It is the first day of May and obviously I began it by washing my face with the dew on the May blossom from the hawthorn hedges before taking my place, ribbon in hand, by the maypole on the village green. Yes, I have been idly dreaming but sometimes there is a pang for the old traditions that persisted for centuries until we all became a little too sophisticated and learnt to prefer the immersive entertainment of the television screen.
In our local market town an ancient charter still upholds the right to hold a May Fair in the High Street for 4 days. For hundreds of years I have no doubt that its main purpose was to trade animals and hire itinerant agricultural workers. Today it is a noisy funfair, allegedly encouraging pickpockets and petty shoplifters into the centre whilst creating mayhem for the traffic flow as a consequence of road closures. It does, however, serve its purpose in getting people to congregate and mix whilst bringing smiles to small children's faces.
I guess there was also a time when every town and village crowned a May Queen. This year, all talk is focused instead on the coronation next weekend of he who will be King. I might enjoy daydreaming about our heritage and its old customs but pomp and circumstance is a little too much. Yes, I probably will watch some of the procession on television; the horses always look dashing and sun glinting on gold never fails to dazzle. What I shall not be doing is taking up the invitation to pledge allegiance to the King and his heirs.
Bah humbug, you might say but I'd prefer you to think of me as a resolute libertarian, proud of the freedoms earned over centuries as well as of the rule of law (not of God or Kings) under which all men are equal. I have no wish, therefore, to align myself with a contrary system by expressing loyalty to a figurehead who represents the last vestiges of the aristocracy not to mention inherited wealth and privilege.
It seems to be becoming almost commonplace for the country's elite to believe they can motivate those whom they inevitably see as the common man by key pronouncements. David Cameron had his Big Society vision, the King too has been urging us all to volunteer for the benefit of our communities as a legacy linked to his coronation, whilst the Archbishop of Canterbury will call on us to come together and join the Homage of the People to the King.
I understand the symbolism but what those so removed from ordinary life do not appreciate is that it is political decisions at the top that are breaking communities and even families. Society is fragmented but it needs Government action not words to reverse the collapse.
The country is now reliant on volunteers, primarily the retired, to help run services that were once paid for through taxes (libraries for instance) or to act as full-time carers for even older relatives whilst the young are obliged to move away, often significant distances, to find work or affordable housing and their parents hardly have time to get in a weekly shop (assuming they can still afford it) before it's time to return to the treadmill of work. Until there's a willingness at the top to correct such deficiencies, the breakdown in society, irrespective of a nostalgia for the gatherings of the past with their associated community spirit, will continue in a downward spiral. The retirement sector is limited as to how much more it can volunteer to undertake in a vain hope of stemming the decline and giving an oath to pay allegiance to His Majesty isn't going to help a jot.