Thank you for your servitude

In the summer weeks I have mostly avoided the wider news and instead watched only the Tour de France in July and the Vuelta a España in late August and September. Now all the cycling is over, it is time for a gradual return to maintenance jobs around the estate. The donkey terraces, the trees in the valley down below, and some of the sheds and stable all need work done, now that the fierce temperatures have finally dropped.

Until today I had not been out of my home here in this quiet valley since the death of Queen Elizabeth II which took place exactly a week ago today. Whatever you think about that, it is news that cannot be avoided. It is all over the Spanish media, as it is all across the headlines around the world. Right at the centre of it all is the British military establishment, in all its glory.

The main reason I stopped watching news a few months ago was the endless parades of retired generals and air-vice marshals in news studios, interpreting the Ukraine war under floor-to-ceiling maps. This has now morphed into a new phase after the death of the queen. Virtually the same parade of retired or serving top brass is to be seen daily on the BBC, Sky News (or wherever you get your 24-hour royal funeral propaganda) mansplaining the Queen’s life, the purpose of various mystical flummery in the parades, and how the servicemen and women are doing all this “so magnificently” because they spent a whole lifetime practising lifting and lowering coffins (as you would no doubt expect, because you are the taxpayer who funds all this) and now London is a ‘world class’ hub for funerary pomp and circumstance.

“Thank you for your service,” the news presenter will now often say to such military guests. The retired general or the naval officer in gold braid will nod smugly as the camera pans once again over Buckingham Palace in the rain or the sunshine.

This phrase, thank you for your service, is recently imported from the United States, where it is already over-used to the point of cliché,. Across the Pond, its implicit meaning is “we thank you for your service to us, the people.” However, British military personnel serve the monarch, to whom they swear their oath of allegiance; not the people. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other obscure economic/imperial conflicts around the world are of as much interest to most people as patristic theology. (“Thanks you for your service, Prince Harry, and our brave lads’ Apache gunship attacks on the Taliban. And remind me again, why did we build up the Taliban to fight the Russians?”) It is as much a mystery to the armed forces personnel themselves at times. I remember drinking mid-morning tea and playing cards in an aircraft hangar at RAF Saint Athan and we began a conversation about the pointlessness of the nuclear deterrent. We were quickly reminded by a Flight Sergeant supervising the kettle that this was not an appropriate subject for conversation, unless we were looking for a surprise interview with the SIB, the military police Special Branch.

Some among the ranks, however, have always thought for themselves and all political views can be found. The last time I stood in Parliament Square, in the road beside the bronze statue of Churchill, where the dead Queen’s parade passed yesterday with the Grenadier Guards playing the Funeral March, was in 2019. I was with my ex-forces comrades of Veterans for Europe and one million other assorted protesters. We were wearing our various military service berets, together with blue T-shirts emblazoned with the combined services veterans logo in the middle of the EU circle of golden stars. We protested against Brexit and joined the demand for a second referendum, for the first Brexit referendum in June 2016 had been merely advisory. Everyone knew this. The decision was not binding.

In front of Parliament we sang, “You can stick your Brexit up yer arse!” The press gleefully photographed our colourful sub-unit of the million-strong anti-Brexit crowd. A million people! Surely that would make a difference? It made all the front pages next day, as I saw in the W.H.Smith’s news-stand at Gatwick airport, on that Sunday in March 2019, as I flew home to Alicante. But that was the end of it. The state was wedded to the financial interests of the City of London and its mysterious global imperial web, and they had already decided we were out of Europe. The successful hoodwinking of the British people had been a brilliantly contrived special operation. In the end, it could all be blamed on the people of Britain and their ‘democratic’ decision.

I am still awaiting my Spanish citizenship, after completing the two exams and acquiring all the correct certification two years ago: there are delays due to the Covid period and I may even have to wait another year. Now that the Queen has passed, I’ll have no qualms about swearing allegiance to King Felipe VI of Spain, when the moment comes and I am called to the Ministry of Justice to do so. I am just hoping this happens before my British passport expires because I have no desire to renew it.

