Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Many Happy Returns to a Pretty Nice Girl

So now she's 89 and a day.  I was remiss in missing the big day yesterday, but it still seems worth noting.

It's a remarkable age still to be as active as she obdurately remains, made of course all the more notable in that she's the actually the younger half of the world's longest running double act, and he's just as spry.  I make no secret of admiring her, immoderately, not so much out of abstract monarchist devotion (although it does seem a system that when it works well, works very well indeed), but because she herself is such a remarkable anomaly.

Who is more famous, more scrutinized, and yet less known?  Who else, in a public career spanning nine decades, can boast of a more irreproachable feat of sustained self-presentation (and yet who, one suspects, is less likely to boast of anything at all)?

When her mother died, there was much talk of the Passing of the Last Great Edwardian Lady, but in some ways Her Majesty is even more of the past, with her raising so deeply rooted in the values of Victoria that she seems now not so much of another age as of another civilization altogether.  She holds, resolutely, a personal creed of duty, discipline, faith, and sheer steadiness that today is inconceivable.  As a result, she carries on as always she has done and, I have no doubt, will continue to do for as long as possible.  When at last her Great Great Grandmother Victoria left her post, the changes that followed on the advent of the new King Edward VII were seismic; one wonders what similar shifts we will, in retrospect, someday attribute to her going?

When we visited Buckingham Palace last winter, I was struck not simply by the sheer magnificence of the rooms (although they are truly breathtaking; I won't deny that the first glimpse of the Picture Gallery nearly made me weep), but of the feeling that one was in some species of great machine of state, a kind of engine of impressiveness.  It was a curiously warming, encouraging feeling; the scale, the richness, the stillness of the place instilled a kind of exhilaration that was, at the same time, oddly, a peculiar sense of intimacy.  While she herself has hardly moved a chair in spaces that are largely unchanged since the first days of the 20th Century, one nonetheless felt inescapably the impact, the influence of the great house's presiding genius.

It was a feeling, I realized, in a more stately way, not unlike that generated by seeing her in person.  I've done so twice, although the first - at the Montreal Olympics in '76 - was at a fairly great distance.  The second was fleeting, but comparatively close up:  when I was living in Ghana (oh, I did get around, once upon a time, but that's quite another story), there was a Royal Visit, a very big deal in a country that was, at that time at least, as fanatical in its devotion to the Commonwealth as it earlier was in its eagerness to leave the Empire.  Following several weeks of intense tidying across the capital, there was a motorcade through the principal streets, and she drove right by the gates of our office compound.  There she was, in her great black car, smiling and waving as she does, and in little more than a flash gone on, 'round the traffic circle that on ordinary days swirled in a confused mass of tangled traffic.  But we had seen her, and felt that little bit different for it.

And now she's rising 90.  I hope she goes on a while, at least as long as she feels it worth her while.  I actually have some confidence in her successor (remembering, if nothing else, how universal was the consensus that Edward VII was destined to be a disaster, and yet he was anything but), but there's no question it will all feel very odd...


  1. Lovely tribute. No matter how anyone feels about the monarchy there's no question that she is a very great lady indeed and an uber professional to boot.

  2. I remember my mother exclaiming how young Elizabeth was when King George died, and wondering whether she would be a "good queen" or just a placeholder. Little did we imagine.

    I'm so very glad to see that you continue to regain your health, too, dear sir.

  3. Your writing is as wonderful as the observations you share, and it's all greatly appreciated!

  4. "I did but see her passing by..." are the opening lines of a poem penned by a rabidly monarchist Australian PM some years back... As earlier stated, a lovely tribute. I've never 'beheld' her as such (although Mere Liggett maintains 'we' were there on a state visit when I was a lad), but I do have an uncle who mixes in those circles. He adores her, if only because even after many a years gap 'between drinks', she always greets him by name. More a testament to her memory than his importance of course.

    1. I have always, always envied the ability to remember names; it creates such a marvelous impression. One of the reasons I adored, once upon a time, working in the arts was that one could quite easily call anyone one vaguely recognized "darling" or something similar and get away with (doesn't work so much in the high-powered world of international communications consulting, alas).

      And as for the royals, I've always been amused by critcs who decry their intellect and education, wondering if they realize that their targets generally speak three language or so, are able stewards of remarkable collections of art and antiques, frequently themselves paint, design jewellery and such creative pursuits, and, at least in regard to the senior members of The Firm, are nearly encyclopedic on matters of goverment, military affairs, philanthropy, not to mention having likely met and chatted with the most interesting and important people people in the world for however long they have been making the rounds. Degrees aren't everything...

    2. Couldn't agree more, but I suspect your comments really only do relate to the "senior members of The Firm". Having met more than one junior member in my time, even I turn my nose up at the perceived entitlement.

      PS - the wonderful thing about being Australian is that 'mate' works just as well as 'darling', but across a much broader spectrum (spectra?)