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Friday, 9 September 2022

Random reckonings on royalty

During WW2 the Queen (then a Princess) did
National Service as an Army mechanic. Ten years
later I too did National Service albeit in the RAF,

Queen Elizabeth II died this week, aged 96. Not that my opinion is worth a plugged nickel, but what are my thoughts? Scattered, I’d say.

Unlike most Britishers I am old enough to have been “ruled” (an odd participle for 2022) by a previous monarch: George VI. I was informed he’d died while I worked as a teaboy with the local newspaper. Later, having booked a houseboat holiday on the Norfolk Broads (stretches of water, not the opposite sex), I was told it clashed with Elizabeth’s coronation. I protested that the paper could get along without my minuscule services and the editor relented.

My parents were fairly passive Conservatives, my mother a strong royalist. She was to win second prize in a nationwide poetry competition based on the coronation. I vaguely adopted their views, and would occasionally opine that Labour Party members were somehow unwashed. Living in a kingdom (a queendom, I suppose) was no big thing.

On returning to the UK after six years in Pennsylvania I became a more active member of the National Union of Journalists and thus left-wing. Fellow NUJ members insisted the monarchy was pointless and after the feeblest of intellectual struggles I agreed. Mostly I ignored the royals’ activities other than when they became newspaper headlines.

As I got older the Queen got even older. I reflected. I didn’t like it when the Queen was jeered at for being standoffish about Princess Di. Younger people (including the middle-aged, even the elderly) don’t understand the ancients or their rules, and my views were changing. The Queen had an outdated job but did it well. No prizes for ageing, only brickbats.

I fantasised her deathbed thoughts. “Thank goodness, that’s over.” I won’t share them but I think (I hope) I understand them.


  1. It must be interesting living in a country where there is still a royal family. We humans invented interesting ways to take power and hold on to it. Despite my feeling about royalty and crowns, I appreciated the presence of Queen here on earth, a living thing born of ancient history. May she rest in peace.

    1. NewRobin13: Both you and I were "born of ancient history"; our links go back just as far as the Queen's, but with less available documentation. As far as I'm concerned the royal family only becomes interesting if I decide they should be. So far I've managed quite well without making that decision,

  2. I remember our village staged a coronation party in a local farmer's vast barn - to keep up with British tradition it poured hard all that day.

    There was no TV around in our village then, but I did over hear the coronation service in the neighbouring farm cottage. I must have been 14 then.

    Like many, I have gradually become convinced of the pointlessness of this feudal system. However, probably better than the American system and very good for tourism with all its pomp and circumstance.

    But the Queen did a magnificent job of the plate served up to her, right to her end. Fancy having to say bye bye to Boris and shaking hands with the latest incumbent two days before she died.

    Go in peace thy good and faithful servant.

    1. Avus: "did a magnificent job". By what comparison? And via which initiatives?

      "better than the American system". Theirs depends on who votes for whom, ours on who one's great-great-great grandpa was. Theirs recently threw up Trump which is hard to swallow. But it also threw up FDR who, despite home-grown isolationism, helped save our necks when things were going badly (ie, the gift of warships) in early WW2, more or less financed, equipped and managed D-Day, and probably saved us from starvation and economic collapse post-war with the Marshall Plan.

      Ours threw up King John, Richard III, the Wars of the Roses, failure (perhaps fortuitously) in the US War of Independence and the Duke of Windsor. During the US War, not much talked about over here, we were also defeated at sea (viz: John Paul Jones's successful action off Flamborough Head - a long way from home you might say).

  3. And so Her Majesty’s passing has led me to read the Wikipedia entry re the Battle of Flamborough Head. A story wherein the “loser” was outgunned two to one, yet sank the “winner’s” flagship. Not to mention being lauded at home and even presented with silver coconut cups.

  4. MikeM: Not only sank the "winner's" flagship, but boarded it. Details about Britain's defeats - especially at sea - are often hard to come by over here, a country which spends an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on historical successes. A tendency which reaches its apogee at the last night of the Proms (a summer concert series) when the audience joins in a wretchedly bombastic song that makes me cringe. Here's the refrain:

    Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves,
    Britons never, never never shall be slaves

    Except to TV comedians masquerading as Prime Ministers, politicians so scared of other countries' superiority that they engineered Brexit, and to a distant reference point (1966 to be precise) when England won the soccer world cup.

