Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 27 July 2012

A serf's-eye view

(A brief musing to occupy those who are not currently watching the preamble to the prologue to the countdown to the Opening Ceremony) 

In a war-torn land of factions and conflict between rival dynasties, the Tudor monarchs hit on a sure-fire strategy to keep the peace - the Royal Progress.

Every summer, the royal household would decamp to the castle or palace of some mighty noble, who would be expected to wine and dine the lot of them and entertain the ruler with lavish pageants.

Being chosen to receive this honour was a decidedly mixed blessing; though it was a hotly-contested mark of royal favour, it also meant months of  frantic building and landscaping even before the harbingers turned up to start slaughtering every edible animal in sight and running up an epic grocery bill.

It was a work of genius; not only did it give the king or queen a chance to keep a close eye on the activities of potential rebels among the aristocracy, the staggering cost of such a visit meant that there could be no question of its host funding a rebellion for many years afterwards.

(The progress also meant that the now-empty royal palaces could be thoroughly cleaned - the pets of the occupants being poorly house-trained and some of their masters not much better - but that's another story.)

Perhaps, when you think about it, that's really what today's Olympics are all about; never mind the rhetoric of brotherhood and unity through sport, it's a four-yearly royal progress that occupies the host nation's minds and - more importantly - wallets to the exclusion of all else.

So the great and the good put the IOC up in the country's best bedroom - 'Jaques Rogge Slept Here'  - and lavish them with plenty while planning this evening's pageant and a succession of tournaments for their diversion.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, just as in Tudor England, an army of servants and labourers toil day and night to create the magnificent display. And where would the money come from to pay for this extravagance? Whether they wanted it or not, it would all ultimately be wrung from the host's tenants and their families.

That'd be us, then,

3 comments:

  1. "it's a four-yearly royal progress that occupies the host nation's minds and - more importantly - wallets to the exclusion of all else"

    Good point - that's exactly what it is. I just wish more serfs would see it that way.

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  2. "Meanwhile, behind the scenes, just as in Tudor England, an army of servants and labourers toil day and night to create the magnificent display."

    Of course, in Tudor England, those servants wouldn't be quite as multicultural as Boyle's imagination fondly assumed them to be.

    I wonder if anyone told the Angolans, Pakistanis and Somalis seen dancing round the maypole just what a maypole WAS..?

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  3. Julia, I suspect he was damned whichever way he went with that one; put them in and it loses authenticity, leave them out and he's a racist.

    Getting into the spirit of the thing, the Urchin suggested that the maypoles should have been be accompanied by a wicker man...

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