Cavanman's Diary: Royal fairytale just an escape from dire reality

Cavanman's Diary

It’s Tuesday as I write this, the mourning after the day before. Queen Elizabeth ll’s fortnight-long death carnival has now almost concluded and what a surreal time it has been. Then again, nothing in the post-sense society across the water – not that we’re much, or any, better - would surprise you any more.

When I was a small child, we lived in England. Our school, St Francis De Sales, was directly across the road from White Hart Lane, home ground of Tottenham Hotspur.

Before continuing, I should point out that Old Frankie, as it happens, is the patron saint of two things – journalists and the deaf, groupings which I’m sure some of our unkinder readers would argue are not mutually exclusive – but hear me out (pun intended).

From a child’s point of view, north London seemed like a decent area at the time – where there was something of an Irish enclave – but when I have gone back, it always feels like a dive. Then again, in my personal experience, much of the UK now is.

I’ve been to London many times since and it always seems overcrowded; it’s expensive and grid-locked and there is a hostile undercurrent. That is the way in British cities. Every high street looks and feels the same; the same shops, the same bars and bookies’ chains, the same glum faces and brooding tension, on the underground and the overground.

I was in Cardiff for a fight about a dozen or so years ago. The experience reminded me of the famous line by Sean Hughes, the late Dublin comedian, when asked about his favourite sporting memory (“I saw my brother fighting in the National Stadium. It was at a UB40 concert.”)

We were there for a boxing match, inside the arena, but there were rows everywhere that night. The atmosphere around the city was toxic. When our taxi driver dropped us back to the hotel, he told us he had seen a group of lads kicking another man “like a football” earlier on. The next day, the train was late and we missed our flight at Bristol Airport.

In 2018, I toured around Scotland. The largest settlement in the Highlands is Inverness and a friend who had been over a couple of times for the Ireland v Scotland shinty matches warned me that it was a rough town. It was – but it was nothing like Fort William, which is the next biggest place in the north of the country.

We drove through it on a Tuesday morning, heading from Skye to Glasgow, a sort of international hub for bigotry which was once neatly described in the Irish Times as “a grand old dame with a busted nose”. I parked near the police station; a man wearing a tracksuit and a freshly-minted black eye wandered out and eyed us warily. Beside Black Eye and I, on a park bench, a wino relieved himself. Welcome to bonnie Fort William!

It’s the same all over. In Liverpool, drug addicts genially strolled around a café at breakfast time, taking orders for items they would then steal from the nearest Boots (luckily, there is a Boots approximately every 500 feet in the UK).

At a soccer match in Selhurst Park, I saw middle-aged men stand with their back to the pitch for an entire game, foaming at the mouth in fury and roaring abuse at the opposing fans in a sort of let-me-at-him-hold-me-back ritual.

Am I imagining all of this? At the weekend, I came across an article online by a Financial Times journalist who had crunched the numbers and reckoned that the UK is now just a poor country with some exceptionally rich people.

“Last year the lowest-earning bracket of British households had a standard of living that was 20 per cent weaker than their counterparts in Slovenia,” wrote John Burn-Murdoch.

He went on note that on current trends, lower-earning Polish families will be better off than their UK counterparts by the end of the decade.

“A country in desperate need of migrant labour may soon have to ask new arrivals to take a pay cut,” he noted wryly.

As the UK deteriorates, it becomes more divided, along class and, to a huge degree, racial lines. This obvious decline has led vast swathes of the population to cling to an image of what things were once like, to take comfort in pageantry and archaic lingo, as if using deferential terms like Ma’am can transport us back to an era when things were perceived to be better and more certain.

The most powerful symbol of that fantasy is the royal family and the ultimate icon there was Queen Elizabeth; long-reigning, stoic, English, white.

So, the scenes of the last couple of weeks should not come as a surprise, really, but it doesn’t make them any less preposterous. Grown-ups bawling like babies on television in displays of performative grief; poor people queuing for 13 hours to file past the coffin of the bastion of privilege, who spent her life bouncing from palace to castle and only had the misfortune of encountering the lower classes when there was a camera around.

And of course, the corporate world inevitably jumped on board, with hilarious results. Lingerie shop Ann Summers draped its mannequins in black shawls and chocolate bar brands posted sad-face emojis on social media.

Guinea Pig Awareness Week was postponed (it would be disrespectful to be aware of the hairy little pets at such times) while the British Kebab Awards acknowledged their “great sadness”.

It brought out the worst in a lot of the Irish, too, many of whom took leave of common decency. The well-publicised chanting (“Lizzie’s in a box”) at the soccer match in Tallaght was a fairly repulsive act, carried out by imbeciles, again, probably for the benefit of their camera phones.

But my favourite observation on the whole thing was a video shared online during the week. Now, it wasn’t new – it had gone viral some time ago – but it was still pertinent.

The phone footage featured an elderly lady, in Liverpool apparently, who has just received a card from the Queen, as is customary on the occasion of her 100th birthday. A younger woman, possibly a grand-child, is reading out the message and the birthday girl listens intently with an expression of bemusement and disdain on her face.

“I’m pleased to know that you are celebrating your 100th birthday on the 15th of January, 2021. I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion. Elizabeth,” reads the younger woman.

“Yeah…” interrupts the star, drolly and in a heavy Scouse accent, “she doesn’t give one shite.”

Of course, the old girl was right. Queens and princes and castles and all that pomp are the stuff of myth and legend, folk fables. But the sad truth is that when real life is crumbling around them, it's only natural that our cousins across the water would prefer to live in a fairytale.