There was only one thing Mr Z wanted from 2022, which was to be out of the country for the jubilee. Unfortunately, I failed to prioritise this one solitary wish, and now it’s too late because I am committed to making a trifle.
Somehow a significant voice has been lost in the conversation about this joyful event. There are the people who love the Queen more dearly than their own kin, who have been making bunting for months and practising how to bake in red, white and blue; and then there are the enemies they constantly shadow-box, those who would tear down the monarchy for Marxism, or whatever. Missing from this are all the people who have, let’s say, a more textured view. We don’t hate the Queen – far from it.
OK, so we may be a bit different in sensibility. She hates garlic, and I’m not wild about corgis, but I’m sure I would come round to them if I met more, and I have dearly loved family members who won’t even eat onions. True, I’m not cock-a-hoop about hierarchies based on historical wealth; I think Prince Andrew would have quite different prospects without the power of the assembled establishment behind him; and I’m hard pushed to choose between Princes William and Harry. Probably, the worst and best things each says about the other are equally true. None of this adds up to any feeling about the monarch more intense than that she is probably an all right person, doing what she can, in circumstances that none of us would choose. Come on, who would choose to be the Queen?
The objectionable thing about the jubilee – the reason sensible people would spend the weekend underground, or in Amsterdam, or unconscious – is the mad genuflecting, the bowing and scraping, the emotionality it demands. It’s not even as meaningful as an atheist kneeling in front of the pope. At least with him, you could muster some ambient respect from knowing that some people believed in it all. This is patriotism rendered as kitsch, a huge performance of plastic loyalty.
I know for a fact, garlic and corgis notwithstanding, that nobody would agree with me more on this than the Queen herself. This is what the royals are all about. They certainly don’t parade their emotions – but more than that, they hate emoting. Do they use their loathing of sentimentality to mask an absence of real feeling? Who knows? I bloody don’t. But I know for a cast iron fact that if the Queen spent five minutes on eBay, looking at the unending pages of “I love you ma’am” biscuit cutters and random assorted items of decorative Britishness, she would think, “Jesus, another outpouring. Only this time it’s worse. Nobody even died.”
On the other hand, there are elements of the prospective celebrations that fill me with national pride. I love the way the great British public grabs with both hands the chance to start drinking at 11am; attendantly, the lengths they will go to to normalise this as a community activity, so that all social barriers and traffic systems are torn down, to legitimise delinquency as a street party.
If the sign of a first-class intelligence is to be able to hold two conflicting ideas at once, the sign of a first-class patriotism is similar, with an extra dimension: to hate every serious iteration of national pride, while still loving every silly one. Moreover, to recognise that it’s in the silly stuff that nations distinguish themselves, and are at their best, while whenever we try to sketch out a serious “British value”, it’s generally on a principle with which any other given nation would agree, and in the act of trying to assert we’re the best at it, we capsize it altogether.
I will be on British soil for the jubilee; I will make a trifle, probably with a stab at a colour scheme. I will resist with every sinew any British exceptionalist, Queen-worshipping, drummed-up, tear-jerky servility. Not just for me, but for the institution of monarchy itself. If it has one capacity in which it is singular – in the Queen’s generation at least – it’s for restraint.
• Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist