Did I see a headline somewhere, in a newspaper I would never buy, trumpeting the view that the Queen Mother's funeral gave us back our culture? "We", presumably, being sentimental royalist white not quite middle-class Anglo-Saxon Protestant Britishers. Did I see that headline in all the newspapers I never buy? Or did I dredge it up out of something peculiar in myself, some warped and inexplicable pride in being everything I am not? Is it possible – this is what I'm asking – to be so affected by pageantry and a sense of occasion that you become a different person, not just a variation on yourself but actually your own opposite?
Don't worry, I haven't been queuing. We do not queue in this column. We are not anarchists; we are not against a small orderly line at a bus stop, or even in a post office, if that's what they're still called, so long as everybody just wants a stamp. Waiting in a queue behind people receiving money for having children is not something we are keen on doing, though if they were paying fines for having children we might be prepared to think again.
As for queuing to get a look at someone or something, queuing to stare, queuing to sign a condolence book, queuing to buy a ticket for the Royal Opera House, say, or even entering a lottery for a ticket for the Royal Opera House, which is a sort of mental queuing, it is anathema to us. For one thing, life's too short. "Why, what else would you be doing," a wife of mine used to snort, "sitting at home pulling your pud?" To which the simple answer was: "Maybe, but even that's better than queuing to watch Pavarotti pull his."
But the real truth is that queuing is forbidden in our religion. We consider it a species of idolatry. Come the hour, we will queue to meet our Maker, but that's the only time. And maybe even then we will complain about how long we've had to wait.
So, no – I did not queue to pay my last respects to Her Majesty the Queen Mother. But, not unlike others, I have been forcibly struck by how many people did. After the quiet passing of Margaret and the subsequent low rumblings of republicanism, I had thought we had come to the end of national mourning on such a scale for anyone but a footballer or a pop star. Beckham's broken foot – I expect outpourings of grief about that. Posh's agony in the matter of Beckham's broken foot – they are lining up to leave pink teddies in the garden of her Cheshire home even as I write.
As for those who did queue to behold the royal coffin and the jewelled crown thereon, we are undecided what to make of them. Approached by journalists carrying microphones they spoke, as most of us do on such occasions, the most appalling drivel. They babbled on like Essex brooks about the Queen Mother's warmth, her sense of fun, what a lovely woman, etc; they gushed like gargoyles on the roofs of country churches about a life well lived, about setting an example, about stoicism, about returning an affection they felt the Queen Mother had always shown to them.
One speaks as one finds. While all the above might be true, I have not with mine own eyes seen the empirical evidence for it. Publicly, the Queen Mother always seemed a rather chilly figure – though that is not something I would complain about, for majesty is diminished by familiarity. And as for returning the warmth that they felt the Queen Mother had shown them, I can only report that she never showed any towards me.
But I am loath to dismiss this teary manifestation of whatever you choose to call it as stupidity. It is a universal law that people give a bad account of themselves when they speak. They cannot find the words for what they truly feel. At a loss, they say what someone else has said, or what they think they should say, and end up parodying what is in their hearts. As with what they speak, so with what they hear. Which is why you will find so many intelligent people prepared to listen to and read material that is beneath them. It is as though aesthetically and linguistically we lag behind our own natures.
Thus we see adults who have thought long and felt deeply squandering themselves on Harry Potter. And in the same way we hear men and women touched by history and impressed by dignity reduced to telling one another what a nice person the Queen Mother was.
Partly, of course, what we beheld was tribal. Why royalist white not quite middle-class Anglo-Saxon Protestant Britishers allow their own ethnicity to be excluded from that multiplicity of ethnicities we are forever falling over ourselves to admire is a subject of immense interest, but cannot be gone into today. Here the sect was again, anyway, sunning itself for a few days, come out from the strangest places to do what it does best – express reverence, sing hymns and say goodbye to royalty.
Should we begrudge them that, any more than we begrudge Muslims Ramadan or the Jews their sabbath?
I envied it myself, and queuing apart, would not have minded tagging along. There is a grandeur in what they do. Not just of spectacle but of mind. The symbolism runs deep. There is an amplitude of religious and civic understanding in it, redeeming us from triviality. That its adherents don't always have the vocabulary to do it justice matters not a jot.Reuse content