CAN laughter send a message? I think it can. When Martin McGuinness sat alongside Ian Paisley, they did so much laughing they were dubbed ‘The Chuckle Brothers’. What message was their laughter sending? That those who were once sworn enemies can, in changed circumstances, set aside past enmities?
During the TV broadcasting of the coronation of King Charles III (and wasn’t there a lot of it?) the camera caught Michelle O’Neill at one point, shortly before the ceremonies began, and she was having a real laugh with whoever was beside her. What message was she sending? Well, by being there she was showing respect for those with a different take on politics; by laughing she was showing that she wasn’t in any way overawed by the setting or the ceremonies.
And boy, did the coronation have a lot of setting and ceremony.
Since 1100, Westminster Abbey has seen the coronation of 40 English and British monarchs, the burial of 18 English, Scottish and British monarchs and 16 royal weddings. You can see how tradition and legacy are built into every inch of it and how it is intended to make lesser mortals feel their deserved insignificance. It also has tremendously good acoustics, so that all the singing and music reverberated into every hallowed corner. Several people, including the children’s writer Michael Morpurgo, described how the music set their hearts thudding.
Then there were the ceremonies. The anointing bit (no, Virginia, Charles was being crowned, not dying) was discreetly screened while the royal person got the holy oils. The crowning bit – the climax, you could say – was when two very heavy-looking crowns (one each) were set on the heads of Charles and his once-mistress-now-wife Camilla. Both of them looked as though they had been training for weeks so their neck muscles would be strong enough to bear the weight. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, indeed.
So what was it that attracted so many TV networks (including RTÉ) to broadcast the event live? Well, if you’d been from Mars, you’d have assumed that this man getting crowned was the King of the World and that his thousands of well-drilled troops outside were firing off cannon to warn anyone who’d try to mess with them. Charles isn’t, of course, King of the World, and the British armed forces are sadly reduced from the time when the British Empire ruled quarter of the globe. But the less secure and important you are, the greater the need for cannons, music, robes, crowns, horses, swords and shouted commands.
Last Saturday’s thundering guns and sacred anointings were a bit like the Wizard of Oz: a massive, thundering presence that concealed, behind the curtain, a wee anxious man.
Maybe that was why Michelle was laughing.