Spring has come to London and the parks are crowded as tourists file along en route to Buckingham Palace or Parliament, office workers grab lunch while listening to ipods, hot dogs and ice cream and over-priced fizzy drinks go on sale, and we get the first unsightly glimpse of roly-poly flesh as sunbathing begins.
With the warm weather, drunken shrieking groups will begin to dominate suburban shopping centres on Saturday nights, and hospital will brace themselves for the arrival of teenagers who have drunk themselves into a torpor, and/or been hurt in a fight, or who are choking on vomit.
Summer in Britain no longer just means cricket, family picnics, trips to the seaside and outdoor concerts. It brings problems of its own through a combination of cheap alcohol, unrestricted drinking hours, family breakdown and abandonment of traditional restraints on general behaviour.
There will be happier scenes, however. At the end of April, there is a long holiday weekend: the Royal Wedding on Friday, April 29, followed by the May Bank Holiday the following Monday.
As all this comes at the end of Easter week, there will be a long holiday period. London will be in party mood for the Royal Wedding, and the hope is that there will be a combination of traditional pageantry and cheerful celebration. People will, of course, gather along the route to and from Westminster Abbey, and, especially, outside Buckingham Palace when the young couple will be expected to appear on the balcony to huge enthusiasm. There is a great deal of goodwill: the Royal Family has a deep place in people’s affections, and it feels right to be celebrating a wedding in springtime.
Will it all go happily? There have been some suggestions that the anarchists who recently organised violence at an anti-government march through London will return in force for the Royal Wedding and attempt mayhem. They could do quite a lot of harm: enthusing about the justice and morality of their message, they break and enter into shops and offices, smash windows, and announce that any damage caused is a by-product of a capitalist system they despise.
Wearing balaclavas, black scarves and/or face-masks, they relish jeering at security-cameras and their black and red flags look effective on TV. The Internet has been a boon for such groups, as its swift communication makes it easy both to organise and to celebrate their smash-and-grab days.
Meanwhile, ordinary community celebrations of the Royal Wedding seem, thus far, to be a little muted: new rules about Health and Safety and all sorts of bureaucracy over all sorts of things from the public consumption of food to the needs of traffic management or the protection of children make it difficult to arrange street-parties. Scenes from old newsreels of people enjoying Victory celebrations in 1945 or the celebrations of past Royal Weddings and Jubilees have a sort of distant innocence about them.
Nevertheless, we can hope that the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton will be a day that will do Britain good, and send a message of hope and joy: we need it.
For Catholics, the weekend will have a special meaning, because on the Sunday, May 1, the Day of Divine Mercy, the great Pope John Paul II will be beatified in Rome. Large crowds are expected, and the celebrations will stretch over several days. Several of my friends will be there, sharing in extraordinary and joyful moments of history: the first time a Pope has beatified his predecessor, watched by the world.
Among the great John Paul’s most important messages were those concerning marriage and family, the beauty of true nuptial love, open to life, and rich in meaning and purpose. This is a message that Britain most desperately needs, and which echoes in people’s hearts.