What an amazing weekend that was, despite the best efforts of the weather to spoil it. I went along to the Cobham Recreation ground – now the Queen Elizabeth II playing field – and joined hundreds of local residents as the Mayor unveiled a commemorative plaque and read a message of support from Prince William. It rained for the whole day, and as a result there were not as many picnickers as was hoped, but the hog roast and the cupcake stall seemed to be doing well. My two girls had another go on the Elmbridge smoothie bike and enjoyed the singing from the Elmbridge choir. Top work from the Chamber of Commerce, the Council, the Residents’ Association and the Heritage Trust. And well done to the locals for supporting the event despite the elements.
There was also a big screen showing the pageant on the Thames, but I’m afraid I have to admit that I decided – or rather my daughters decided – that it would be better watched from the shelter of our own home. It’s not often that I see something on the box which is truly breathtaking, but this spectacle passed that test. It must have been a huge undertaking to manage so many vessels of all speeds, shapes and sizes on that river on a wet and cold day. I was particularly impressed by the rowing barge (stroked by Steve Redgrave and Matt Pinsent) and the Spirit of Chartwell, the gloriously gilded Royal barge. How the Queen (at 86) and Prince Philip (at 90) managed to stay standing I do not know but this viewer was mightily impressed & if I have half Prince Philip’s stamina if I make it to his age I shall be delighted.
I also watched part of the Concert on Saturday evening; and all of the service of thanksgiving from St Paul’s. The Church of England does these services so very well, once again reminding us why an established church isn’t necessarily an anomaly in a largely secular society. As a Jewish friend of mine often says, the Church of England would be the best choice if you were starting with a blank slate and wanted to choose a religion, because it is so much more tolerant of internal dissent than any other.
Ultimately though this weekend was all about one person, a lady who has dedicated her entire life to the service of her people. I have never been more confident that there will still be a monarchy in this country in 100 years’ time. Not only does the present system work so well (we have a long history of disposing of unsuitable incumbents without fundamentally damaging the institution) but the alternatives are unpalatable. You either have an elected strong president (such as France or the USA), where the incumbent is often a politically divisive figure who will not command the support of more than 50-60% of the population at any one time. Or, you end up with a clapped-out non-entity as your head of state. Anyone care to tell me about the presidents of Germany, Italy, or Ireland? No, I thought not.
We are really very lucky indeed, and I think this weekend we all woke up and understood why.