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Goodbye to our Queen: a hardy perennial if ever there was one

September 9, 2022

I never met the Queen, though I did encounter her husband at a couple of functions. So no anecdotes, no special insights.

When I was young, it was cool among my peer group to mock her. Not out of malice, but because she was a safe target. She would never know, and even if she did she would never react. We mocked her antiquated accent, her funny hats and her rather stilted public utterances. She was the epitome of old-fashioned. When we mocked her, it was because there was safety in numbers. It was the age of satire. Every institution – the church, the political establishment and especially the monarchy – was fair game.

Very few of the mockers wanted her gone, just as we wouldn’t want our mothers to disappear. She just symbolised for us the ultimate authority; the face on our coins, the person in whose name we went to war, made laws and brought miscreants to justice. And authority was what we beat our baby fists against.

She was always an object of mystery. Unknowable, unapproachable, not someone you would come cross cycling around Windsor. When we were beyond our youth and getting on with our lives, we would occasionally wonder – with scant evidence to draw upon – what she really felt about the people she had to deal with: pompous prime ministers, murderous dictators and flatulent buffoons like Donald Trump. Only a hint of disapproval occasionally surfaced in the form of a famously grumpy expression. Her self-control, her patience – at least as far as we could see – was superhuman. In an era of letting it all hang out she kept it all strapped in.

We British probably didn’t give her enough credit for the way in which she projected soft power, in a time when her realm’s hard power was slipping away. The visits, the tours and the ceremonies became newsworthy mainly because of the delicious prospect that her husband might produce another “gaffe” (a word seemingly invented for royals and politicians). Did we appreciate how much she was respected beyond our borders, and how much goodwill she generated for the country, especially in France, where I’m writing this, despite the slippery ways of our politicians? Probably not.

We did empathise with her – at least those of us who had children – when she had to deal with the behaviour of her offspring: the peccadillos and, in the case of her second son, activities that embarrassed her whole family. As we grew older, we learned about the pitfalls of parenting, and the limits of our ability as parents to steer our children clear of disastrous decisions. We felt closer to her for that reason.

And then, as she became very old, we marvelled at her ability to carry on, when most of us would have said to ourselves “sod this for a lark. I’ve done my bit. Someone else can do all the hard work now.” As we came to the end of our careers, there she was, still opening bridges, poring over red boxes and suffering fools on a daily basis.

So the woman we mocked in our youth won our respect and affection, not just for the consistency of her values but because of the little nuggets of humanity she allowed us to glimpse. The smile, the dry humour (also known as “quips”, a largely disused word preserved exclusively in association with the royal family), her delight in the company of her horses. We didn’t know her well. She was never the twinkly-eyed fairy grandmother figure that her mother became in the public’s perception. But we did know that she could be relied upon not to embarrass us, not to let us down. And in times of trouble, to say the right words.

Besides, how could we know her? Just as most of us don’t know Mick Jagger, the Dalai Lama and Vladimir Putin. Even those who lined up at the Palace to receive their gongs or had a few brief words at a garden party could hardly claim much more familiarity than the rest of us. Yet every encounter – even if it was from afar, at the Epsom Derby in my case – was imprinted in the memory.

To some extent, she was embedded in our subconscious, and surfaced in curious ways. People used to dream of encountering her when they had no clothes on. My mother, in her dotage at her care home, would tell me that she’d had tea with her the week before. Others, nervous about some social encounter with the great and the good, or terrified of public speaking, would imagine her in the lavatory to remind themselves that we’re all human.

She was everywhere, yet nowhere where she wasn’t wanted. Seemingly inert much of the time, yet always positive in her rare speeches and broadcasts.

If I was asked to choose one word that summed her up, it would be benign. And goodness knows, amidst the blundering, squabbling, fighting, grieving and hating that we seem to encounter at every turn, we have needed a benign influence to sooth our self-inflicted pain.

We will miss her. I will miss her, even though I never knew her, yet knew her very well.

From → Social, UK

  1. Rohini permalink

    So well said,

  2. dfmoggio permalink

    thank you, Steve.
    This is a mirror held up in muted light– gracious, honest, benign

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