Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Shove off, Ma'am

Oh joy! It's Royal Ascot week in York, which means that the streets of this city will be filled with braying half-wits in morning suits and silly hats for the next few days. There's something about this ritual which I instinctively detest. Lying somewhere submerged in my mind, lurking beneath the various conscious political reasons I might have for disliking it, I wonder if my inherited Methodist blood in some way predisposes me towards a (holier than thou?) contempt for the whole thing. You see, I've never really liked drunks and I've never liked gamblers. This is not to say that I don't drink or that I never get drunk - I do (but on the few occasions when I do get drunk I do it in dignified way you see - honest!*). However, increasingly as I get older I view drunkenness as, at best silly, and at worst, sickening (for me, the onlooker I mean - it is literally sickening, of course, for the drunk) . Drunks used to be funny, cool even, when I was 17 or 18, now they usually strike me as simply pathetic and boorish.

When I walk home late at night and pass small groups of dribbling oafs, stumbling around aimlessly while munching at kebabs in the same semi-conscious way that cows absent-mindedly chew the cud, I am always reminded of George Romero's satirical zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. Now, I like getting pleasantly merry on a few drinks as much as the next person, but why do people, consistently, weekend in weekend out, get completely plastered - I don't understand it? What possible pleasure is there in drinking so much that you become a gurning, gurgling lobotomised creature - a sub-human driven by the primal urge, located somewhere in the reptilian recesses of those still functioning areas of your mind, to fill your slavering mouth with various forms of unidentified meat, dripping with fat and (chilli sauce flavoured) gore? I'm afraid I'm even curling my lip as I write.

I don't think I've ever gambled (I may, once, have bought a lottery ticket), and again this ludicrous ritualised practice strikes me as completely absurd - and for some reason it, too, pisses me off. Why on earth should you want to piss your money up against the wall while watching a bunch of horses, ridden by midgets in fancy-dress, run around in circles? Ooh, that horse is running slightly faster than that other horse - how incredibly exciting - excuse me while I jump and down!!! I don't get it. Plus, of course, the practice strikes me, in some ill-defined way, as morally contemptible - it's the pass-time of weak willed, poo-brained, half-wits**.

Now during York races, these two abominable practices come together in one big detestable whole. York city centre will be a no-go area for anyone who is not particularly impressed by hordes of boorish people loudly telling each other what wonderful fun they've had in losing £200 on a horse, pausing only in their half-conscious, circular discussions to spew in the gutter or to piss in a bus shelter. And to cap it all, this time the whole primitive social spectacle will be overseen by Her Royal Majesty - so the tourist areas of the city (most of it, in other words) will be festooned with plastic union jack flags and the roads will be crawling with sinister looking men with ear pieces and suspicious bulges in their jackets, in black Range Rovers.

On the occasion of Royal Ascot, my inherited Methodist prejucice (misanthropy?) dovetails with that other strand of non-conformist thinking - republicanism. I think, if I had to choose another period of history in which to live, I would probably choose the time of Cromwell's Republic. I'd have made a rather good stern, dour-faced Roundhead***. Off with the King's head! Close down the alehouses! Shut the gambling dens! Smash the theatres!! Sorry - I lost it for a second there.

I had a surge of anti-royalism this morning, in fact. I was walking into town along Bishopsthorpe Road when I saw two police motorbikes closing off the road to traffic, closely followed by 4 or 5 horse-drawn carriages with red-costumed attendants, tailed by a large black Range Rover and a couple of police vans. What I should I do in this situation? I imagine similar thoughts flashed across Princeps' mind when he saw that open topped car containing Archduke Ferdinand and his wife turn the corner of the street where he happened to be standing (ha, ha only joking). I thought about flipping the finger to the Queen as she passed, but unfortunately, I don't think that her Majesty**** was in any of the vehicles - the windows of the carriages were all shuttered. Anyway that would, of course, have been very childish. So I thought the best thing to do would be to keep walking as if I wasn't in the slightest bit impressed by the sight of this Royal procession (while sneaking glances at the carriages). I remembered I had a red flag badge on my bag, so I slid the bag around so that the badge faced the splendid procession of chinless charlies, royal hangers-on, brown-nosed servants and trained thugs. A great victory for socialism then!

I was pleased to see that the road was not packed with cheering crowds (though this may, of course, have had something to do with the fact that the procession wasn't an official one and that the Queen wasn't there - no flies on me). Instead there were a few small clusters of shoppers standing on the pavements with the occasional camera phone trained on the carriages. I expect the pomp and ceremony came later in the day as the Queen arrived in splendour to sit her Royal arse in the royal box and watch a bunch of horses run round and round, fritter away thousands of pounds of our tax payers' money on idle bets, and gaze down with maternal satisfaction as hundreds of her loyal subjects pour gallons of lager, Pimms and white wine down their miserable necks before being let loose on the city to spew up in the streets and punch each other in the face. Rule Britannia!

* Apart from that time when I threw up all over my friend's house and that time when I threatened to break someone's legs.
** I exaggerate - slightly.
*** In fact R--- legend has it that one of us lot was a Captain in the New Model Army (Killed at Naseby I think).
**** It is imperative, while reading this, that you pronounce 'Her Majesty' with a Jonny Rotten style sneer*****.
***** Hmm, this asterisks fad is getting rather out of hand.

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