Voices: I’m staging a one-man bank holiday protest – this is how (and why)

·4-min read

Britain has completely taken leave of its senses. It is apparently now worthy of a newsflash if a TV journalist happens to meet someone who’s decided to undertake the gruelling journey from, umm, Northampton to join the huge queues snaking through London to visit the Queen’s coffin.

Businesses have been falling over themselves to show their respect for the deceased monarch by closing; blind to the disrespect they are showing to their customers’ choice in the process.

Then, there are the representative bodies. British Cycling took the biscuit – inviting ridicule when it advised members not to get on their bikes during Monday’s funeral. This resulted in a partial volte face. There are, it seems, limits. But too few of them. And clubs are still being advised not to hold events.

It is as a result of this that I increasingly find myself in sympathy with the protesters who’ve held up blank signs during the various processions, or shouted things and been collared by the plod as a result.

Trouble is, while the attempts at forcing compliance with this increasingly grotesque exercise in mawkish national grief are worthy of protest, I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of doing so at what is, at the end of the day, part of an extended funeral.

Even one attended by as loathsome a character as Prince Andrew (the target of a heckler arrested in Scotland). So how to dissent? I’m disabled, which means getting on a bike is out. So I’ve decided that my personal protest will involve going to see a movie on Monday. Yes, the “funeralday” bank holiday.

It is, I admit, faintly absurd that visiting a movie theatre on a Monday could be considered an act of political protest. But we’ve descended into a vast pit of absurdity, haven’t we? Mercifully, it appears that there are still a few indie outlets out there willing to brave the more extreme monarchists’ thuggish disapproval by opening their doors, in stark contrast to the big chains.

Supporting the people involved in the challenging business of operating these cultural resources – which are operating under the cosh of soaring energy bills, the impact of the cost of living crisis on customers’ spending power, competition from streaming and the big chains, and the struggle to find staff – is, to my mind, a positive way of saying: “You go ahead and mourn the Queen in this way if you want. But you’re not forcing me to join in.”

I won’t name the indie theatre I’ve found for fear of its staff finding themselves in the cross hairs of abuse from the grief police. I don’t want to encourage its closure either, because I’m rather keen to see David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future. The great director’s eXistenZ, usually considered one of his lesser works, has been on my mind of late – because it really feels that we are travelling through a weird video game-world dreamed up by some tech designer’s cliched vision of Britain.

The film has aged well. Its themes of future-shock, technology gone wrong and twisted perception seem familiar today – but they weren’t so much when it was released, shortly after The Matrix came out. EXistenZ worlds are, however, much less glam.

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They’re icky and squishy, involving living games consoles people plug themselves into with a sort of umbilical cord. This seems entirely appropriate to the icky and squishy reality Britain has thrown itself into, although – let’s be honest – we’ve probably been stuck in a strange nationalistic game world for several years, now.

The usually mundane act of going to see a fictional film – when much of the country is hypnotised by a real-life fairytale, where food banks are closed and cancer screenings cancelled for the day of mandatory mourning – is an expression of a desire to wake up from it.

There are other ways to “protest”, too. Can’t find a cinema open near you? Take a walk. Or a bike ride. A trip to a cafe or a pub or a restaurant will do the trick. Some of those are open. Anything like that would suit.

Maybe on Tuesday the nation will open its eyes and embrace reality, though I doubt it. Maybe the cost of living crisis will eventually act as a shot of caffeine. We’ll see. It was hard to escape from Cronenberg’s game worlds. I fear it’s going to be hard to escape from this one.