As a dedicated Liberal, rationalist and egalitarian I should be a republican and deplore an occasion with celebrates hereditary privilege and ostentatious wealth. My excuse for supporting our monarchy is that, in the unlikely event of my doing something brave and getting a medal, I should prefer to receive it from the queen or one of her family rather than from a politician or David Beckham, and were it to be presented by Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair or even Charles Kennedy I should refuse it. So I regret not being physically present at yesterday's river pageant, but did watch most of it on television.
Actually I found it something of a disappointment. The visual impression was not so colourful as the Canaletto painting of the 1748 event: too bitty, too many boats and not enough formation. The two really impressive parts were the floating peal of bells (an inspiration, I think, and a revelation to most people, I suspect, as to how church bells actually work) and the flotilla, manned by the Sea Cadets, carrying the flags of the Commonwealth. I looked hard for the flags of both Papua New Guinea and Malawi, two countries in which I've worked, but failed to spot either. I presume they were there.
It was a particular disappointment not to hear more of the music, especially Handel's Water Music, which was presumably played by someone. On the more positive side an encouraging aspect was the lack of an obvious police presence and certainly, as far as I could spot, no one visibly toting machine guns. So congratulations to whoever organised the inevitable security precautions so discretely. I did spot just one helicopter in the distance. Maybe it wasn't a police helicopter, but it does make you wonder why, at mass gatherings expressing our right to protest rather than to fawn, the authorities find it necessary to have helicopters flying so near and so low that they drown out the speeches.
There was also a welcome lack of commercial advertising: The only one I spotted was a rather tatty stencil of KPMG on the side of a boat. Whether there had been orders to cover such adverts , or they just weren't there anyway, I don't know, but it makes a marked contrast with the Olympics, and even the Olympic Torch route, where all domestic adverts have to be obscured, not because of the non-commercial nature of the events, but to give greater prominence to the "official" sponsors, not least the non-British and unhealthy Coca Cola and McDonalds, and Carlsberg lager.
A major irritation was the vacuousness of the BBC commentators. We were told endlessly of how "amazing" the event was, how long it had been in preparation and how there was such a "wonderful atmosphere." One even described the event as "so democratic." Why can't they just describe factually what is happening and who is who, and leave the rest to us? Come back Richard Dimbleby, even if his tones were over reverential..
I am not, whoever so devoted a monarchist that I shall watch the pop concert tonight. Nor am I uncritical. I'd much prefer a "bicycle monarchy" on the Scandinavian style. But I shall be riveted to the service in St Paul's tomorrow morning.