This blog starts with a warning albeit with no apology. As many readers will know, I am a staunch atheist and republican and in this story these beliefs play an important role. With this in mind, royalists of a religious persuasion might wish to stop reading now! For others, here is a story that was inspired by seeing a beautifully decorated walkway near our home in Richmond.

Every year Rohan and I spend the spring in our cottage in Brittany. Apart from being with friends and welcoming visitors there is gardening to be done. This year there was something more – by being in Treguennec we would be largely spared the prospect of street parties and media frenzy across the Channel sparked by the crowning of Charles III. Accordingly, as soon as we learned the dates of the coronation we extended our stay so that we would not arrive back in London till the adulation was over.  

Living in a village in France with nothing English in sight did indeed cushion us against many of the coronation’s excesses. However, through friends, the BBC and the on-line Guardian, we kept in touch and it was soon clear while our worst fears were not played out – apparently the public’s response was rather muted – much of the UK’s media, together with the Government and the establishment, bathed in uncritical coronation fervour. 

The British constitution requires us to have a monarch as our head of state, but if this tradition continues – to me a head of state appointed as a birthright is outdated not to say medieval – then his or her coronation should change. It should no longer be a lavish and garish pageant-cum-pantomime and no longer orchestrated – sanctified – by the church with their archaic and incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo. In addition, the incumbent should not be allowed to escape paying taxes; by decree, Charles III pays no income tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax! In short, the current arrangements which celebrate the monarchy and serve to unify the church and the state are unnecessary and unacceptable.  Importantly, for me the Union Jack has become the symbol of all I so dislike.

When we did return to London I soon found myself walking down Church Court, a favourite route I take on my way to the shops. I choose it not only because it is a quiet pedestrianised walkway but because of its history – strolling down a pathway first paved in the 1500s is very special. But now there was more – down its length was an array of red, white and blue umbrellas put up as part of the borough’s coronation celebrations (see illustration). Now I was caught; initially seeing them swaying above in the wind was a delight, but soon I found myself viewing them as representing the Union Jack – they were a patriotic trick and my endowing  them with beauty was plain wrong. Days later, however I changed my mind; I managed to lose my perceived link with the coronation and I could once again see them as I had initially.

The way I make up my mind varies and overall is a bit hit and miss. Faced with an emergency, at least those that are medical, I switch to ‘auto pilot’ and make decisions almost instantaneously based on learned steps that have a logic. At the other extreme, choosing food in a restaurant has me paralysed – here no rules of logic apply! Somewhere in between I make snap decisions, presumably using judgements based on past experience, prejudice and some immediate sense of appeal, and this is what happens when I meet someone or see a picture in a gallery.

Seeing the coloured umbrellas in Church Court as representing the coronation impelled me to reject them on principle. However I changed my mind once I realised the colours of the umbrellas and the way in which they were arranged had their own intrinsic value and that anyway these very colours were not unique to the Union Jack, they are also those of thirty other national flags – including France and Russia. That I could free myself by changing my mind was a wonderful relief.

This blog is about a sight that greeted me when I returned to Richmond nearly two  weeks ago. The fact that I first saw it as distasteful, but now I go back and enjoy it as often as I can, shows how important it is to keep decisions under review. Clearly it is something I should do more often.   

The illustration is a photo of Church Court, an alleyway in Richmond decorated with umbrellas and which I walk down whenever I can.

For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Jo, Alan, Anis, Annie, Rohan and Vivien.

10 thoughts on “A Wonderful Change of Mind

  1. Hi Joe,
    I am in full agreement with you about the monarchy and it’s parasitical draining of public resources which could and should be used to benefit we humble ‘subjects’.
    Moreover, I, too, have come to see the union flag as symbolising our sad, little, broken country; though it is not quite as offensive as the flag of St. George, which reinforces the historical truth of England the opressor of the other components of the British Isles.


    1. Dear John, It seems that we agree totally and for that I thank you. And, I am also pleased that you are well again – the cheeses of Richmond have missed you. Yours, Joe


  2. How right you are, Joe – keeping things under review is the methodology of Science; being in two minds about things is the human condition. Have you read (or listened) to Prof. Iain McGilchrist on the divided brain?


    1. Dear Merrily, Thank you for both your comments. I will try and discover more about McGilchrist. As for the use of ‘staunch’, I don’t think it does – it is certainly not so specific in my dictionary. . Love, Joe


  3. Hi Jo I think you are talking about an aesthetic experience… artists , musicians, appeal to this sense…. I heard St Matthews Passion by Bach several years ago….. written with deeply held religious story in mind…. Music performed by a chorus of 300 and 5 soloists was the most extraordinarily wonderful experiences I have ever had …. I am an atheist also , subject matter was not important in the religious sense but the powerful stimulation to my senses was overwhelming……. No scientific explanation for this experience…??? What do you think??


    1. Dear Elona, Thank you for your comment. I think that 1) People can be carried away when hearing a piece music or a seeing a work of art and I have no idea what the mechanism is, 2) from your comment I find it more difficult than you, and I imagine than most people, to separate the context from the immediate experience but in the case of the umbrellas I did. For me, each occasion will vary and require a new assessment but being free like you is going to be difficult. Love, Joe


  4. Excellent blog Joe. I can’t flush it out of my head when I heard someone with a strong Irish accent talk about “King Charles the turd”. Appropriate. And while the Union flag can make me squirm at times, my real anger is reserved for the national anthem: “Gracious King” …what? Time for change?


    1. Dear Alastair, Thank you for your comments. There is so much awful about our monarch as head of state it is difficult to know where to start, but rewriting the national anthem does indeed seem a good first target. Love, Joe


  5. Dear Joe,
    I was glad that your initially stolen joy from looking at the umbrella design was quickly reasserted. Some things are just too precious to be highjacked. Like you, my spirits are lifted when I walk under them in Church Court.


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