And so they came and they cheered and they waved and they provided at last a past tense for bunting. They bunted for Britain.
They were cheering all kinds of things. They were acknowledging the spectacle of the pageant itself, the sheer joy of all those launches and lighters and dhows and dragon boats – everything from a weird coracle of the kind that Charon might have used to ferry the dead, to the little boats of Dunkirk, to the Gloriana herself, the first royal barge to be commissioned for more than a century, with her bank of golden oars flashing in unison – and if there is a lovelier vessel afloat I have yet to see it.
You could argue that they were showing an atavistic delight in the skill in boating and seamanship that made this country rich and which turned London from an estuarial swamp of pleistocene clay, with no minerals worth extracting, to the most powerful commercial centre on earth.
You could say that they were revelling in the spectacle of the city itself, conscious of the glory of the buildings that line the Thames and their own role as spectators in a TV occasion that was being watched by millions, if not billions, around the world.
But there is no getting away from the central point with which we began. They were cheering mainly for the Queen. It was, at root, a pretty simple feeling the crowd wanted to get over – a wish to thank her for 60 years of service to the country.
When you looked at the crowds on the banks of the Thames yesterday, you saw that they get the point the republicans miss. They know why she is so valuable, and that it is nothing to do with her politics or her lifestyle or the many houses or racehorses she owns.
She not only incarnates the history of the country in her DNA. She provides a focus for their own love of their country: and in that sense the monarchy fulfils a function that Left-wingers should fervently support. She collectivises the nation. In a selfish and atomised age, she gives people a way of thinking not so much about themselves, but about everyone; not me, but us. She has done it brilliantly for 60 years, and that is why they cheered for such hours; because no one in history has fulfilled that role so skilfully and so successfully.
I was on a boat with several members of the Royal family and I don’t think I am being indiscreet if I say they were stunned at the number of people on the riverbank. “I have never seen anything like it in my lifetime,” I said to Sir John Major. “And we won’t see anything like it again,” he said. Maybe not; but I bet our children will.