For as long as I live, I shall not forgive England. It was largely the manipulation of the ‘Little Englander’ mentality by certain financial interests that produced the 2016 vote and the subsequent rupture of the relationship between the land of my birth and the rest of Europe. I don’t think I was ever a keen ‘royalist’ – although I attended the lying in state for the Queen Mother twenty years ago in this same Westminster Hall. Nor was I ever really against the royals. They were just there, a feature of the landscape of the social order in which I grew up. But yesterday’s translation of the coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster finished it for me, decisively…

To see the King, his sister Anne and brother Edward, all marching in the military insignia of ranks they never achieved in their uneventful days of service was bad enough. Everyone in the forces is quite aware that if these royals wore their actual service uniforms bearing the lowly rank they achieved, they would all be out-ranked by the real military men around them in the procession. That has always made this flummery ridiculous, but I could have coped with that. No, the final straw was to see Prince Andrew – although denied uniform due to his well-publicised disgrace – wearing full military medals and honours, and strutting along in this first rank behind the woman in the coffin, his mother, who had paid out millions to silence his trafficked female victim, since he refused to attend any judicial investigative process. The penny dropped. And the penny had the monarch’s head on it.

I had wanted to watch the translation of the coffin because I thought it would be a historical moment of some emotion, but I was quite surprised to be overtaken by these different emotions. Mainly anger. The phrase “the iron fist in the velvet glove” came to mind, as I watched the new monarch and his overdressed over-ranked siblings strutting down The Mall and across Horse Guards parade ground.

Maybe it should be “the iron fist in the satin glove?” – I wondered – if applied to Her Majesty and the imperial system she embodied quite so successfully for 70 years, always in the most fashionable way. It is an idiom that refers to the iron force exerted by the state, hidden away behind all the velvety flummery and pomp that so easily pulls at our soft emotional strings. The iron fist in the velvet glove was a phrase first used by Napoleon.

Maybe the final cynicism came to a head in the contrived show that Her Majesty put on for us at her jubilee, not long ago. The little charade where she was having tea with Paddington bear. This was a successful piece of soft propaganda for yet one more duped generation and it became part of the final curtain show. Among the piles of floral displays around the fences and gates of multi-million pound estates, people placed Paddington bear toys with handwritten farewell messages.

The corgi, the bear from darkest Peru, the bunting and the marmalade sandwich all join together in a semiology of soft padding around around the naked imperial power. The iron fist in the velvet glove puppet? But let us lift the next curtain in this multi-layered toy theatre. Looking behind this next curtain, we see the ironclad state has installed its hardest right wing junta imaginable, in a government led by the puppet prime minister Elizabeth Truss. I refuse to call her “LIz” as I refused to call her trumpian populist predecessor “Boris”.

Why ‘puppet’? She is put there by the bosses of energy companies and right-wing lobby groups whose dark money backers never allow us to see their faces. Just follow the money, to the Institute of Economic Affairs, and funding from the near-fascist ultras in the USA, and add in the iron fist of the City of London with its tentacles still controlling the old global empire of imperialism. (See footnote below.)

Meanwhile, the little people of Britain, soon collapsing into fuel poverty, queue up through the night to file past the coffin on the catafalque in Westminster Hall. I awoke at 3 a.m. this morning, still haunted in my dreams by the image of the overlords strutting in step to their metronome drumbeat. I made a cup of tea and looked at the live stream of the little people filing past the coffin draped in the Royal Standard. It was the moment of the changing of the Yeomen and the Queen’s Archers. The crowd were temporarily held back while the guard was changed, then they hesitantly moved forward again.

Startled rabbits caught in the stark glare of the floodlit Norman hall, and no soft Paddington bear to comfort them. One lady, stooping and leaning on her walking stick, lingered for longer than the two seconds allowed. She was quickly reminded to keep moving by a white-tied usher in a morning suit, wearing soft gloves. I turned off the live stream and went back to bed. I slept soundly, having finally formed my opinion on the whole sorry business.

It is time to return to tending my donkeys and olive trees. As an old friend back in England advised me in a message earlier today, “l really wouldn’t bother too much about the UK. You have built a positive life there, so why bother with crappy England?”

There is wisdom in that thought, but one glances back at the road not taken. As in The Pilgrim’s Progress or some other moral tale, one recalls the monsters of the night and they now inform my enjoyment of the afternoon sunshine.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth R. And God help England.

Footnote, 21.30 September 15th:
A friend emailed me earlier, expressing surprise at my comments about the City of London and asked how I might justify them. I sent him this link to Michael Oswald’s remarkable documentary The Spider’s Web. He emailed me again after watching the hour-long film and said, “Chilling! Honestly, I never knew any of this. It explains so much.”