Jemima Lewis: The royalism that dare not speak its name

The truth is, I would love to have a street party: in a different age I might even have organised one myself

Share
Related Topics

One of the very few things I remember from my early childhood is the Silver Jubilee. I was just about to turn six. It was a hot, bright day and our long suburban street looked thrillingly festive, with Union Jack bunting streaming from the lamp posts and an enormous table laden with food snaking down the middle of the road.

My little sister and I wore red, white and blue ribbons in our hair. The grown-ups wore plastic Union Jack hats, which slipped to the side as the jollities wore on. One of our neighbours – an extremely dignified Frenchman of advancing years – was so overcome by the spirit of celebration that he tried to skateboard down the street, with disastrous results. I had no idea what all this was in aid of, but it was excellent fun.

Everyone of my age has similarly vivid memories of that strange, rather magical day when people suddenly spoke to their neighbours. Yet no one I know is doing anything for the Golden Jubilee. Even those of my friends who have children are studiously ignoring the whole event. I suspect that they, like me, feel a bit guilty about being such killjoys – but what can we do? It's just the way we are: a generation of cynics, embarrassed by such things as patriotism, community, royalty and silly hats.

For us, the traditional symbols of British pride – the flag, the Queen, the national anthem – are tainted by vague, uncomfortable overtones of racism and colonialism. We have been brought up to be ashamed of our island story, and not without reason. Reading about the chaos in Israel, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Kashmir – close you eyes and pick a troublespot – one can only cringe at the mess the British have made of the world.

But it's not simply remorse that makes us reluctant to celebrate. It's also a kind of snobbery. Patriotism and love of royalty used to be traits that cut across the class system, but now they are considered profoundly down-market, like doilies and bad diets. Deference towards the monarchy has become the preserve of genteel, lower middle-class spinsters and people too old to know better. As for Union Jack-waving national pride: that is dangerous terrain indeed, best left to working-class thugs with shaven heads living in the racially-fraught hell-holes of Bradford or Bermondsey.

The middle-class intelligentsia doesn't dabble in such murky, jingoistic waters. University-educated media types like me know what is expected of us. We are cool, detached, ironic and – cowardly. Of course we feel some affection for our country – patriotism is a natural instinct in everyone – and of course we'd like, just once, to feel part of a community. But we don't dare do anything about it – we hardly even dare admit it – for fear of what other, cooler folk might think of us.

The other night I was watching Diners, the BBC Choice programme in which secret cameras record people's conversations while they are out for supper. The comedian Jenny Eclair was chatting to a much younger man, another comedian. He had already demonstrated his right-on credentials by making a joke about the Queen Mum's funeral (something along the lines of: "Why is it that no one can be bothered to vote, but they'll queue for hours to see what, for me, is a racist in a box with a £4m overdraft?").

Despite this warning signal, when the conversation turned to the jubilee, poor Eclair forgot herself. "Do you remember the silver jubilee? It was brilliant," she gushed, recalling how she wore a garland of flowers on top of her poodle perm and ran around kissing all the boys. "But what for?" asked the young comedian, evidently baffled that anyone cool would have participated in a royal celebration. Shame and uncertainty rushed across Eclair's face. "But it was like a street-party atmosphere," she blustered. "It was great. Or am I thinking of some other event?"

How I sympathised with her self-consciousness. The truth is, I would love to have had a street party for the golden jubilee: in a different age, being of a naturally bossy bent, I might even have organised one myself. But I am a child of my time. I am paralysed by the fear that my neighbours might think me a swot, a goodie-goodie, a nosy neighbour or – worst of all – a racist. It's absurd, when you come to think of it: I don't dare get involved in an event designed to bring the community together, just in case it should be seen as somehow divisive.

That's the trouble with being part of an enlightened, sophisticated, post-modern generation: it makes the simple business of having fun so damnably complicated.

The writer is the editor of 'The Week'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map