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An odd snobbism

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 23 July 2013
In my little part of Scotland, there is a quiet pleasure in the arrival of a new prince. Balmoral is not far away; half the shops in the village sport By Royal Appointment crests above their doors. There is a long connection with the royal family in this valley, and an enduring affection. It is not gaudy or flag-waving, but more an acceptance of them as part of the fabric of these hills. The Queen is rumoured to love Scotland as much as she loves her racehorses and her dogs; there is an understanding that this is where a very public set of people can come and be left alone, and the locals take a gentle pride in that. Intrusive journalists and snappers are met with a blank stone wall, as if the very granite of the north-east is used to repel them.

Out on the antic prairies of the internet, the cross voices, as always, are lifted in dissonant song. I see one furious remark, from a disaffected gentleman. ‘Who are these 'well-wishers' who 'throng' outside Buckingham Palace at such a time?’ he writes. ‘Do they really exist? Why?’

I remember this exact thing from before the royal wedding. There is a certain kind of curmudgeon who finds it all too much. I remember too a roving reporter going into the happy crowds who had camped in the Mall, and finding a little boy, all decked out in his red white and blue. The small fellow was about eight, and he expressed his excitement and joy in clear, wondering sentences. He was unaffectedly entranced by the whole thing: the great event, the collective goodwill, the sense of occasion. The reporter went on to find jolly ladies who had set up tents and were making jokes about getting out the gin. It was all very British, slightly eccentric, and wholly delightful. How, I remember thinking, can anyone be cynical about this?

Of course, on paper, in strictly rational terms, the monarchy is absurd. Anything involving accidents of birth is. Although, in a sense, all humans have accidents of birth – you are randomly born clever or kind, sanguine or gloomy, tall or short. But still, being born to a palace and a crown is the accident to end all accidents. I was a tremendously bolshie republican in my youth, when I saw the world in clear terms of black and white. Now, I feel pleased and happy, in the same quiet way that the people of this valley do, at the arrival of a new baby I shall never meet.

It was the crowds that changed my mind. As I grew up, and stopped wagging my finger and being so ruthlessly judgemental, I came to see that there is a lot of simple joy in the monarchy. As ceremony followed ceremony through my formative years, I observed the happy throngs who would come out, with their flags and bunting and very British jokes, and think: how can I look down my nose at them? Because that is what a lot of these sneering voices are doing. They are not just attacking an institution, but all the ordinary people who celebrate it. They are mocking that small boy, his eyes dancing with awe.

These ‘well-wishers’, put into disdainful inverted commas, as if they are somehow bogus or misled, are exactly that. They are good-hearted people who wish a young couple and a new life well. They are not idiots or sheep. They come out because they want to express a benign, collective sense of hope and pleasure, and in uncertain economic times, that cannot be a bad thing. It may be very clever and lofty to look down from one’s rational pedestal, but it’s a cheap shot, all the same. It’s a mean-minded snobbism – look at the ordinary people, with their bread and circuses. It’s a self-regarding way of saying that the mocker is above the common herd.

I say: let the bells ring out, the flags fly, the crowds smile. Ordinary, decent Britons are having a fine summer of it: Wimbledon, the Ashes, a royal birth. These are all straightforward pleasures, a way of shaking the dust of gloom and decline off workaday feet. So much of the news is bad; dear old Blighty deserves her moment of rejoicing.

As I write, people are gathered patiently outside the Lindo Wing in the pouring rain, brollies up, banners of congratulation unfurled. Let the cynics curl their superior lips. I know whose side I am on.

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