Were the Jubilee Celebrations a success? How significant was the bad weather?
Now that we're all back to work, the barriers have been cleared away and the Union Jack bunting are beginning to look a bit tattered, I decided to ruminate on how successful the whole event was and to ask a few wider questions about public events and urban design.
It's a sad fact that more regimented states tend to do pageants rather better than we do. When Haussmann designed Paris, he prescribed wide boulevards to facilitate the charge of a brigade of cavalry at angry demonstrators. Red Square in Moscow was safeguarded from development because of its use as a suitably broad canvas for the mighty USSR to display its hardwear. We did have HMS Belfast boom out a couple of shots, but unless you count a very warlike canoo of Maoris, most of the flotilla displayed a peaceful nation.
Firstly, I think the river was a great idea, but the Thames is a rough, windy, tidal estury, not a litling backwater like the Venetian lagoons. Secondly, it is very large and very wide, so even quite big ships look a bit puny. I think that even the famous Canaletto painting enlarged the boats for picturesque effect.
People who queued in the rain, watched in the rain and walked home in the rain might have been able to congratulate themselves on their British bulldog grit. But if we do it agin what changes should we make?
The real lesson is that large spaces do not make the best arenas for pagents. The most exciting parade I've ever witnessed is the Semana Santa in Lorca, in the south of Spain. This runs for about a kilometre or two along the narrow main street of the city, which is flanked on both sides by appartment blocks, each side being about eight stories high. They place temporary seating on each side of the street, and you have to get tickets to view. However thousands of people can get a seat, and of course every balcony of the appartments is packed. (There's no queuing needed. it's just like getting a ticket to the opera.)
As this image so colourfully demonstrates, they race down the street in dangerous horse drawn carriages, parade racheros on dancing steeds and massed bands of hooded monks, throng to the sound of horns, antique blunderbusses and drums. The buildings ricochet with the sound. You are right in the thick of the parade, almost swept up by the throng and definitely frightened when the dancing horses goes through their paces.
What makes it all work so well, is the constraint of the space. That is, I think, why the Mall concert worked so well. Someone actually sat down and designed the Buck House Arena - a chap called Robbie Williams I gather - who cut his teeth designing stage sets for pop bands. What he realised is that external space seems smaller than internal space. So that when you want to stage any sort of performance out of doors you have to constrain the space, not expand it.
Just think of the most famous public spectacle of all, the Palio, that surges through the narrow streets of Siena every summer. Its fast, its constrained, its colourful, noisy and it's a horse race. Perhaps Her Majesty, with her well known penchance for the sport of kings, might have preferred something like that?