Although the south of England is supposed to be keener on royal wedding street parties for April 29, I haven’t heard of one such occasion in our neck of Kent.
And I rather think that Fr Peter Newby (of St Mary Moorfields in London EC2) is right when he says that “modern Britain is no longer a street party society”. To be sure, there is a heap of council and health and safety bureaucracy to tackle, which somewhat deters the planning of a street party, but in essence Fr Newby’s thesis is surely correct. Britain is a much more atomised society than it was for the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977, or for the wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.
Although there are many neighbourly locations all over the United Kingdom, people are nonetheless rather more inclined to attach themselves to their own interest groups than to their local communities. Social networking sites emphasise and amplify this tendency.
And there’s a rational side to this social change. It can be more rewarding to be with groups of people with whom you have something in common, rather than sharing time with folks with whom there are few bonds of interest. I often hear the phrase “our neighbours are civil, but we have nothing in common”.
People now have more choices in who they befriend. If your main hobby is the Model Railway Society, you can choose your friends almost exclusively from other model railway buffs, if not physically, then electronically.
Yet one of the uplifting aspects of the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William is that it will, nonetheless, be a shared event which brings people together one way or another. Even if there isn’t a street party, there are groups getting together to watch the wedding as a shared experience.
And it’ll be some shared experience – shared with some two billion people all over the globe. No wonder the bride has confessed to having wedding nerves!
But the sharing will be part of the fun: we’ll share our views on the guest list, the music, the fashion, the flowers, and, most importantly, the actual wedding ceremony, which will be a traditional Anglican service.
It is virtually a free advertisement, broadcast throughout the world, on the beauty of a church wedding.
There are some republicans who have proclaimed that they will eschew a monarchical festivity, but they’re going to have to work pretty hard to escape it, just the same. Where will they go? Tierra del Fuego? Papua New Guinea? It’ll be on the television there too!
Even if street parties are not in accordance with social norms today, Kate and William’s wedding will certainly forge communities in other ways – by creating this shared event. And that’s one definition of “the common good”.
Will Kate “obey”, by the way? Can you think of a single wife who could utter this vow with a straight face? I’m not at all keen on this David Cameron project to measure and advance “happiness” among the general population. I agree with the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner, who says that the entire concept of “happiness” is foolish and ill-judged. He even thinks it’s a “modern delusion”.
Indeed, he goes further: he blames the apparently increasing amount of depression found in modern societies – there’s been a huge expansion in the number of anti-depressant medications prescribed in Britain – on the delusional pursuit of happiness.
Imagining that you have any right to be happy can actually make you more depressed, says Bruckner.
Happiness can only occur out of the blue, unexpectedly, as in “happenstance” – or “mayhap”. The French for happiness, bonheur, is nearer to something like “serendipity”.
There may be joy, there may be contentment, there may be serenity. But in any case, it is seldom anything that can be provided by the Government.
And is it really any of their business? If they want to cut down on the number of antidepressants, then heed Bruckner’s advice and stop blathering on about happiness!
My mother-in-law, born in 1900, used to say that “happiness is largely a matter of disposition”. And I have come to believe that is so. It was observed, also, by Alexander Pope in his “Essay on Man”, comparing a rich miseryboots with a poor merryheart: “One flaunts in rags, one flutters in brocade.” Quite so.
Asuccessful children’s writer I have encountered sometimes has to “de-pig” traditional children’s stories for the American market. This means removing all references to pigs (as in “The Three Little Pigs”, or “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, etc) – because American publishers are anxious not to offend Muslims.
Jews also regard the pig as unclean, but there has never been any Jewish demand to “de-pig” traditional children’s fables.