Driving along in the car on a pleasant evening earlier this week, I was happily humming along to the toe-tapping sounds of the sadly defunct deathcore stalwarts Anal Prolapse, when my wife leaned over and turned the CD player off and the radio on. Those smug and portentous pips sounded.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ I asked, outraged.
‘I want to know if she’s had it or not,’ my wife replied.
‘If who’s had what?’
‘Kate. The baby.’
There was no answer to the why, from my wife or, it seems, the rest of the country. No answer to the why from the beaming gumbeys camped outside the hospital with their home-made Union Jack hats and mobile phones held aloft, the modern form of tribute from our quiescent underclass. Nor from the jabbering reporters endlessly telling us in every news bulletin that there was no news whatsoever to report, but that this was still nonetheless the lead story of the day, the fact that there was no news to report. Still less from the features editors, itching to release their 52-page ‘Young Woman Has A Baby’ souvenir edition and terrified that it might clash with their 48-page ‘Very Ill Elderly Black Man Dies’ souvenir edition, both having been on the stocks for the past six weeks. Nelson is stoically holding out, though, so that problem has been removed from the fevered minds of the newspaper execs.
It is at times like this — much as it was at the time of the death of Princess Diana — that I feel estranged from the country, nay, the world. Hell, the Canadians turned Niagara Falls blue. Thank the Lord it was a boy, then — a vast psychedelic pink river might have made the entire population of Buffalo spontaneously vomit.
It is not, I hasten to add, that I have anything against Kate, or Wills, or the baby or the royals in general. Quite the reverse, I am delighted for them and wish them well. It’s just that I don’t get the all-consuming interest. I cannot even imagine why people would wish to turn up to the hospital, or the palace, and wave flags; it simply escapes me. Although I did like the mischievous man who said to Sky News’s Kay Burley that he’d heard the baby was black.
I don’t get the interest in the plethora of mundane detail, either; how heavy it was, whether she had an epidural or not, whether or not they needed those tongs to pull it out and so on. I suppose, in a somewhat sinister way, it is all a portent for what the child will have to live with in future; the sheer unending avidity of national and international curiosity. I scoured the early newspaper reports for information which was of genuine value, i.e. which actually told me something which a) I had a right to know and b) I couldn’t have guessed and c) mattered.
The only thing I found was a piece by the Daily Mail’s astrologer, Jonathan Cainer, which I have to say rather worried me. ‘Children born in the few hours just before the moon becomes precisely full tend to grow up troubled but talented.’ I had not known this. Is it true? Nor, indeed, the more momentous news that the royal child had been born in something called ‘The Watery Grand Trine’ which is being formed in the sky between Neptune in Pisces and Saturn in Scorpio and which, Jonathan averred, would give the new prince ‘a lifetime opportunity to heal the world’. Go, young Prince, go and heal. Yikes, etc.
I used to think that the behaviour of the country at times like this was the sort of thing detailed by Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism; that it is a whipping up of mob fervour by the maleficent agencies of an overbearing state. But it’s not that, really, is it? That’s a juvenile and very hoity-toity leftist analysis which, when you look at it, does not bear scrutiny. And whereas previously I thought that the newspapers were pushing this stuff on people who were not on the whole quite as interested in the whole business as the editors thought, now I am not so sure. From snatches of conversations overheard on public transport, people seem to want to know even more superfluous detail: they cannot get enough. The editors have if anything underestimated the interest. And perhaps it is simply snobbishly bien–pensant of me to remain aloof from it all. It’s me that’s lacking, not them.
Nor, incidentally, do I buy into the fashionable theory that this mass outpouring of attention is something which has only happened post-Diana, that her death marked the moment when we felt the need to emote, happily or otherwise, in public. I remember the wedding of Diana and Prince Charles, back in 1981. My girlfriend at the time, Shazza, was a supporter of the Socialist Workers Party, whose in-house paper had commemorated the royal wedding with the fabulous headline: ‘A fairytale comes true — Big Ears marries Noddy’. And so, returning from work on the day of the wedding, bored out of my mind by the endless coverage, I looked forward to a rigorously socialist evening when it would not be so much as mentioned. But in the living room there was Shazza, sitting on the floor surrounded by discarded chocolate wrappers, glued to the box: she’d watched every moment, from nine o’clock in the morning. ‘Doesn’t she look lovely?’ she simpered.