debased. Strange, how every time you feel a vestigial fondness for the remains of the monarchy, they do something to turn you into a republican refusenik.

It's a shame there was no Dean of Westminster in Evian to try to force presidents Bush and Chirac to make a joint commitment (in chorus) to bring Syria into the peace process. There would have been some interesting body-language. The best street-theatre on TV this week was Georges et Jacques trying to act like buddies while exuding what Desmond Morris called "social leakage". My favourite moment was when Bush said Chirac "would be welcome to come to America". He didn't say: "Jacques, come and stay at my place in Texas," or "Jacques, let me put you up at the Hyatt Regency and we can meet for highballs." No: he said Monsieur C was "welcome to come to America". You know, some time. Not next week, but some time. "If you feel like it. I mean, I'm not actively going to try to stop you, if you think that's the thing to do. It's your decision. Of course, while you're welcome to come, as in make the journey to America, Jacques, that's not to say you'll be welcome anywhere in America." Ah, the subtle language of world diplomacy.

Bless my soul, but JD Wetherspoon have blooming well said they're thinking of banning the use of swear words in their lounge bars. After complaints from customers (who sound a right bunch of w-, sorry, an absolute shower of ninnies), they may print a message on the jolly old menus warning patrons to mind their bally language. Frankly, I'm livid about this. I am utterly ticked off to think that, not content with barring flipping dogs and bringing in a partial smoking ban, the silly, er, chucklehead who runs Wetherspoon is trying to police the nature of our blood- , sorry, confounded conversation. Well, snooks to that. Personally, I don't give a flying flounder about bad language. I think some energetic expression stimulates our discourse the way salt brings something exquisite to cold roast lamb. And, gadzooks, what I dread is having to return to the days when nobody was allowed swear words in novels or on the blinking BBC, and every motherf-, sorry, every actor had to talk about chuffin' this and blinkin' that, in a blizzard of new-minted expletives that had all the vigour of a cup of warm spit. Pubs are the natural location for demotic language. They are not to be mucked around with, forsooth.

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