Tarnished Crowns

IMG_20150430_183352Perhaps it was the historical resonance of the moment that made these five, tarnished coins I had quite forgotten about owning, come to the surface of the box I was clearing out.

My grandfather must have purchased them fifty years ago in 1965 when they were minted to commemorate the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I imagine him standing in the queue at the post office in his County Durham village to hand over his money for these worthless lumps of cupro-nickel, thinking they would be collector’s items one day and heirlooms for his grandchildren.

And so, fifty years later and Grandfather long dead, I sit with five rather ugly tarnished coins in my hand, worth less today than they were in 1965.

My grandfather was a decent, simple man and there were millions like him. He did what the state asked of him, military service in the Levant during the second world war (which traumatised him enough to require electric shock treatment on his return) .

He lived all his life in a council house and drew the pension of a very minor civil servant. I wonder what he would make of his Churchillian malinvestment now. I wonder if he would recognise Britain. And I wonder what he would think of me.

I suspect the chasm between his experience and mine is now unbridgeable. For I have come to question many of the assumptions his generation – and my father’s generation for that matter – took for granted.

This year, in addition to the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral – which was marked by a strange ritual re-enactment of the ceremony attended by the great and not so good, we also had the 100th anniversary of the bloody and bungled Gallipoli campaign, a campaign with bore his fingerprints.

Churchill lived for another 50 years after that – unlike thousands of soldiers, many from Australia and New Zealand, whom the Empire expended in its futile self-preservation.

The media did its best to whip up interest in this mock funeral but it did not seem to strike the nerve intended. Perhaps the British public has some remnants of sense after all – including in 1945 when one of the first things they did was to eject Churchill from Downing Street.

It’s been an odd year so far, resonating with portentous anniversaries and peculiar, almost occult acts of state-sponsored necrophilia. The oddest of which: the lying in state and “re-burial” of a box of bones (verified by that august seat of learning The University of Leicester no less) alleged to be those of that great loser (and suspected child killer) of English history King Richard III.

This received blanket media coverage for days and this time it worked. The crowds materialised. The psy-op was successful.

Thus the great loser king is commemorated in Leicester, the city that enjoys the dubious distinction of being the first English city where the ethnic English have become a minority. I wonder if that irony was lost on those who stood in the crowd. It probably was.

Perhaps the “re-burial” of Richard III and all the odd ritual of the day (presided over by the awful Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by minor celebs) is the elite having a good laugh at the English people: ‘Let’s see if we can make them turn out in their droves to pay respects to a reviled monarch and a bag of old bones, ha ha ha’. Perhaps it was an occult ritual – and in the coffin was not Richard III but the future of the English people itself.

As for me, I won’t be shelling out any money for the equally worthless and equally ugly lumps of metal that the Royal Mint are trying to flog us this year, for the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral. You have to learn from previous generation’s mistakes, somehow.