Here’s a little insight for you.. If your family were all born in the UK, there’s a fairly good chance that you’ll never get to go to one of these. Roll up for the Blackheath Bugle’s review of the glorious, New Labour-inspired Citizenship Ceremony!
Actually, I shouldn’t be too cynical about it. On the whole it was a really good experience. Mrs Bugle is now a fully paid-up (and bloody hell, do I mean paid up… about £2000 all considered) citizen of Her Maj’s United Kingdom.
So.. How was it?
Well, it all took place at the Town Hall, in Wellington Street, Greenwich. Except it’s closer to Woolwich Arsenal… All Wimpy’s and Wetherspoon’s.
So, after a frantic dash to get some food (Wimpy… never again…), we shuffled into the Town Hall, with about 40 other people, from all over the world, all looking a little bit uncertain of what they were letting themselves in for.
We were taken into the very grand council chambers. Polished wood everywhere. Strange cherubic faces over the door frames (happy ones on the way in, sad ones on the way out, worryingly). Walking in, to tinny strains of Elgar’s Enigma variations, and some really tedious Holst marches seeping from a tinny Chinese hi-fi on the table… So far, it seems about what I’d expected.
Everyone was handed a photocopied sheet with the first verse of the national anthem. (No dodgy fourth verse for us).
Then the bureaucracy kicks in… And it’s quite sweet. A good ten minutes are spent explaining what the fire drill is, where the exits are, where the toilets are, and please could you not throw the blue hand towels down the toilet, as they block it up. There is tea, coffee, and biscuits in the other room if you are feeling peckish.
The worst instant coffee I’ve ever tasted, but the biscuits were pretty good- Bourbons, Jammy dodgers, shortcake, and Jaffa cakes.
“Trevor and Anna will be taking photos” of the lucky citizens. Photos cost ￡15. Two for ￡20. Bargain. Felt a bit like EasyJet somehow. Yes we did, in case you wondered.
Then a kind of school register, and more bits of paper handed out.
Then, onto the actual oaths. Doreen South, the Superintendent Registrar was now in charge. Who was really good actually. Talking about why this day was important, the journeys that all the applicants have taken to get here. Costs in terms of sacrifices, and loved ones. Talking about the process of government here, and suggesting that there was nothing to stop them one day taking a seat in this council chamber. Then a bit on the “Royal” borough. Isn’t this wonderful? Rhetorical question, I guess..
Also spoke very nicely about the need to retain your culture, but respect others. It sounds po-faced written down here, but it really didn’t come across as such.
Then onto the deputy mayor. Barbara Barwick. Banging on about the Royal Borough again, as she wasn’t present for the previous speech. Pointing at the stained glass windows in the hall, depicting Henry 8th and Elizabeth 1st. Who both spent much of their lives here in Greenwich. Then she seemed to veer off into improv, and it got a bit lost… “Citizenship is very serious because many of you are giving up your nationality”. Er, no, actually… But go on… “Many of you are coming from non-democracies”, yes, OK, we get it, the UK has the finest, most representative democratic system on the planet, unless you’re a LibDem… “You have the right to choose your government. You have lots of rights, but you also have responsibilities. We embrace other cultures. But you must also embrace and maintain other peoples cultures. That’s the deal”.
And now for some Olympic waffle… “It’s a very exciting time in Greenwich. Very exciting time”. More about the royal borough, god help us. “Then we have the Olympics. The whole world will be looking at Greenwich. You will have calls from friends in other countries who want to see the Olympics”. I’ll have friends calling wondering how those buggers ever managed to circumvent various ancient laws to rip up our lovely heath & park! But I kept my mouth shut… Didn’t want to get Mrs B’s citizenship off to a bad start…
“Greenwich is a World Heritage Site”. “Time starts in Greenwich. Every clock is set from here”. Reminded me of the bit in My Big Fat Greek Wedding “Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greenwich.”
“We also have the Woolwich Royal Arsenal, where the Kings and Queens kept all their explosives”. Brilliant, yes – from which we raped and pillaged our way into your former countries… But, moving on!
“We also have the O2. The world’s most popular entertainment venue. People travel the world to go there. You can go there on a bus!”. Yes, hurrah for Mandy’s corporately re-branded Dome!
Then, on to some action. The congregation is split up into “Oathers” and “Allegiances”, depending on whether you want to suck up to one of our masters or two.
Oathers go first. All declare their names in a row. “I, Fred Bloggs”, “I, John Smith”, “I, Anne Other”, etc, etc. This takes some time, as you can imagine. I counted 26 Oathers to 14 Atheists…
…”swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law.”
And for the non-believers:
“…do solemnly and sincerely affirm that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law.”
You can read the full thing here, if you fancy it.
Now all stand.
And we sing the National Anthem…. Very quietly, and with very little enunciation of anything except vowels. Don’t think I’ve had to do that since I was a boy scout.
Then handshaking with the Deputy Mayor, who hands over your certificate, next to a portrait of Her Majesty, whilst Trevor and Anna earn their £15 for your photo – “Can you move to one side? I want to see the queen!”
The Queen very nearly get knocked off her easel at one point, which may or may not be treasonable, I’m not sure.
But the best bit, bar none, was when one of the newly anointed went for an awkward peck on the Mayoral cheek, then quickly realised that it wasn’t the done thing, and blushed. It was very funny – maybe you had to be there.
All in all, if you ever get the chance to attend one, definitely go – it’s a truly unique, slightly shabby experience. And quite fun.