Where were you ten years ago? Mostly, it would be an impossible question to answer, but from 10th-20th October 2007, the answer is easy – Windsor Castle. Saint George’s House in the precincts of the castle hosted an annual gathering for clergy and for ten days there was an escape from the outside world into the rarefied atmosphere of the home of the Windsor family.
One particular moment remains fresh in the memory. Standing on a terrace outside the Vicars’ Hall at Windsor, there was a great view.
Some of it was definitely not picturesque, there was the M4 motorway and the cooling towers of a power station. Overhead there was a constant stream of airliners, going to or coming from Heathrow Airport. Even at well after 11 pm, the noise was relentless.
There was the River Thames, which could look dark and prosaic or exciting and poetic, depending as the mood took you.
But there were some special sights, Eton was just across the river. It was an easy walk from the castle, and the beautiful college buildings dominated the skyline. As a counterweight to Eton College, the vast walls of Windsor Castle swept away to the right.
On green space between the castle and the college, a circus was setting up. I remarked to one of my colleagues that there must be some symbolism in a circus between the two great buildings.
“Yes”, he said, “it means there are now three circuses.”
He had a point. I had watched people in Eton who were watching boys from the college walking down the street in their tail coats and I had watched the tourists in the Upper Ward of the castle, pressed against the railings to look across at the royal apartments.
Perhaps the entertainment in the Big Top would not be half so interesting to the onlookers as what they saw in the ancient buildings.
Maybe in filling our newspapers and magazines with pictures from the private lives of the great and the good, including those who would go to the college or the castle, we had turned life into a circus. Much as the old socialist and republican in me might have recoiled at those who would gather in such places, nevertheless, surely everyone had the right to be respected as human beings. Hadn’t they as much right to a private life as any onlooker?
No-one was an act in a circus. Life was not a spectator sport.