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When I committed lèse majesté

Perhaps I should take the opportunity of these troubled times to clear my conscience.

It was the coronation of the person who has taken over the mantle of the longest-reigning monarch in the world.  I was a pre-schooler still trying to figure out how the world worked.

One thing that I couldn’t figure out was why, if I wasn’t old enough for real school, I still had to go to Sunday school.  Only much later in life did I learn the delights of the Sunday afternoon naps that my father enjoyed while I was sent to The Schoolroom.

This was a dark, dusty, mostly underground cavern of a room, with different age groups in the corners and the ‘big boys and girls’ on the stage.  The acoustics could never work.  If you spoke softly enough so that other groups weren’t disturbed, you couldn’t be heard properly.

All I recall are hours and hours of semi-whispered boredom, mostly gazing at the thin line of windows along the top of the wall that backed onto the railway cutting. And I wondered if I would ever be a big enough boy to look out through them, onto the station and the railway line and the doings of the LMS.  Anything that wasn’t bum-numbingly boring.

Until Christmas.  Then the Schoolroom was the scene of the Christmas Party.  Now I suspect that there were games, probably a Santa Claus and maybe even presents.  But the only thing I recall was the food.  Rationing was still a way of life (and a national fiddle) and I hadn’t a clue what a banana was. 

But the Christmas Party had food galore, including jelly, in all sorts of chemically-induced colours that blazed out in that drab grey and brown post-war world. 

My word I enjoyed that afternoon in the Schoolroom and I looked forward, past the dozens of tedious Sundays, to the next Christmas.

But in June there was the coronation of the new Queen, whoever she was.  I was too young to read the newspapers and there was no television.  There were to be street parties up and down the land.

And of course it rained.

So our street party was moved at the last minute into, yes, you’ve guessed, the Schoolroom.  I still have a photo.  Paper Union Jacks instead of Christmas paper hats.  But the same trestle tables and benches.  And the same food piled in front of the same tiny covetous faces.

Now I had been brought up to be a polite little boy.  When it was all over and the last fluorescent sliver of jelly had been slurped from the bowl, I was asked whether I had enjoyed myself.  I replied yes, thank you, very much.  

And, even at that age being word-obsessed little sod, I added, ‘I hope it’s as good as this at next year’s coronation.’

The ladies serving the food were horrified into silence.  Trying to hide amongst them, my mother reddened with royalist shame.

But my secretly republican dad, when they’d woken him up, only said, ‘That’s brilliant.’

So I blame it all on him.


About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).