Elizabeth II Turns 80
Born 80 years ago this Friday, April 21, H.M. Elizabeth II is not yet the longest-lived sovereign, nor the longest-reigning one.
Both those Guiness World Book of Record milestones belong to her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.
(Remember that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother was not a born sovereign, and thus her 101-years of life, bless her, don't count, except for the bookies)
You might also recall that I said I'm no monarchist, and would favour a republic under normal circumstances, in almost any country.
But my makeup also includes being very pragmatic, and a traditionalist.
Though I know for a fact, as republican agitator Stephen Haseler was quoted as saying, that the question of the relevancy of the monarchy in Britain, will be on the the backburner until the Prince of Wales accedes to the throne, I also know my own.
Let's face it:
Without a monarchy, our smallish island of querelous, disparate peoples will seem just another little republic with the same kind of slightly tawdry pretensions to royal elegance that France has, but which she seems unable to embody properly, precisely because there is no Royal Family.
Anyone who has been to the Palace of Versailles and to Windsor Castle, can instantly define this, since one is a magnificent shell of a court, whereas the other seems relevant, and active, because it is.
And here is another unspoken variable in Britain.
It's unspoken, because it's uncomfortable to say outloud -- but as the boilerplate says, I'm all about discomfitting moxie, dammit.
America, who so many people look down upon for many reasons, from the resentful working classes, to the militant chattering classes, to the dismissive aristocracy, will forever lord it over Britain, about finally becoming a republic.
If it does happen, America will have perhaps 150 years of democratic history behind her, and will be the grand dame of established republics, save for Switzerland.
Whereas now, Britain holds the whip hand in the snobbish stakes.
No matter how grand a past America has built for herself in 200 years, with a monarchy being the living reminder of why she broke away from the mother country in the first place, nothing America can do, can erase the fact that Britain is still the dominant cultural partner, because of over 1000 years of monarchical history (give or take a year).
Americans are popularly believed as thinking they can buy everything with money.
But money can't buy you history. That needs year after year of accumulated sands of time to achieve.
Thus, this system of governance adds an immeasurable cache, and lustre to what can otherwise ridiculously become a parody of herself as a republic -- precisely like France has.
Long-time royalist opponent from Scotland, Willie Hamilton MP (a man whose particular bugbear was the Queen Mum, if you can believe that), once decided to put a motion on the floor, to abolish the monarchy, but before it even got to the voting stage, it was scuppered.
The reasons were many, but ultimately it came down to being just too unwieldy a process, to carry the day.
It's a nightmare scenario for any goverment who would try.
They'd have to jump through Parliamentary hoops simply to write the Bill, which by the way, if voted on and passed, the Queen would have to sign.
Then we'd have the pitiful spectacle of the Royal Family being cashiered to Sandringham House, captured by the BBC being hauled unceremoniously into their un-coat-of-armed Daimlers after teary farewells to their staff, since obviously the culture and the times don't have the blood-thirsty tendencies of the French or Russian Revolutions, which butchered their Royals.
People my age, and even older, make fun of the Royal Family, and think it's all a big palavah which should be scrapped.
I remember as a child, during the televised Christmas address by the Queen, being made to stand up by my grandfather (an otherwise politically liberal man), wearing our silly Christmas cracker hats, and having to listen to attention in front of the television set, until mercifully, the 5-10 minute speech was over.
That seems centuries ago, but in fact, as you see, it's within my lifetime. And all throughout, I kept thinking, this is stupid. The woman can't see us.
Certainly the wish for a republic is there.
But when it comes right down to it, no one will do anything about it.
It's just too dismal a process to think about.
Maybe like Emperor Franz Josef, the present Queen is a kind of glue that binds a nation together, without which it would fall apart -- as indeed Austria-Hungary did, spurred on by a World War.
But the one lesson of history is this:
Longetivity smooths over the rough patches of life, and gives perspective.
And as my grandfather, he of the funny customs, once said:
If the monarchy can survive the Abdication of Edward VIII for a twice-divorced American hussy, it can survive anything.
At least, he got that right.
So Happy Birthday, ma'am.
May you live long enough to send yourself a congratulatory telegramme when you turn 100.
FUN FACTS ABOUT ELIZABETH II
Nickname: Lilibet, because she couldn't pronounce "Elizabeth" as a kid
Favourite Television Programme: Kojak
Favourite activities: Dog-calling (the ancient art of guiding dogs to track fallen game); crossword puzzles, the devilishly difficult Sunday Times one, which she is said to finish in less than 10 minutes; gossiping with Palace servants; reading PD James, Dick Francis and other murder mysteries (she especially liked Agatha Christie, and her favourite is said to be Roger Ackroyd, which was inspired by an idea to Christie, by Lord Louis Mountbatten); sent her first email, via a British Army base, in 1976!
Favourite Prime Minister: Harold Wilson, because he made her laugh -- in fact, most of her Labour PMs have been her favourites, and her Tory ones, the least
Favourite Tipple: A sloe-gin fizz
Best Sign You've Upset Her: She twirls her wedding band around, glares at you with her ice-blue eyes, and clams up. Her children call this, her "Miss Piggy" look
Royal Firsts: First female British Royal to learn to drive a car. First to be seen in trousers publicly. First Queen to use the mild, but still coarse epithet "bloody" in public (in Australia, about the bloody wind), although her grandmother, the redoubtable Queen Mary, once replied to a sailor when he asked her if she would ever take another long cruise on a ship -- "buggered if I will"
Funniest Use of "EIIR" Royal Monogramme: On the toilet paper rolls in Windsor Castle -- I know, I stole one