What To Celebrate

To become a UK citizen, the British government requires all applicants to make the following Affirmation of Allegiance:

“I (name) do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.”

(Source: http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/britishcitizenship/applying/ceremony/)

There’s also a lengthy Citizenship Test to take about Life In The UK. Sample questions are:

– Where are Geordie, Cockney and Scouse dialects spoken?

– What and when are the Patron Saints’ Days of the four countries of the UK?

– What are bank holidays?

Well, they’re what we’ve just had, two previous weekends in a row. As a child, I associated bank holidays with a couple of things that always popped up on TV: James Bond films, and ‘Disney Time’, a special programme of clips from Disney movies, linked by a British presenter (Jimmy Tarbuck is the only one I can remember. There must have been others).

This most recent bank holiday weekend felt like a real life Disney film followed by a real life Bond Movie.

On the Friday, a royal Prince – William – married a non-royal girl – Kate Middleton – making her a Princess (Actually, due to those funny rules about heirs and bloodlines she was made a Duchess, but it was good enough). I can’t help thinking of the last woman to get a Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey – Sarah Ferguson – and how she was excommunicated from this event, while her children were invited instead. It’s suggested that she had her revenge by supplying her daughters with particularly bizarre hats.

Modern ways: I don’t have a TV, but watch the service on the internet, while enjoying the real-time jokey comments from people on Twitter. I enjoy the Abbey music and the sense of history, but find myself wincing at the more jarring anachronisms.  The service includes the phrase “I pronounce you man and wife”, rather than the more up-to-date ‘husband and wife’.

After that, I go down to the Not The Royal Wedding street party in Red Lion Square, Holborn. It’s organised by the pressure group Republic, who are keen to abolish the British monarchy by campaigning through the proper democratic channels, rather than anything that might get them arrested. Actually, that seems to be easier than ever right now: anarchists in Soho Square are bundled away by the police while the wedding is going on, purely for singing “We All Live In A Fascist Regime” to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’. Thus rather proving their own point. The reported charges are pure Thought Crime: “on suspicion of planning a breach of the peace”.

One time-honoured tradition of Royal Weddings is the souvenir mug, and the Republic movement has their own for sale today: it bears the slogan “I’m Not a Royal Wedding Mug”. They sell out by the time I arrive. But the Republic lot are keen to point out that they wish William and Kate no ill will personally. This isn’t about heckling a couple in love’s wedding – how mean-spirited that would be – but gently raising awareness that many Britons aren’t happy with  the whole monarchy set-up. Keep the weddings, and the titles, though. Says one female organiser “I am anti-monarchy, but I still want to see the dress. I’m still a girl.”

Also at the party is a stall where one can pledge allegiance to something British other than the Queen, in a reference to the aforementioned UK Citizenship requirements. The pledges take the form of triangular bits of paper pinned to the railings of Red Lion Square – a witty take on bunting. There’s quite a few pledges to Doctor Who by children, some to London, and quite a lot to tea. I pledge my own allegiance to Tim Berners-Lee, the British inventor of the Web, without whom these words wouldn’t have their readership, there’d be no Royal Wedding on the Internet, or Twitter, or Facebook, or so much of what the world depends on today. Bring out the bunting for British inventors, I say.

One of the organisers recognises me and takes my photo:

Then on the May Day Bank Holiday Monday, with the news of Osama Bin Laden, we got the Bond film: a villain craving world domination tracked down by the good guys in his secret lair, then meeting a violent end. It’s not reported if the soldiers who dispatched Bin Laden did so with a corny Roger Moore pun, but The Sun obliges with its front page the next morning: “BIN BAGGED”.  The news shows footage of young Americans in Times Square shouting “USA! USA!” in jubilation at the news.

English people are obviously glad to hear of a terrorist leader put ‘beyond use’ as they say now,  but cheering and shouting “ENGLAND! ENGLAND!” in the streets for any reason other than football is thought to be A Bit Much. That most English trait of all: fear of bad social etiquette. Celebrate a wedding, not a killing.

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