In the end we were lucky. By starting at daybreak the window cleaners managed to squeeze us in. A few weeks earlier our roof had been repaired. The new slates were a picture, the insulation in the attic a relief, and the dirt in the house a nightmare. A thorough spring clean was not enough to deal with the windows and, as they were due for their regular outside clean, I asked Len if the insides could be done too. He would try, but his diary was packed. “It won’t be easy,” he said, “everyone is asking for their windows to cleaned for the Jubilee.”
Ultimately, the insides got done as a favour. And during the job Len reminded me of his struggle to get Richmond’s windows clean on time – to be precise, by June 3, fifty nine years to the day after the coronation. The need for clean windows for royal events was new to me. Why should dirty ones matter? Who would care anyway? And on a practical note, at such a busy period, who in the Queen’s household would have the time to check?
Having clean windows reflects the nation’s overall warmth and somewhat archaic respect for the monarchy. And the pressure to express these feelings has been immense. For months we have been hectored by politicians, by commerce and by the media, and it has worked. In Richmond, streets are festooned with bunting. On many houses Union Jacks flutter on their poles, shop windows bulge with Jubilee paraphernalia (mugs, hats, biscuit tins, inflatable corgis, hand waving queens), flags are planted atop scaffolding, while Jubilee parties in the borough are de rigueur. On the television, maps displaying the weather forecast are decorated with red, white and blue, presenters wear Union Jack ties and there are countless programmes telling of the Queen’s public and private life.
Added to all this is the publicity for the London Olympics. So, intermingled and conflated with promotion for the Jubilee, there is patriotic footage of runners proudly, and sometimes tearfully, holding aloft the Olympic flame, of former and current British Olympians and of the splendour of the various Olympic venues. And to heighten the importance of it all, we see films of the security forces searching for trouble, telling us how they would handle problems if they arose.
In all this, I am caught. This hype has played on things I love and things I hate and my equilibrium has been thrown. I love watching sport and am perfectly happy with the Queen being the head of state, with streets being decorated, with community parties (especially for the children) and with a giant flotilla floating down the Thames. I also have some admiration for the Queen herself, who has chosen to stick with one job for 60 years. We met some ten years ago and at the time I mentioned that I had worked in one place for 45 years. She leant forward and, with a twinkle in her eye, said she had much sympathy!
As for my dislikes, I find jingoism and nationalism very unpleasant and for me mass hysteria verges on the frightening. And while I recognise that we need a head of state, I dislike intensely the moneyed aristocracy and the ‘establishment’ it supports with its accompanying gross inequality and privilege. To me, spending vast amounts on pageantry at a time of financial crisis when support for education, health, welfare and the provision of justice for example are being cut, seems obscene. A position made worse if the celebrations have been designed as a distraction. Importantly, moreover, by celebrating with the establishment, I would feel caught in a conspiracy in which I would find myself validating their values.
Resolving these dilemmas has not been easy. We will be in London for the Jubilee and in France for the Olympics. We will certainly not be wearing or displaying objects red, white and blue, nor going to parties, although we have been invited. I hope to watch the flotilla on television, but nothing more. As for the Olympics, I will probably limit myself to watching the track cycling. I imagine that my wife will remain screen-free. But despite my republican stance, I expect that I will feel I have missed out on something important. The relentless pressure makes me feel that I will be seen as a killjoy. But at least I will be a killjoy with cleaned windows!