Hairdressers don't often stun you with a surprising question – "Had your holidays yet?" is more their usual line – but on Tuesday mine did. "So what are you doing for the Jubilee, then?" she asked. She might as well have inquired if I could recommend any good Bolivian novelists, so stumped was I for an answer. Not wishing to court controversy with a royalist armed with scissors, I settled for a noncommittal mumble.
I was still rather taken aback by the idea that the Jubilee was something which might require a response from me when I turned to that day's newspapers and began to realise suddenly, as this 60th anniversary approaches, that we are all now assumed to be forelock-tuggers. Well, not me; and nor, I imagine, millions of others.
It's not that we can't see she's a dutiful old soul, smiling and waving, listening to bores, and wearing pastel-coloured chiffon for six decades now. Nor is it that we can't see that 60 years in any job is not worth some sort of recognition – a carriage clock, perhaps, or set of watercolours for that hobby she always promised herself she'd take up.
No, it's that we think that in these present times – as the world economy implodes, benefits are being cut, the few southern Europeans in work take their remaining savings out of the bank, and no one knows if we'll all be eating nettles this time next year – there's something fantastically Marie Antoinettish about the impending gaudy display on the Thames.
Consider: in two weekends' time, she will board a barge which will look as if it has slipped its moorings in the age of divine kings and drifted into the 21st century. It will be clothed in 490 yards of gold-tinted film, have at its prow a newly carved figurehead covered in 22-carat gold leaf, and, from its stern, will hang a vast red velvet banner on which have been sewn more than half a million golden buttons. Leading this over-decorated period piece will be the royal rowbarge Gloriana, and behind it will be 999 other vessels, all done up like a Christmas window at Fortnum & Masons.
Surely an imaginative, intelligent monarch would contemplate all this and say: "Stop. This is wrong. It sends a message to which I do not subscribe."