A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Buffet at Buckingham Palace---Will it Be All-You-Can-Eat?

Kate Makes Plans for April
Well, you know I suggested it first. When William and Kate made their engagement announcement in November, I talked about how the mood of the country wouldn't accept some huge splash-out wedding while the rest of  the country is busy clipping coupons to shop at ASDA. The Palace must have read my previous blog posting.  (Right? Of course they did!) The word was out today that Kate Middleton is eschewing the traditional sit-down wedding dinner at the Palace in favour of a buffet.

To an American, this is normal, you see. Buffets, in America are de riguer if it is a more casual wedding. But here, a buffet is considered well...so...declasse especially for the Royals. This decision of Kate's has half the country smiling and half the country "tsk-tsk"ing: What could she have been thinking? (You can never satisfy the old gossips.)

One columnist took it as a personal affront saying that pretending that they were cutting corners when they had all the money in the world was silly and that they should have a big wedding so we  (meaning the British public) could enjoy it. I thought that was ridiculous. This young couple does not exist for our amusement or entertainment. This is their wedding day, not ours. But then again I say this in a country where young women (if they are monied or not)  insist on huge lavish weddings where they can be the center of attention and be a "princess" for a day. Huge budgets are blown on lavish weddings in castles or stately manor houses to satisfy their own egos. Now, that's fine if you are Madonna and that barely makes a dent in your monthly expenditures. Or perhaps if you are marrying after establishing yourself financially. But it is quite something else when you are Sharmin Soddington from Swanton-Super-Mare and your father has to re-mortgage his row house because little spoiled princess won't take "no" for an answer. Don't you know? The larger the wedding, the less time the marriage? (That's what I learned. Ask Liz Hurley.)  Most of these over-the-top weddings feature a much too eager, red-faced bride who has been squeezed into a strapless gown that is two sizes two small with a man who looks like a deer caught in the headlights. He basically spends all the ceremony drunk wondering if he will indeed have to spend the rest of his life with a woman whose mother shrieks like a bat. By the end of the night, the "princess" has her ringlets squashed flat and all the make-up that covered her tattoos has run onto her dress and she keeps requesting "Dancing Queen" even though most of the guests have gone home. She rescues her groom from under the head table and they fly for their honeymoon in Orlando where she will once again squeeze into a bikini that is two sizes too small and they both will come home wearing Mouseketeer ears to set up house in a flat the size of an Ikea wardrobe. And then, reality sets in. Having a big splashy fairy tale wedding does not guarantee a fairy tale marriage. (If you want to dress up for a day, sweetheart, you should have thrown yourself a party and like Elton John, donned your own tiara. In the end it's cheaper and less grief.)

The country, actually the world is in the grips of a difficult recession. It was like this when Diana married Charles as well. The difference is that up until that point, we had not really ever been exposed to the incredible excesses of spending that we have seen in the three decades after 1981. This generation grew up watching divorces and affairs and bankruptcies and deaths and wars and absent fathers and many had latchkey childhoods. Their innocence was compromised very early. No matter how well I attempted to parent, I know there were so many things that were challenging. My daughter's generation was hit with parents (Boomers) who were deep in the trenches of  "make love not war" rebels and then grew up with the excesses of the 80's and 90's and Noughties. The book, The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss details how this generation (the children of the Boomers) have the same characteristics of children born in the cycle of  World War II. Just as their parents were the generation of "bathtub gin", dancing the Charleston and the excesses of the 1920's. This new generation is more austere by virtue of the cycle it is in which is fuelled by the excesses which they were witness to in their lives. They desperately want "normal" and that's exactly what I saw in the engagement interview with the Royal couple. They are attempting to forge a "normal" life despite the fact that they are going to be the most famous married couple in the world and despite the fact that William's parents led the most far-from-normal life. Both Charles and Diana had lovers and too many minions and all their peccadilloes splashed out so that the world could gawk and comment. It is not what William and Katie want. I know that the Palace has attempted to forge Camilla into the new "Queen Mother" to erase Diana's extremely long shadow. The truth is that Camilla was part of the same triangulation that ended up costing the Royals dearly and exposing the inner circles of deceit and deception no matter how extremely witty and charming she is. It is Kate, I think, who will probably be the closest to the Queen Mother in her attitude and her ability to endear herself quietly to the British people. And she will be of the same cyclical generation as the Queen Mother born into a time of conflict (recession and wars). Both of them are. Last week it was said that they have also decided not to have a household staff because they felt that having a lot of people around would interfere with their relationship. Now, that's another big change.

