Like all loyal monarchists, I was of course out of bed at the crack today to iron the bunting with which the street will be festooned tomorrow and put Union Jack icing on the 300 cup cakes I spent most of yesterday baking. Right. As if. They wish.
It’s Royal Wedding day tomorrow and a nation rejoices. Mainly, it rejoices at the prospect of an extra day’s holiday and there will be those, souvenir tankards abrim with Uzbekistani Chardonnay, who will genuinely get involved with all the deferential, forelock-tugging bullshit that the media will feed into our homes via the TV throughout the day. It is, so we are asked to believe, the point at which the Royal Family connects with us, the Great Unwashed. One of ours is to become one of theirs and hundreds of loyal beggars will no doubt even now be lining the streets of London, ready to cringe in formation as the Royal Entourage sweeps by. The link between rulers and ruled will be renewed for another generation and we should all raise a glass to wotsisname and wotshername.
Tosh and piffle. Inevitably, my mind drifts back to the progenitor of all such events, the Chas & Di epic of 1981, a carbuncle of public grovelling compared to which tomorrow will be but an inconsequential pustule. I was still happily burning the candles at both ends in Mancunia in those days and felt sufficiently offended by the prospect of a day of Monarchist nonsense all over the TV that I proposed to my mate Chris that we spend the entire day within the hushed and crepuscular cloisters of Chorlton Snooker Club, of which we were both members. You weren’t even allowed to whistle in there, so there was zero chance of anyone sneaking in a portable TV to watch any of the nonsense going on in London.
However, my plans were thwarted due to an invitation to spend the weekend down in that royalist bastion of North Devon; an invitation that for a variety of reasons not germane to this post I felt I must accept. So, the girlfriend and I hopped aboard the train to Exeter St David’s and headed south. Being in North Devon on Royal Wedding Day was bad – after all they virtually own everything from Chagford to Hartland Point – but what made it worse was that the couple we were visiting were the proprietors of, not one, but two shops – one in Barnstaple, one in Plymouth – that specialised in the sale of wedding outfits for both men and women. I felt like a republican Jonah, about to be chomped by a gigantic, crowned whale in a vast cream silk frock.
Mike was waiting for us at Exeter St David’s and on the drive up to Barnstaple, he mirthfully teased me with tales of how he’d got me a Union Jack bowler hat and a commemorative tea mug and how there was going to be a huge street party the following day. He also told us of how their sales figures had gone through the roof ahead of the Chas & Di event and how wave after wave of dour Cornish farmers and their wives would arrive with their Demelzas and Cordelias and Morwennas at the Plymouth shop at 0901 on any given Saturday for the last 4 months, spending the whole day and thousands of pounds on outfits and accessories for their Perfick Day and how the dress had to be just like you-know-who’s.
Thankfully, threats of bowler hats and street parties proved to be unfounded and to my surprise, Mike – who was as ill-disposed towards Royal grovelling as myself – had a more radical and acceptable plan. ‘The Big Day’ dawned fine and clear, so, after breakfast, Mike and I abandoned ‘the wimmin’ to a day of glutinous maximus, jumped into his car and drove up the coast to Ilfracombe. Well before midday, we were out in the Bristol Channel on a venerable passenger steamer and headed for Lundy Island. Lundy is a rectangular slab of granite about 3 miles long by half a mile wide that sits out in the Bristol Channel , about a third of the way from Devon across to South Wales. Over the years it has played host to a variety of pirates and anti-Royalist ne’er-do-wells, so it seemed an appropriate destination for us. And besides that, there was the pub.
These were the dim distant days before the Licencing Laws were liberalised; most pubs on the mainland would open from about 1130 to about 1400, close for the afternoon, then re-open about 1730, closing at 2230 or 2300, depending on local regulations. On Lundy, owned by the National Trust and not subject to said laws, the pub stayed open all afternoon. Bliss.
Getting ashore on Lundy wasn’t that straightforward – there’s no deep-water jetty, so we had to be decanted off into a large and glorified rowing boat (with outboard), which took us in and drove up the steeply shelving shingle beach, after which we had to judge the incoming waves and hop out; hopefully without getting soaked. To be fair to us, we did the decent thing by Lundy; we didn’t just head straight for the pub, but began by walking the length of the island and back. It was a bit like being on the deck of a giant aircraft carrier, with the sea clearly visible to both port and starboard. We followed the well-worn path to the northern point, seeing plenty of rabbits and amazing numbers of butterflies (no crop-spraying on Lundy), but none of the puffins which were then fairly numerous.
Lundy Island: a haven of sanity in a world gone mad…
OK, wildlife safari over, we then headed straight back to Lundy’s only pub and found that a sizeable number of disloyal republican types like ourselves had been similarly inspired to make the trip out to an island that had once played host to Barbary Pirates from Salé in Morocco for several years. Of course, given its position, Lundy was ideally situated to host any pirates or privateers waiting for ships coming up or down-Channel from Bristol. It’s also ideally situated to offer incoming transatlantic flights a visual reference point as they head into the lunacy of the Heathrow Stacking System. I seem to recall hearing a vague thunder as an incoming Concorde dropped back into sub-sonic mode, but that might just have been the copious amounts of Exmoor Bitter we were imbibing, along with excellent local crab sandwiches, all consumed in hot sunshine in the pub’s garden. There was no TV, not a speck of bunting to be seen and the afternoon drifted by in a pleasantly bibulous haze. I may well have had a siesta at some point.
In the haze of early evening, making it back on board the Ilfracombe boat was somewhat trickier than leaving it had been several clear-headed hours earlier. Essentially, we had to balance ourselves on the side of the wildly-bobbing launch, then throw ourselves through a doorway/ hatchway in the side of the steamer, hoping that the waiting seaman was able enough to catch us as we hurtled across the gap. We arrived back somewhat bleary and somewhat sunburned to find Mike’s wife and the girlfriend still discussing the dress, the event, the day….
After nodding absent-mindedly through an account of the ‘highlights’ whilst grabbing some reheated prawn curry, we continued as we had begun and wandered down the road to Mike’s local with the girls in tow. The pub presented a sorry sight; the forecourt with its tumbleweeds of crisp packets, outside tables laden with empty glasses and the bunting already coming adrift from the nearby street-lights. In the bar, a young local in a Union Jack vest was playing a desultory game of pool with his girlfriend, an elderly man in a tweedy suit was half -asleep over a bottle of Guinness and two overdressed ladies of mature years were conducting an innuendo-filled conversation with young Alan behind the bar. Generally, the place looked as though we had walked into the aftermath of a large party – which was probably the case.
Just a precaution against the inevitable media sycophants…
I remember sleeping like the proverbial log that night and waking to find that most of my face, legs and torso had gone the colour of a bride’s blushes – nearly as painful, too, but a vat of ‘after-sun’ later, I was chipper enough to head off to nearby Saunton Sands and blow away the cobwebs with a long walk on the wonderful beach.
Somehow, I doubt that I’ll be able to avoid tomorrow’s ‘event’ as comprehensively as I did the Chas & Di blowout of 1981. I’m still somewhat gobsmacked to think that it has been 30 years since that sun-blasted day on Lundy. Since then, and in the wake of the whole Diana nonsense, my hostility to the Royals has been transformed into a kind of sour indifference, so the fact that the partner will most probably be glued to the tube for much of the day is of minor consequence. There’s always the blog to keep me warm.