This weekend, aside from a handful of nuts and attention ho rumblings from passe peed-off intellectuals, the whole country celebrates the coronation of His Majesty Charles III.
I am, perhaps, the world’s most unlikely monarchist. Grew up a white trash little Dutch Boy during the bad old days of Apartheid in the former colony of South Africa – ”my people” the long and bitter enemy of ‘the English’; my upbringing suitably fascist thanks to old school Christian National education; my family with tales to tell about concentration camps and scorched earth policies.
History, of course, was there before the sensitivities of Gen Z. It didn’t quite concern itself with the perceptions and triggers of teenagers on Twitter. Back then, no, you fought to win or you were conquered.
The historical tears and pains of all people are valid – but only more or less – because I have been around the world and I am yet to discover an innocent people.
Every conquered group were also conquerors, or they would not exist. Everyone alive today – every single one who can claim to be homo sapiens – is alive because their own tribe were imperialists that dominated neighbours, took their resources, enslaved their people and stole their stuff. This is not just true of the West. And back in the day, no one apologised. For the limey redcoats to simply invade, occupy and transform India, Africa, the Americas, Asia was no different from Shaka Zulu or the Songhai Empire or the Romans or the Mongols or the Aztecs or the Caliphate or the Ottomans or the Persians or the Greeks or the Berbers or the Egyptians or any other group – the only difference was level of success, and what was done or achieved once conquest was achieved.
I was raised to dislike the English, but it’s harder to hate what you are wholly ignorant of than today’s propagandists would have you believe. I personally – in my own lifetime and my own experience – hardly knew the Brits. There were English all around where I lived – but English was just a category in which I placed every person who was not in one of the African tribes or part of the Afrikaans people. Surnames like Jones was English, where I grew up. So was Lidsky. McGregor. O’Reilly. Bocetti. Schneider if they didn’t speak The Taal. All English.
Quite early on in my life there was a split between “my people”, “my environment”, “my background” and me.
In my defence I can say that I did not initiate the hostilities.
Don’t know if it was because I was a gay boy, or fascinated by whatever was foreign, or liked horror movies, or read Stephen King, or didn’t quite like the God presented to me from the pulpits every Sunday, or the President of the Republic in his National Party excellence…
Can’t put my finger on it, but somewhere, somewhere, I was first shocked, then saddened, then made final and total peace with the fact that I was not really welcome among my own. I didn’t belong.
I tried to shake it over the years. Wrote a few short stories that was well received, except for those calling it subversive, which by that stage, honestly, was a badge of honour.
But mostly I went on with my own, individual, isolated life.
I retreated into my room where I built worlds, and wrote stories, and read, and explored foreign political thinking ranging from the very far right of the Germans to the very far left of the Russians and most things in between.
Politically I was shaped more by Jefferson and Franklin and Paine than either Verwoerd or Mandela. It wasn’t meant to be mean, to be insensitive… I sincerely simply gravitated towards that thinking.
Self determination in our own Republic was not a big hang-up for me. I know, I know… thousands have died to make the dream come true, and the women and children have suffered… but it was their dream and not mine, and the only people I personally had experience with making women and children suffer looked very much like the gentlemen occasionally gathered around the BBQ in the backyard, sitting around the dinner table or sitting in the pews next to me on Sunday.
The country and my people went its way.
I went mine.
A ”You’re OK, I’m OK” sort of thing.
I built my future in that bedroom and in front of the TV watching VHS movies. Learned to speak English (explains the slight Mid-Atlantic Mongrel twang I can’t seem to shake). Learned the dynamics of stories. The English language was the key that unlocked all of history and all of the future for me.
I grew up – arguably, still – and decided it was time for me to put my posterior where my cortex was, so I began my exploration of finding a place to belong.
First on the list was the US. Love the US. Always will. Not easy to go there, not legally. Also, more exotic than one would assume. Having been fed a steady staple of American TV and movies, I thought the place would be more familiar than it was. And the Puritan streaks and self flagellation got a bit much. And the partisanship. I could go… but I’d be an outsider again.
(As an aside: Last year, at Bonfire night, the people of my city gathered outside on the Hoe overlooking Plymouth Sound. That night was the first time in my life that I felt I belong. I’m part of something. This is my city and these are my people, and it was mutual despite the damn accent. I cried a bit, healing the last little bits of residual wear and tear, I think.)
I love the UK – of course – mothership of the English language – a culture that goes back thousands of years – one of the most welcoming, open and tolerant societies I have ever personally and directly experienced. But that’s not the same as being a monarchist.
It happened for me at the Tower of London.
I was walking along the Southbank, aware of the tremendous international financial muscle all around me, but a little mystified by exactly how the fine folks around me – all nice, you understand, but, somehow, all very human – managed to rule the whole world.
Got given a tour by one of the Beefeaters – the oldest uniformed military unit in the world – comprised of special forces guys. Smiled very jovially at all of us tourists, pointing out things. That historical figure is buried over there, that one over there. At that tree we beheaded someone for daring to suggest that England was a Republic. This priceless work of art comes from such and such an impossibly ancient date. That old stone structure is where those sideline historical figures were most likely killed.
And it clicked into place for me.
Here it was, an unbroken line of stability that ran underneath all the change. Prime Ministers come and go. Presidents come and go. Nation States build their constitutions on the products of what was invented here, rising and falling, some making it, some not. But there is such a thing as an Establishment and it underpins things.
And incidentally, the firm brings in a lot more in dough than it takes out.
You have a head of state untainted by politics. Like a President who doesn’t piss off half the population with his politics.
I studied a bit of British Law. Constitutionally it would cause a crises, and no one’s proposing it – but in theory the Monarch can disband parliament. In the back, far back, of everyone’s heads, they know this, so they seem to just behave better. Like when Maggie Thatcher visited the US Senate and they all stood there, hair parted and dressed up neatly and lined up – for a change – like schoolboys.
As a member of the Armed Forces you also don’t swear your allegiance to the soil. No sir. Guys my age swore to Her Majesty Elizabeth II and her descendants. (Don’t like this one or that one? Too bad. It’s a monarchy, no one offered you a vote).
On the ground in daily living, I live in a far more democratic environment than I’m used to.
The split between us Commoners and the High Ups – in all their Britishness – seems to me to be just right.
These islands have been here, with pubs dating back to 1312 and legal precedent quoted from 1066 or even earlier. They know how to run their own show. They don’t need me to come in an improve stuff – they were fine for thousands of years without me, and they will be after I’m long gone.
They also ended the practice of slavery on behalf of the entire world – an indisputable historical fact that somehow keeps being glossed over or ignored like it never happened (and so I will helpfully point it out, every time).
They stood alone against the Nazis – although given the ingratitude and the incessant whining – perhaps people would have preferred a Berlin victory back then? We’d see how much the Reichsfuhrer would listen to talk of microaggressions.
Their institutions still remain the backbone of everyone they used to own, no matter how virulently anti-them you are, your entire system of justice and living is probably plagiarized from them.
Like all empires they ran on cruelty and injustice – once again, like all empires. But modern day Greece is not ”the Greeks”, Mongolia doesn’t set the pace in the Far East, Rome isn’t the Capital of the World, Africa does not have colonies in Iberia and Sicily, Berbers aren’t capturing Irish or Icelanders to sell as slaves; and the UK is not the British Empire.
So – if you join me in the celebrations – enjoy! If you don’t – also fine.
But please spare me the theatrics.
My life, and my personal experiences, and my own history, and my own events, are at the very least just as valid as yours.
And as an immigrant and a resident and a long time admirer – I stand with everyone else who chooses to do so and sing, wholeheartedly, God Save The King.