To the Good People of Lewes,
Just in case information has filtered down from Northern Britain about how perturbed we are about your annual burning of effigies, let me try to explain the nature of this year’s perturbation. It’s not about thin-skinned ‘Jocks’ who can’t take a joke, it’s not about hurt pride, perceived insult and ‘ that’s our beloved First Minister you are denigrating!’. Let’s face it, you have to be pretty thick-skinned being brought up in a country whose national anthem has a verse dedicated to your specific ethnicity. Verse three states clearly what an absolute, disreputable shower we Scots are, followed by a lusty, final, ‘God Save Our Queen!’
Speaking of the Queen and her family history, since the adoption of that disputatious anthem, they have worked tirelessly to pour oil on those troubled waters. Victoria bought herself a very nice summer house plus estate up in the north-east of Scotland, thus subjecting later generations to holidays in the midge-ridden gloom. The present incumbent has gone far beyond this simple act of reconciliation. The rain-soaked summer holidays persist, her eldest son is sacrificed to a good Scottish education plus tweeds and a kilt. Her daughter is sent time and again to Murrayfield to sit through endless hours of painful rugby and asked to look delighted at being associated with the whole drab affair. More recently they have even shunted their grandson off to the wilds of Fife to fulfill his tertiary education. Thank goodness he managed to pluck a sweet English rose from among all those thistles. What a family! What noble sacrifice! What tireless devotion to the cause of national unity and reconciliation.
Ah! Yes! The word I was looking for was, ‘reconciliation’. This is the word that was poured out to us after the referendum results. We were all highly recommended to bind up our wounds and work together because, after all, we are better together – united. There was a very nice little service in St Giles (a very old cathedral in old Edinburgh). Leading members of the opposing campaigns were there and in the suffused lights and soft focus camera lenses, they lit the candles of reconciliation. It didn’t last very long. 24 hours later Mr Darling was baying in front of the Labour Party Conference that Salmond ‘had lost the referendum, lost his job. And now he’s lost the plot.’
Ah well! As one candle sputters out, a new flame lights the winter skies of East Sussex. These days one tends to associate effigy burning with the socially wilder and more politically unstable parts of the planet.
I know that all of us have moved on from burning live individuals on a regular basis and that the two events shouldn’t really be compared. But there is a thought that gnaws at me, that although effigies are simply symbolic and real people are somehow more complex, alive and thus more sacred and although the two activities are distinctly at either end of a spectrum - they are, as it were, on the same spectrum.
The Royal Family, for all their many faults, dysfunctions and periodic lunacy are a genuine British institution, not simply by name or by title, but by very real day to day intent and practice. I look forward to hearing, as I always do, the Queen’s Christmas message. I’ll bet you ten good Scots groats she uses the ‘r’ word and I’ll bet you she didn’t purr in the least about your bonfire.
God Bless Her Majesty and all who sail with her!