"I've got what I want from life," the middle-aged Cockney driver said, steering through streets draped with red-white-and-blue bunting. "I was a kid in the last Jubilee in 1935 and we lived, six of us, would you believe it, in one room, no hot water and the privy out back."
"Now the wife and I have a nice flat, color telly. The boys have their own cars. I've got what I want."
His unsolicited remarks help explain a phenomenon of this past Jubilee week. The most elaborate celebrations, the most adoring crowds, the most enthusiastic exclamations have come from the working-class, public-housing districts of the East End - Wapping, Stepney and Spitalfields.
The middle and upper classes may have the greatest vested interest in the monarchy, a device Metternich saw as a bar to revolution, but the better-off have been comparatively restrained. The most jubilant of the queen's subjects have been those furthest removed from her lifestyle.
Visiting commentators, especially those from the United States, sound a bit baffled by it all - largely, perhaps, because they are less aware of the transformation in living standards here over the past 25 years, particularly in the East End and other working-class districts.
A news magazine says that "not much has gone right for Britain" in the reign of Elizabeth II. In fact, the last quarter-century has been an era of almost unparalled peace and prosperity, despite the world's intermittent inflationary recession of the past six years.Real incomes per person - the command of material goods and services - have risen on average by two-thirds. For most of the period, there has been a conscious effort to redistribute these incomes more equally. So the East End has done somewhat better than those at the top.
"The queen has presided here during the hardest 25 years in this century," a visiting commentator intones, appearing to have somehow forgotten the deep depression of 1908-09 and a world war that wiped out a generation and almost shattered a stable society. In the second quarter-century, Britain endured the great depression of 1929-38 and second world war more devastating thatn the first.
In contrast, the queen's quarter-century has seen the more or less peaceful shedding of the burden of empire, nearly full employment for most of the period and, by historical British standards, rapid, economic growth. Even the fall in living standards of the past three years, largely the product of world economic slowdown, has been far from the catastrophes of the past. The welfare state put in place after the last war has seen to that.
Still another visiting writer worries about "a falling-off in the internal discipline that makes societies prosper. Strikes are the inescapable symbol."
Except for the peculiar case of Northern Ireland, the queen presides over a society distinguished by extraordinary social peace and solidarity, even during less comfortable times.
In the 10 years through 1974 - the latest date for which figures are available - days lost through strikes were lower here than in many other industrial countries. Strikes were nearly twice as frequent over the decade in the United States, more than twice as frequent in Canada and Italy, and more common in Australia. Since 1974, the harder times have drastically curbed union militance and increased cooperation here.
If the absence of "internal discipline" simply means that Britons at all levels do not work very hard, any measure of productivity supports that judgment. But a society that choose leisure over goods may have one more good reason to celebrate its monarch. In any event, few serious observers would dispute that all the other middle-size nations of Western Europe - Italy, Spain, France and West Germany - are much more prone than Britain to totalitarians of the left or right.
Future historians most likely will describe the first 25 years of Elizabeth as an era of relative peace and prosperity. To be sure, economic growth has been faster in other nations where less efficient farmers are still moving into more productive industry and where the work ethic is more rigorous.
But the comparatively amiable, relatively relaxed Britons have created a remarkable climate. In it, music and drama flourish, and London has become the world capital of the performing arts. Nobody has associated a monarch here with the arts since George IV was a friend of dramatist Thomas Nash - Elizabeth likes horses and thrillers - but the state of the arts is one indicator of the well-being of the queen's reign.
There is another and perhaps crucial reason for the popularity of the queen and the crown. At almost every level here, it is recognized that a powerles head of state, encrusted with myth and ritual, serves as a social cement in a society divided by class. It may be no accident that many of Europe's most stable nations are led by figurehead monarchs - the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
In all the acres of print describing the monarchy this week, the best analysis may hav appeared in the "Anti-Jubilee" number of the leftist New Statesman. There Kenneth Morgan of Queen's College, Oxford, paid this grudging tribute:
"The present queen, like her father and mother, has moved sufficiently to make the crown compatible with a more democratic, egalitarian and irrevent society. Above all, there is the value of the crown in historic terms. However unsocialistic it seems, Britain needs the reassurance of patriotic tradition . . . The crown provides just the right amount of historic theraphy to be tranquilizing without being harmful."