I recently visited the Martin Parr exhibition in the Guildhall. It was his usual wry, deadpan look at British life, in this case the pageantry of the City rituals.
The photos were taken over a period in 2014 but, like everything else this summer, it was hard not to look at them through post-Brexit spectacles.
Is one of the (side) effects of our collective decision to be parochial and to 'keep the foreigners out', a protection of these odd, archaic rituals? If so, is this something we actually want, or is it time we gave them the boot as part of our, to put it positively, fresh new start?
These rituals do contain a nostalgia, the one so loved by all who miss the mythical Albion, and they are mostly as harmless as they are ridiculous. The laughter they provoke doesn't, as Parr himself often shows, have to be scathing. But these are images imbued and ridden with class. Rituals designed to keep everyone (from above and below) in their correct place and order.
So are we now at a time where we can simply celebrate them - the rituals, processions, banquets - as pomp and ceremony? As ridiculous, as meaningless, as fun, ceremony, tradition? Or should we question even the act, shown here, of toasting the Queen's good health?
As I looked at the photos I certainly didn't feel proud of England, but there was a fondness. Perhaps no different or stronger than when I encounter other cultures' rituals abroad. Maybe it's just interest.
Sometimes I'm embarrassed as a tourist, that feeling of not wanting to embrace the inauthentic performance that is created, or re-enacted, specifically for the tourist. Similarly, I often find it hard to enjoy being English, or British, or any collective identity. I find tribalism and certainly patriotism awkward and embarrassing and, frankly, a bit old-fashioned. It has always seemed to me that a celebration and pride in your own country amounts to no more than declaring that place to be the best purely because it happens to be your birthplace.
Perhaps if I had ever been part of these, or similar, age-old traditions, I could embrace my role as an insignificant but happy part of the greater good, or even just old fashioned 'society'. And perhaps this is the role of rituals, providing a part to play; of a community, even a large, falsely designated one (i.e a nation) that can never really exist as a group of even vaguely like-minded people without the false notion of patriotism. How British [or insert any nation here] do you feel? How 'British' is it even possible to feel? Am I allowed to not really feel any connection to any particular location on the globe? And if I am, is that even good for me and my well-being?
You'll have to seek out the books on these subjects for any answers, but these are some of the thoughts I had as I looked at the photos. How ridiculous we all are, how silly are the things we do and the games we invent for ourselves, but perhaps there is a purpose that we should be careful not to dismiss so easily, even us (like myself) who are often aloof and dismissive towards these rituals.