Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Can it last?



Of course not.

At a Buckingham Palace garden party, you see the Britain that others imagine when they talk about us. We are formally dressed -- in some cases looking superb, ...

People are introduced to one another; the mood is friendly, but restrained. Everyone comments on the weather.

The band stops. People rise. An elderly couple walks with brisk pace and upright carriage out from the palace and stops at the front of the terrace with split-second timing. As they come to a halt, the band strikes up the National Anthem. Everything stands stock still. As the notes fade away, there is applause. This is why we are here. For a moment, childhood memories of Christmas broadcasts, pictures in the press, national events shared on TV, all coalesce. Here we are: I am at Buckingham Palace, and this is the queen in front of me.

Can all this last? London is not a city of garden parties and tea urns. Drunken young people totter about our shopping centers on Friday and Saturday nights, shrieking at one another, vomiting, fighting. The structures of family life are cracked and wobbling: Over half of all births are now out of wedlock, and divorce is on an epic scale. Over five million of our relations and friends are missing, aborted before birth. Same-sex unions are celebrated with "gay weddings."