Sky News trumpets the following assemblage of clichés: ‘With Prince William and Kate Middleton's big day just around the corner, New York City, like the rest of America, has Royal Wedding fever.’ Meanwhile according to the Guardian ‘America resists royal wedding fever’ this week, as opposed to last, when ‘the build-up in the United States to the royal wedding on 29 April has been every bit as frenzied and frenetic as it has in Britain. The details of Kate's sartorial choices have dominated fashion blogs and daytime TV shows. The wedding ceremony will be covered live on American television.’
You may be adjusting the netting and feathers your best hat and laying in pukable quantities of guacamole, tortilla chips and Kestrel, but me, I couldn’t care less. I can’t even retain the lass’s name or remember which prince she’s getting spliced to from one day to the next, let alone rejoice in their union. My telly will remain schtumm throughout Friday.
Many an overseas student has assumed that because I am English, I must therefore be an ardent football fan and a fanatical royalist. I am neither. I know little about football and care even less. I accept that some distinction is to be drawn between Manchester Rovers and Everton Thistle, Huddersfield Wanderers and Arsenal Wednesday, but I don’t know what it is or why anyone thinks it matters. Same sort of thing with the Royals. For my family, they were all southern nobs whose lives did not noticeably impinge on ours and for whom we felt little but benign indifference. ‘I don’t wish em any harm,’ my mum would say, ‘but I wun’t crost street to see any of em.’
Once at Cambridge I was eligible by virtue of being an exhibitioner* to be presented to the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the college. (I had to google him just then to remember exactly what he is the Duke of.) I did not accept the invite, but sat instead with a few others in my college room, all of us observing the big event with proletarian scorn, not so much for Phil himself but for the antics of those college members invited or watching from the sidelines. Cambridge maintained at the time a hierarchy of pointless privileges concerning which rooms in college you might enter, what length and colour of academic gown you were entitled to wear and which of the college lawns you could walk on with / without gown of specified length and hue. On the day of the Royal Visit, the Chosen were convened on the Fellows’ Lawn, the only occasion for some of them when their feet might know of lawful tread thereon. The Elect wore lounge suits and gowns of authorised length and shade. Trestle tables were set out, covered with dazzling white cloths and bearing silver trays of glasses and bottles. College servants in black jackets and bow ties stood at either end of each one. I imagine some of the younger ones quietly smouldering with contempt for their lounge-suited coevals, and others, older, longer in the service, smiling at the rightness of the occasion, where each one present - from bow tie to lounge suit to gown up to crown - knew his place in the chain of command. Phil perambulated, hands clasped behind back, except when extended to be shaken. The non-invited ones of the college crowded at the concrete edge of the lawn with cameras, jostling and snapping. ‘That’s me in 1978, look, you can just see His Royal Highness’s nose poking out from my left ear. The lad whose hand he’s shaking lived next door to me.’
God bless and save us. I can’t be doing with any pretence that we are other than creatures of flesh with holes at each end, and desires and needs associated with these holes. This is not to deny differences or intelligence or virtue, or to suggest that we should not refine our pleasures and cultivate our responses, but this expectation that one should feel privileged to be invited to meet a fellow primate who has done nothing whatever to merit one’s respect strikes me as insane. We could have nice boozy parties without gowns and lounge suits and ties - desperately uncomfortable on a summer afternoon – and without being encouraged to imagine that shaking hands with your co-mammal Phil Windsor meant you had really rather got somewhere in life, surely the message of the entire event. I dunno. Maybe they all had a good time and it’s just me that’s a miserable sod.
Anyway, as I said, I will not be watching, cheering or weeping over the hitching of what’s-his-name and what’s-her-face, and I expect they’ll be spitting up in due course like so many others. I’m grateful for the day off now that I know we will be making up the lost hours and that the wedding is not going to cost me a day’s pay.
*An exhibition was a prize awarded to candidates who reached a certain level in the now defunct Oxbridge entrance exam. It was, I think, forty quid a year for two years, to be spent on books, except I probably spent it on College Sherry and Abbott ale. My only academic achievement, modest as it was. (The exhibition, I mean.)