Friday, 29 April 2011

The mirror of erised

I love a family wedding, but only if it's happening to someone else's family. I wasn't as excited about this wedding, to tell you the truth. After the soap opera that the Royal Family became during the eighties and nineties, the sheen of the various ceremonies lost its gloss.

However, two billion viewers were supposed to be looking in on this, so how could I resist? I took to bed early and when I came to at 2:30 am, snapped on the television. We have learned the hard way that CBC is hopeless for a royal event; it just takes the BBC feed and natters misinformation and banalities all over it. Unfortunately, much the same was taking place with BBC World News. It was 7:30 in London and the commentators were reduced to babbling at parade-route campers on the Mall and wedding breakfasters in Cumbria. I clicked around and the American channels were going on about clothes and CBC was breathlessly informing us that the carpet at Westminster Abbey was indeed red and being vacuumed.

I turned off the set and went back to sleep, wondering how awkward all this would have been had Diana survived to attend this wedding. I dreamt fitfully of being in some sort of mini-bus, watching Kate Middleton climb aboard with a tinkling cell phone which she tossed crossly to someone. Her hair was in a complicated mass of curls and thatching.

I re-awoke at 4 am, just in time to see the Beckhams arrive. Meanwhile, white banners scrolled across the bottom of the screen, proclaiming that "The Royal Family are excited", "Kate Middleton's dress is still a topic of speculation" and "Prince Harry is to be best man".

All abruptly changed at 4:30 am, when the BBC took over from BBC World Service and suddenly started to tell us what was actually going on --- for example, who all these very white, very wealthy, mostly blond people were. The camera kept zooming in on a trio of identical blonds with rather vacant expressions. I gather these are Earl Spencer's daughters, only two of whom are actually twins, but the BBC didn't actually help me there; I had to work it out for myself. The commentary itself kept going on about the wide range of guests, but they all looked pretty similar to me.

Oh, but it was a wedding, and the bride was beautiful (with mercifully straight hair) although she looked damn tired, and the ceremony was beautiful, and the Queen actually looked rather relaxed and happy. Afterwards, they asked Andrew Ford and Simon Shama how this would be remembered and they thought it would be remembered as a happy day.

Well, maybe.

Someone posted Diana and Charles's ceremony at YouTube, and as I watched the cast of familiar players, so many of them dead now, and listened to the stirring music and the rather purple BBC commentary ("...groom casts a longing glance westward..." Strewth!), I was overcome with a feeling of sorrow for the expectations of that day, which, as it happens, were already crumbling at the edges. (Mind you, I should have avoided reading the hopelessly trite comments left after each video segment from people who have decided that Diana was saintly because she was pretty and Camilla evil because she isn't.)

Nearly fourteen years ago, I tortured myself after Diana, the Princess of Wales' funeral by re-watching a tape I'd made of the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of York in 1986, seeing William as a mischievous preschooler after the scenes of the the lanky teenager in mourning. Memories of happier times can be double-edged swords. I find myself unable to watch old videos of my own children. I just know too much now. I know what I've lost. These tapes have become my own Mirror of Erised, JK Rowling's painful reminder of the hazards of glimpsing our deepest and most desperate desires.

There's a wish for the happy couple (and for any couple heading out on the marital journey): May your happy memories be a balm and not a bludgeon.

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