So, Kate has balked at convention. Kate has decided that she will not arrive in a "fairy tale coach" and instead has chosen to simply come in a limousine (as Sophie Rhys-Jones did when she married Prince Edward). It is said that taking the carriage ride into Westminster Abbey would be too reminiscent of  the late Princess Diana.  However, Royal Watchers will be happy to know that the low-key arrival will give way to departure that will feature all the bells and whistles that the Royals assume all of us want (so we are happy when we pick up the clean-up tab) including soldiers, marching bands and regiments on parade.  There will be horse-drawn landaus transporting the Royals to the Palace and an hour later they will make their perfunctory appearance on the balcony for the kiss. Then, there is to be a buffet luncheon and  in the evening, there will be a dinner dance hosted by HRH Prince Charles. Apparently, the invitations to this bash are very exclusive since William and Kate have each been given only 100 invitations each and the Prince has reserved 100 for his own use. The couple will then spend the night at one of the Palaces in London and head off to an as yet undisclosed destination for a honeymoon. I doubt it will be Orlando.

Diana and Charles on the Balcony
This time, however,I am sure the "balcony kiss" won't be one that will be simply for show. There won't be a princess wondering if her prince really loves her. They have been together for ten years. If he married her because he felt obligated after making her wait so long, we won't know (not now anyway). I didn't see that in him when they were interviewed together.They talked about how they were "good friends" and this reminded me a lot of Bertie and the Queen Mother's relationship. Kate will  not be wondering (like Diana) if her new husband's girlfriend will be at the banquet after seeing her in the church pews. I cannot watch photos of the Prince's parents so long ago and not feel a bit of a flinch knowing that Diana was on that balcony in full knowledge that  her fate was to exist in an unending triangle when all she wanted was someone to love her and solely her. But in that sad tale is the story of our generation. The we "can have it all now" generation. We can have a mistress and a wife and no accountability...not for our lives, our finances, our indiscretions nor the wars we wage.

I know that there will be comparisons drawn between this couple and the Prince's parents wedding three decades ago. I watched it as most of the world did. Kate and William are very much of a different generation. I saw this same quality in my own daughter (who graduated from St Andrews with Kate and William) when she announced two summers ago that she was going to marry. She never dreamt of a big wedding. She was a practical girl. And indeed when the time came, she and her fiance slipped away and married on the shores of a lake. She carried a hand-tied bouquet of tulips and wore a  simple carnelian red sari. It was beautiful in its simplicity. I see this same understated quality in the young Royals. They just want to get on with it.

So many of Kate and William's contemporaries from St Andrews and in  all Great Britain are struggling to  find work. Whether university educated or not, they are working at entry-level positions or interning for free just to get on the career ladder. The "my father knows this man who owns this company" is not opening doors in these times for anyone. It is really difficult. My daughter went on to get a Master's at Oxford after St Andrews and still struggled to find a position. (Not to mention the fact that a lot of Americans are clueless as to what/where Oxford University is. I hate to say that, but that's what she encountered.) The idea of  having a big gigantic splash bash while so many of Britain's young people are out of work would not just be folly, it would be extremely tasteless.

Oh, don't get me wrong...it will still be wild in the streets as the Brits love a good party. The bars are set to stay open until two a.m. on the night of the wedding and the night after. A national holiday has been declared for Friday, the day of the wedding and the Monday after.  There will be trumpets and people lining the streets and maybe a future Prime Minister may camp out along the parade route (as David Cameron did as a young man) to see the Royals ride by. There will still be a big hoopla. It just won't be the media circus (hopefully) that it was for that other tragic couple of the summer of 1981.

So, laugh if you want to at Kate's buffet...but she has the right idea. The Boomers can learn a lot from this generation. So, just pass  Camilla's famous beans on toast and Charles' Duchy of Cornwall vegetarian miniature corndogs on the delicate hallmarked Georgian silver platter and no fuss please...the future Queen of England has spoken. And I like what she had to say.