August 22 2005

Half the world is a war zone, the Arctic is melting and all we’re worrying about is whether A-levels are being dumbed down.
It’s been that sort of week. My niece emailed from Dhaka on Thursday to say don’t worry about the bombs.
More than 100 had gone off, leaving two dead, scores maimed and flattening many of the buildings in the area of Bangladesh where she works for VSO.
The home-made devices were planted by Islamic militants and were designed to cause limited damage which must be comforting for the relatives of the rickshaw driver and the 10-year-old schoolboy they blew to pieces.
You probably saw it on the news.
Me, neither. I had to search the web for details.
The media, it seems, are more interested in wringing their hands over the 92 per cent pass rate of our A-level students.
Meanwhile, the oceans are getting warmer and icebergs have been spotted in the River Sow.
What we need is something to take our minds off things. A coronation would do it.
Remember the last one?
Free chocolates all round, street parties, commemorative mugs, a day off school and the conquest of Everest.
All this, and the telly.
The family who lived next door but one had the only set at our end of Sidney Avenue and said we could watch it on the big day if we were good.
Good? For weeks we were the best behaved kids in the western hemisphere. Who could resist an incentive like that? The Coronation was better than a month of Christmases and the next best thing to being there was being able to watch it in all its black and white splendour on TV.
It’s difficult to imagine Britain getting itself into such a state over anything nowadays. The newspapers ticked off the “golden days” above their mastheads; at school we made paper friezes a mile long depicting the royal procession and wrote poems which were read out at assembly (“The Queen will ride in a golden cab, until she arrives at Westminster Abb”). By the morning of June 2 we were in a frenzy.
Scrubbed and polished and warned not to fidget, we trooped into the neighbours’ front room and sat cross-legged on the floor while the set warmed up.
What followed put most of us off pomp for life and turned a good number of us into closet republicans.
We cornered the market in boredom that day and learned the meaning of a new word: anticlimax.
There was still the street party to come, of course. But fish paste sandwiches and jelly (indoors at the South End Working Men’s Club because it rained) turned out to be scant compensation.
Deflated, we went back to school and took down the friezes, confident that anything that happened to us from then on couldn’t be worse than having to sit for hours watching a Queen get crowned.
We were wrong, of course.
A few weeks later they marched us four miles into town to the Sandonia where we were made to watch it all over again. In Technicolor.


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