By mid morning, the heat had already turned my skin to what felt like rancid butter. I was scared that it would soon turn black and upset my mother who, like all proper Asian mothers, worked hard to keep my skin fair and untouched by the Stygian colour of damnation. I was with some nursery school children and thousands of other older kids lining the streets of Kampala, capital of the British protectorate of Uganda. It was 2 June 1953, and we were marking the crowning of some pink queen far away, whose face was on the wrapper of the small bar of Cadbury's milk chocolate we were given as we stood there. The melting chocolate spread on pristine uniforms, faces, legs and ribbons, and many of us started to cry.
For people in the UK that day was obviously altogether more meaningful - especially as the coronation coincided with the arrival of television, making royalty more intimately accessible than ever before. In his well written, elegiac (and sometimes blimpish and a tad too nostalgic) book The Shadow of a Nation, the Radio Four journalist Nick Clarke confesses that, like many others in that post-war generation, his first memory belongs to the young Queen's coronation. Royalty then, he says, was an essential symbol of national self-assurance, real pride, continuity: "Everyone knew where they were and who they were, back in the Fifties."
I am trying to imagine what this certainty and loyalty to the monarchy must have felt like. It is the least I can do as a republican, on this day 50 years ago when young, lovely Elizabeth was crowned. The unexpected rush of royalism in the country last year as millions came out to mourn the Queen Mother and to celebrate the golden jubilee did show that the old country still stalks and shadows the new, more raucous, disorderly, questioning, demanding, irreverent, creative, equal, incredibly confusing nation we are becoming. Maybe that is all it was, a temporary, joyful retreat into an irrecoverable past. It appealed precisely because that class-structured, predictable white Britain has vanished and we will never again witness the whole country rejoicing in the crowning of a British monarch the way they did in 1953. Not even for sultry blue-eyed, golden William.
Look back at the gush during the jubilee and you cringe. David Cameron, a Conservative MP, wrote: "The events of the past few days show the broad and continuing support for the monarchy as an institution."
No they didn't. They made Britain look like an old folks' home where only selective remembrance meant anything. We are more than that now, much more, and we should resist this slide into dementia. To watch the drooling, the prurience, the tragedy of a people prepared for ever to defer to and pay for a second-rate brood is unspeakably depressing. Oh sure, the tourists love it, but they don't have to live with this shame. Do you really believe that the Americans, who so adore our royal Britain, would take it all off our hands? No dynamic country would wish for such a burden.
As Roy Hattersley wrote last year: "A monarchy, based on the hereditary principle, encourages the nation to look backwards to its glorious past rather than face an uncertain future. It promotes values that a civilised country should abhor" - values that institutionalise the idea of inherited class superiority. What is this handed-down superiority? All I see is inherited stupidity among many in our revered Royal Family.
William's face appearing on the stamps only made you understand the horror of such a burdensome heritage: he will be stuck to the throne whether he wants it or not; he will be expected to raise the royals back to celestial spheres, this murky, greedy, unattractive family that seems unable to see how spectacularly it fails itself, let alone the benighted nation.
This is the view of crabby republicans like myself. But as time goes on I wonder if, secretly, royalists are getting ever more incandescent at the parade of palace follies and brazen infidelities and the twittering middle-aged Charles who needs (at least) four palaces to perfect his life of son-of-the-soil simplicity. Fiercely committed royalists must surely be very miserable today that this lot is letting down the whole edifice.
But here comes news of more "modernisation" from St James's Palace. Charles wants a job description laid down in a Prince's Charter, outlining his rights and responsibilities. He is so modern, he has asked his officials to make up the charter instead of getting his public involved. He is also trying to pay a bit more tax on the money made by selling gifts given by well-meaning people around the world. The charter, he hopes, will give him clear rights to interfere even more. He wants to poke his aristocratic nose into politics, policy, architecture, farming. Every time he does, he reveals his instincts - he is an anti-progressive reactionary who finds the modern world distasteful. And so he should, for the distaste is reciprocated.
No, Sir, too little, too damn late. These manipulative gestures may still fool some, but more and more Britons are finding it hard to put up with this expensive farce and what it means for the nation that they love.Reuse content