  5. Interesting to read your perspective on your nation's royalty. I was a very young girl when Elizabeth was crowned. In later years I had the impression she embodied an important spirit for all in GB during WWII as I remember those years with my older brother going off to war. I must confess to never having been enamored with that whole royal governing concept or following the pomp and circumstance but respected your nation's choice to have that system. Does seem an expense whose value one might question.

    The Queen seems to have conducted herself in a manner lending itself to creating a sense of stability despite the behavior of some of her immediate family. Perhaps that stable force has had value for some, beginning through WWII. I've heard some discussion suggesting she may have acted behind the scenes in ways not generally known such as with the Irish situation that might have mattered. But I don't presume to suggest how any of you British folks should think about her.

    1. Joared: I think that having a monarchy has worked to some degree. It has promoted a sense of stability even when Britain, politically, was far from stable. Though I can't say this did much for me, personally. Also, had there been no monarchy, there may well have been moves (especially within the Tory party) to create some sort of substitute which I doubt would have been a success.

      There was one occasion when the monarchy failed; traditional practices meant the whole family reacted unsympathetically towards Princess Di's death, though these attitudes were corrected in a nick of time.

      Also the Queen did once say something political, even though most outsiders would probably not have recognised it as such. Scotland has its own partliament where the Scottish National Party (which favours independence from the rest of the United Kingdom, and - thus - the non-recognition of Brexit) is hugely in a majority. A referendum on independence was held some years ago and the Queen was asked what she thought of independence. After a lifetime of sitting on the fence about such matters she went as far as saying that "everyone should think very hard" before voting in the referendum. Commentators construed this - probably correctly - as meaning the Queen didn't favour independence. Storm in a a teacup, really. The results of the referendum showed that the Scottish population as a whole didn't favour independence.

      I could go on. And on.

  6. Thanks for these thoughts. It's complicated, isn't it? It seems we humans long for leaders who represent stability, nobility, duty, and something ancient we usually don't even consider very well -- the word "tradition" doesn't even come close. Of course that long tradition includes some truly wretched examples as well. In this day and age we make sure those leaders who fit the bill have very little real power, but somehow continue to allow them to accumulate wealth. As an American who moved to Canada, all this talk of the monarchy, and allegiance to it, has been a weird component of our life here. But I was named Elizabeth by my English forebears for a reason, and so I've always had an interest in, and some admiration for, this woman and her job, certainly one of the strangest on the planet, that she began in the year of my birth.

  7. Replies
    1. Beth: I have always tried not to "hark back". So-called Golden Ages usually reveal thick veins of lead when examined more closely. More specifically, those who enjoyed certain phases of their lives often tended to do so at the expense of others. The British Empire is the most shocking example

      But even this may be a false premise. I had the good luck (through my father's influence) to find a form of employment which entertained me for the next 44 years. Similarly with marriage; having had virtually no experience of female company living in the north, I found a job in London, met a young woman there within two or three months, married her with within a few months more and may now look back on 62 years of marriage which has endured the ups and downs typical of this social state.

      Not everyone has enjoyed similar luck in these two vital aspects of life.

      As to heroes, mine tended to be literary and/or mountaineers. For many years I ignored politics; worse, I accepted more or less without question, the politics of those whose stuff I read. Joining a trade union in my late thirties finally pointed me leftwards but there was no purity in this; journalism encourages cynicism and I accepted this practice. When I developed a more questing view of politics (about the Thatcher era) I tried to rationalise what I saw, tried to avoid broad-brush conclusions, something that is becoming harder and harder to do. Learning to sing at a very late stage has influenced me enormously but as yet I am unable to say (or write) just how this has worked.

      How strange British politics must have seemed to an American viewing its peculiarities through the Canadian prism. Also having to find room to accommodate the French element. Plus the runic significance of your abbreviated name and DOB. At present Britain is overwhelmed in its mourning, reminding me of Borges' wry comment on the Falklands War: "like two bald men fighting over a comb".

      Thanks for your equally wry assessment of leaders. How are you surviving without being part of the choir? To me it would seem like the amputation of one's most important member.