Of all the strange things I find myself thinking, reading, doing during lockdown, watching ‘The Crown’ on Netflix has to be my single most surreal experience. Here I am, glued to a screen, watching a drama about how Old England dies as Old England dies. I’ve got to confess, I’m loving it. It couldn’t be any better if the B.B.C., King of Costume Dramas and Propaganda, had produced it.
I’ve started on Season 3, coz I can’t face any more death and there’s less of it, in Britain, as the century recedes. So far, I’ve cried with Olivia Coleman’s Queen Elizabeth, as she buried Winston Churchill. I’ve felt the pain of an ageing Prince Philip, as he recalls his Mother been taken to an asylum in his youth, and I have sympathised with a duty bound young Charles who must forsake his acting at Cambridge to spent a term in Wales learning Welsh.
Given that, spoiler alert, he goes on to be the Prince of the Country and to earn a tidy sum from his assets there, it’s not at all an unreasonable demand. But he’s young, he’s got a lead role in a play, and he’s played in the drama by someone that looks less inbred than the actual Prince Charles. It’s hard not to feel for his earnestness.
I could blame it all on the writing and the acting and the production values that pay astounding attention to period detail, but that’s only half of it. As well as becoming emotionally attached to fictionalised versions of Establishment figures, I also went through a phase of worrying about the Prime Minister, back when he had the virus and wound up in I.C.U.
Seriously, I was up every morning, checking on his health on twitter. Stealthy, obviously, I wasn’t adding #getwellboris to my search history. Then, as soon as I heard he was back in Checkers watching ‘Withnail and I’ and ‘Love Actually’, it was business as usual #borisisawanker
I’m ashamed of my empathy with a potentially dying man because it makes me both weak and stupid. Johnston has shown zero empathy for the sections of society most in need of humane governing. His polices, his indifference and his previous career as a faux journalist all contributing indirectly and directly to countless deaths, and that’s before the virus. To wish him well is the political equivalent of wishing harm on others.
And for all that, I didn’t want him to wind up on a slate with some kind of pauper’s funeral, coz even the Tories couldn’t have spun a state affair. I didn’t want his pregnant girlfriend bringing into the world a fatherless child, even though it’s almost certain she will fall victim to the very same sort of feckless parenting arrangement that drives less privileged women to benefits and food banks. I didn’t want to think of how fucked we were as a Nation, if we couldn’t even keep the Prime Minister alive.
And so I wished him well and now he is, and I wish I hadn’t spent that last wish so carelessly.
I can console myself with the knowledge that I am a ‘good’ person. By this I mean, I have reached some ambiguous state of morality devised in the distant past by mediocre men who couldn’t face their own darkness. It’s the equivalent of the participant medal they give all the kids on sports day. You have failed at an intelligent response but at least you tried.
And that’s the point, it’s all so very trying now, as time stands still and we find our minds racing, desperate to fill in the void that used to be the outside world. Desperate to understand where our democracy went and what has replaced it. Desperate to predict what our future might look like even if these prophesies are dark and dystopian. A bleak future is better than a blank one.
It might be helpful to consider that our democracy hasn’t disappeared, it never existed to begin with. It’s an illusion that is crushed beneath the boots of every national emergency or every casual observation of an airport in action. We have always lived in a pretend democracy with its implied freedoms for the many and its actual freedoms for a lot less than that. But at least our democracy has widespread access to Netflix. And thank God for that, and thank God for ‘The Crown’, the fictionalised one, obviously.