This year of 2012 is stuffed with anniversaries: Dickens, Shakespeare, Titanic, accession of Queen Elizabeth II. And then we (i.e. London) has the Olympics. Predictions of the end of the world and stunning planetary line-ups add to the drama, especially when day after day on the news it does look like the end of Europe. Ecocide everywhere, even on my doorstep, and the story of Fukishima not over yet.
Life, of course, carries on as usual, if you call it usual to go to the supermarket and see the Union flag everywhere, even on the toilet rolls and ryvitas. Everyone is gearing up for the weekend after next, including the planet Venus who will end the Jubilee by transiting the sun and completing a five-petalled rose in the sky that took eight years to draw.
That the orbits of Venus and Earth round the sun involve the numbers 5, 8 and 1.6 is shown in this lovely video from transitofvenus.org
It is completely scientific; only geometers will thrill to the significance of 1.6 and phi relationships. (See John Martineau’s ‘Little Book of Coincidence’.) Let’s just say it’s auspicious for world harmony. The transit is visible in the States at sunset June 5th and in the UK at sunrise June 6th. It will not happen again until 2117.
We have no idea what we shall be doing on Jubilee weekend and the mood here, as ever on Big Occasions, is to ignore it all as best we can – and then get sucked in at the last moment and end up all teary with wobbly chins at the absolute glory of a royal pageant. (In case we sound like two anti-social grumpies, I must add that our own anniversaries are similarly ignored – we passed our 10th without a murmur – we like to think of it as Stoicism but it’s really just forgetfulness.)
I was two and eleven twelfths at the Coronation. My parents went to the event and had seats at Pall Mall – I was left with my grandparents and their brand new television set. I watched the Coronation as a moving black and white picture on a tiny screen set in a great wooden cabinet and I very much suppose that my jaw hung open. I remember the atmosphere in the room more than the images, a palpable sense of occasion, a frisson in the family: history in the making. My Victorian grandparents, with their velvet drapes and Venetian glass, their war-weary children, their unruly grandchildren who could only sit still for an hour at a time: between us, we were to span an epoch called the twentieth century.
Queen Elizabeth has looked after me ever since, embracing my life, always there, sometimes like a frosty aunt who has to be visited every now and again so that she can lay down the law, sometimes like a stern but kind mother; often like my mother, who wasn’t stern. I was born after Charles and before Anne and grew up with them. Charles has always been the voice for everything I have believed and still do believe. His recent book Harmony captures all my apparently irreconcilable facets and makes them a whole, so that as a lover of Botticelli it is only natural that I love Mozart, hate modern architecture, practice geometry and garden biodynamically. We were children of the same time.
There is a look to the Queen, have you noticed? – a tightness around the eyes as if she is in pain, as if she looks out through pain. Charles has it, so does Anne. It says to me that here is someone with a sense of duty in an ungrateful world; here is a monarch that was only an ideal before but in the Windsors is an actuality, one who serves.
Interestingly, Prince Andrew does not have ‘the look’ – he hobnobs with the King of Bahrain with no sense of duty at all. I wonder how he and Charles get on at family do’s? I can’t imagine they have much in common. A sense of the sacred and a love of Dubai seem incompatible.
When I was writing Consider England I applied to visit Charles’s home at Highgrove to see the garden and permission was duly and courteously given. HRH was not at home on the day, but we were greeted by the head gardener and served tea by a uniformed butler. When the butler stooped to pour the tea, a crown of golden thread embroidered on his jacket passed close by my nose. My legs went weak and my head swam. For a moment I was two again, only in this particular moment Royalty was not on television, it was serving me tea. Crowns, coaches, orbs and sceptres, these symbols were branded on my soul by a hot television at a very early age.
So here’s to you, Ma’am, and your Big Day. I’ll think of something to do to celebrate, other than eat ryvitas and go to the toilet. England expects, you know; England expects not only that you do your duty but that the pageant will be utterly stunning, reducing the Olympics to a mild aftershock. Here’s to many more years for you, and for the world.
Having written that in the early hours, I turned on the TV at 7am, the very moment when the Olympic torch touched down in a helicopter at Land’s End. The origin of the sacred flame of Olympia began in ancient Greece: while it was alight, all warring factions put down their arms to allow the athletes their sport. For the next 70 days it will be jogged, walked, wheeled and waddled by 8000 torch bearers up and down England. Judging by the first hour, this will not be gripping television, but the symbolism is the same: peace on earth and goodwill to all men.