Tom Hodgkinson: My own little mutiny on the bunting


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Unlike in 1977, when the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" reached number two in the charts, there seem to be few republican voices prepared to stand out today. And however much you might like to resist it, everyone has gone crazy for bunting. It's everywhere (not least on the pages of the magazine you're holding in your hands).

There's vintage bunting, Cath Kidston bunting, Union Jack bunting... Plus there's all the rest of the vintage iconography: flowery teapots, cake stands, trestle tables and stripy tablecloths flapping in the wind. It's as though Oliver Cromwell never existed. In this climate, anyone who expresses any reservations about the monarchy (or the Olympics, for that matter) is likely to be seen as an old grumpus.

For my part, I'm in two minds about the monarchy. Traditionally, the king has been a friend to the poor man, and we cheered and whooped when Charles II returned to the throne following the grinding, funless Stalinist years of the Commonwealth. Where I live, everyone seems to loathe all governments, because they interfere and tell us what to do and what to think. But they are all very happy to bring out the bunting and toast the Queen. Our village is throwing a tea party for the Jubilee: "Everyone is invited to come to a community celebration of 60 glorious years of Queen Elizabeth's reign," reads the invite. And there is no doubt that such events bind communities, and that is good.

But the republicans in Blighty must be thinking we've all gone completely crazy. William Morris voiced popular anti-Royalist sentiment in 1877 when he wrote: "Hideous, revolting and vulgar tomfoolery. One's indignation swells pretty much to the bursting point." Even Victorian England was by no means as cap-doffing as we like to think: Queen Victoria was hissed in her own Diamond Jubilee year when she travelled to the East End of London to open the People's Palace, a sort of library and centre of culture for the working classes.

The republican element in our village is making its voice known by teaching the children to sing "God Save the Queen", the Pistols version, at the Jubilee concert. It's funny how the Sex Pistols' songs have entered the British consciousness as rebel folk songs.

With such confused thoughts in my mind I retreated to my own little patch of England, the allotment, the other weekend. My wife's birthday was approaching and I hit on the idea of making her a small fruit garden. I'm beginning to realise that where allotments are concerned, fruit might be where it's at. Gooseberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackcurrants all grow well in British soil and are expensive to buy, making them the ideal food to grow. The other nice thing about fruit is that it is low effort. Just plant, water and off you go. No need to sow and dig, as is the case with vegetables.

I enlisted the help of the children and we planted a dozen raspberry canes and two cute little blueberry trees. We propped up a little wire fence around the plot, then painted a sign to read: "Victoria's Fruit Garden!". My daughter, herself gripped by patriotic fever as a result of the heady double-bill of the Jubilee and the Olympics, did the lettering and her pictures of flowers in red, white and blue.

Then I started rooting around in the barn, and immediately discovered some bunting. It was left over from a party we had a couple of years ago. At that point it had seemed quite original and fun to put up bunting. Sort of ironic. Now that everyone else has gone bunting-crazy, I feel I am being forced against my will to like the stuff, manipulated into being a bunting lover. However, I knew that the children would have no such qualms, so I took the bunting up to our new little fruit garden and put it up. I have to admit that it looked pretty, and even if you are a republican, what's wrong with growing your own fruit and vegetables?

We took Victoria up to see her patch on her birthday and she was thrilled. She had to admit that the bunting looked pretty. It frames the garden. And unwittingly I have planted patriotic fruits: red raspberries and blue berries. Now I just need to get a white fruit and we'll be all set. Except for a few punk-rock safety pins around the place. Would a safety pin attached to each piece of bunting express my confused state as far as individual freedom, community celebration and monarchical sentiment go?

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

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