Bunting was draped along a few driveways. At one gate a flag waved. One of the red white and blue ones which looks rather unusual these days when the blue and white without the red has become the norm on flagpoles. The odd notice was tied to railings or pinned to a tree or fencepost, or scrawled in coloured chalk on a blackboard. Seems like there’s a jubilee going on. Somewhere.
The most scary emotion is not caused by any aspect of the hoohah, but by the fact I can remember the day it kicked off. The coronation.
I seem to remember rationing still limited choice and amount of purchases, though there was a feeling of things being on the up, of good times ahead. Somewhere.
Things being on the up meant my father bought a television set with a minute screen, I remember it as nine inches but it may have been twelve. Eventually a magnifier was added, a giant magnifying glass that squatted like a sumo wrestler in front of the screen and enlarged the picture. The fuzziness was magnified too.
It was the only television in the street of prefabs draped along a road beside posh detached houses with trees that sprouted pink flowers. They waved invitingly over unclimbable sandstone walls that enclosed large gardens entered through high wooden gates. The gardens of the prefabs had no such privacy. Fences of stick and wire divided the plots. The residents liked it that way. Easier to have a chat with the neighbours. Most had young families, had been living with parents, in requisitioned accommodation or squalid rented rooms. A prefab was a detached house with more mod cons than they could ever have hoped for, including a fully fitted kitchen, set within its own large garden. With a front door and a side door, these were homes to be proud of, as the new curtains, and mown lawns testified.
My father was a republican, but a republican who was sufficiently pragmatic to believe that replacing the monarchy by a presidential system would probably end in much the same set up as we had, with little in terms of cost savings.
Nevertheless it was obviously a surprise to my mother when he came home with the bunting. Even more of a surprise when he draped it around the eaves and windows of the prefab, and added a red white and blue flag along with a lion rampant. There was a general effort, so the street looked bright and cheerful. Whether the posh houses of our neighbours were decked out similarly we couldn’t see because of the height of their garden walls.
After so many years of austerity, rationing, make-do-and-mend, perhaps a string or two of bunting helped raise spirits.
There was no mad rush, no queue jumping that I can remember. My memory is of a day that was very organised. Steak pie was on the menu, and my mother probably spent the previous evening peeling potatoes. The neighbours came in relays and at some point, when there was a lull in the proceedings, a favoured few must have sat down at the fully extended Utility table and tucked into steak pie followed by trifle. It had to be trifle. It was always trifle on special occasions, unless it was dumpling. But coronation day wasn’t a dumpling day.
Those neighbours who weren’t in the premier league arrived later for the repeat showings. Television had never covered such a glittering occasion so they were set to milk it for all it was worth. Richard Dimbleby and all.
Yes, I remember the pomp, the ceremony, the foreignness of it. How could I not! Never in my life had I seen anything like it, or dreamt there could be such riches, such glittering clothes, furs and trains and jewels, and a golden carriage. I was wearing a pair of grey flannel shorts and a stripped T-shirt, new for the occasion. My mother wore a summer dress she’d had since ever I could remember. It was her best.
The coronation made a big impression on me, but perhaps not the one that was meant by the powers-that-be.
Sceptical? Of course. Countless governments have exploited such occasions. Lollipops for the masses to keep minds off toothache. These occasions boost the feel-good factor when it’s wearing thin or has become threadbare.
So no bunting or partying with steak pies this time around. Instead I’ve remembered that day when the inequalities of the world, or at least my part of it, first impinged on my mind. Those equalities still exist. I’ve thought of my parents and their struggle to grasp a few luxuries in their life. They owned a television, though neither ever experienced a holiday abroad.
And I hope in the not too distant future, despite dire economic times, some of the problems, unsolved during the past sixty years, can be tackled with a will. If serious inroads can be made into poverty, unemployment, inequalities of all kinds, and if our democracy can be strengthened and widened, then perhaps one day I’ll have cause to hang out the bunting and wave a flag. Someday. Maybe.