Saturday, 20 November 2010

Life is a glorious cycle of song, a medley of exemporanea

They were the same height in real life.
You'd have to be pretty unkind not to wish an engaged couple all the best in their future life. But I have this wierd feeling about this new royal engagement that, like jokes about the death of a much-loved family pet, it's just a bit too soon. I think that for my generation Princess Diana was a pretty defining figure. I was five when they got engaged, so it didn't strike me until much later just how young she was. I didn't quite understand all the fuss about the picture where you could see her legs through her dress, because I thought, though I was prepared to be told I was wrong, that everyone has legs. I was angry when my mother explained that in order to make Charles look taller than Diana for official pictures like the ones on the stamps, Charles had to stand on a box. I thought that was stupid. Then as I grew up, things got worse and worse for Diana, as revelations got into the press about how she wasn't loved, and we found out that Prince Charles's idea of sexy talk with his mistress involved tampons, and that we as a nation liked to eavesdrop on Prince Charles talking about tampons with his mistress. None of us were coming out of this well. I read Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love as a teenager and realised that Di was now a Bolter. The Martin Bashir interview was while I was an undergraduate, and a couple of us watched it with my Director of Studies. It was fascinating and upsetting, an early lesson in how, just by sitting still with our eyes open, we can be implicated in something not quite right, a sort of accessory to someone's mental damage. And then she died, the summer I graduated and turned 21. A lot of people are very rude about how upset the country was, which annoys me. You can criticise the illogicality of it only if you have never cried at the end of a book or a film (and if you've not ever cried at a book or a film then frankly you're a lot wierder than the people who cried for Diana). It was a very sad story; a teenage girl presented with the supreme fairy-tale happy ending, only to realise that her husband doesn't love her and has married for dynastic reasons, sending her on an increasingly frenetic hunt for love. And the two poor boys, already doomed to mental disfunction by the accident of birth, now had no mother. It's like the whole country had been watching Bambi together for the last fifteen years, and suddenly wolves leapt out and slaughtered Bambi's mother, and they were our wolves -- and come to think of it we had been talking to them recently about the delicious taste of venison.
Having said which, the phenomenon still involved an element of wanting to be part of a phenomenon. The idea of a nation all sharing a feeling was quite an appealing one. There was a candle-lit vigil on Parker's Piece, I think on the eve of her funeral. I went along in a Chuck Palahniuk-ish way to see what it was like to feel the same thing as other people, to participate in a national moment. But when I got there I got the impression that most people had gone with the same motive, and that people who actually had the feeling were in short supply. Still, to stand quietly on Parker's Piece with a candle while thinking about the transience of life is not such a bad way to spend time.
Poor old Princess Diana. I was never a girly girl who wanted to be a princess, but if you'd decided slowly to teach a generation of primary school children that fairy tale endings are a fatuous and dangerous concept, then you couldn't have gone about it better. You can't really ask us to suspend disbelief again now, even if Kate Middleton does seem like a tougher kind of girl.  There are several reasons why I am not that keen on the Royal Family, but if I had to pick just one, I'd say that I'm a republican because I think it's rude to stare.

Anyway, here's an old polaroid I found of me winning first prize for fancy dress at a local Royal Wedding fete in 1981.  My mother had turned me into a wedding cake with the help of cardboard boxes.  The total number of entrants in this class was one.  My prize, a blue tin with the royal couple on the front, was discovered by me to have contained fruit jellies only after said sweets had all been eaten by others.  You can't really tell, but in this picture I am crying because everyone is looking at me.


  1. I am having a complete sense of humour failure about your Madeleine McCann comment, which is unusual for me. And I do realise it's nothing to do with the content of your post, which is interesting and insightful. But really, jokes?

  2. I think of myself as quite a nice person, who tries to avoid those are are keen on tastelessness à la Frankie Boyle, but I've still heard several jokes about Madeleine McCann, and it will probably always be too soon. Anyway I was trying to think of an example where jokes really are too soon, where it really is a raw subject, even though it's been several years. I'm sorry if the reference made you feel sad, I probably shouldn't say things that will make good people feel sad, and I should have realised that if you've not come across such jokes it would be a shocking concept. (This is probably yet another sign that I should unsubscribe to popbitch -- I would probably like myself more if I didn't subscribe to popbitch.) I also feel a bit good about the fact that you react that way, because it reassures me that there are people who react that way, if that makes sense. Anyway, I am sorry. I might go back and tone it down a little if I think of something appropriate -- my first thought was 9/11, but then a lot of comedians have a lot of material on that one. Plus it's still a pretty tasteless reference. I'm considering changing it to "jokes about the death of a much-loved pet". That probably gets over the sense of what I mean without actually being a personally upsetting thought. I'll think it over a bit first.

    I don't want to talk about this loads, but the relationship between comedy and taste is a difficult thing. I remember watching a Frankie Boyle DVD with some friends, and he was making the audience roar with jokes about the Fritzls, and I was thinking "well-constructed joke, but you are a total arsehole because that story is one of the most horrendous things ever". (Excuse appropriate rude language.) I'm not sure that a sense of humour is always a good thing. Chris Moyles has a sense of humour. Your sense of humour failure is a sense of empathy win, and I know which sense I value more.

  3. In above I changed the sentence:
    But I have this wierd feeling about this new royal engagement that, like jokes about Madeleine McCann, it's just a bit too soon.
    But I have this wierd feeling about this new royal engagement that, like jokes about the death of a much-loved family pet, it's just a bit too soon.
    I wanted to make the point that the whole royal engagement thing just makes me think "ouch" and feel sad, even though the people announcing seem to be trying for a different reaction. My first simile opens up all that comedy/taste thing which I don't really want to get into. The problem is that to work properly the simile needs to be rather horrible. But I thought it over, and do I want to make readers of this blog think "ouch" and feel sad? I do not! There are sufficient reasons to think "ouch" and feel sad without my adding to them. I want readers of this blog to think "never mind, at least there is still high energy dance music".

  4. It is a tricky one, isn't it. The last thing I want to be is someone who goes around trying to make everything conform to their own individual set of norms and values. And I detest people who are OK with jokes about everything but x, where x is the issue that means something personal to them. Yet I appear to be that person. Sigh. (There is no tragic background, by the way, I just have a small daughter, and everything about the Madeleine McCann case fills me with visceral terror.)
    Thank you for your kind response, you do indeed sound like a nice person. I don't think there's any need to change what you've written, I'm going to get myself over to Popbitch and toughen up a bit.

  5. Your. mother. is. a. genius.
    (Does he know about etsy?)

  6. There is nothing about that case that is not absolutely horrendous, from every angle, and no story you can make up in your head to fit the facts that is anything other than terrible.

    Good luck with popbitch... it really is rather much sometimes. I do feel like it's good for me to be shocked on occasion, on the grounds that my support for free speech would be compromised if I didn't know what it was like to be offended and just take it. Anyway that's my excuse for still reading popbitch, which is pretty foul sometimes, but can also be very funny.