Thursday, 21 April 2016
Happy Birthday dear Que-een.
Ten years ago to the day I was living in France doing my "year abroad" as part of the language course I was following at Leeds University. I was amazed that, on the French TV1 news at 7am the lead item was: "Today the Queen of England is 80 years old." Why, I teased my French colleagues, was this of any interest at all, never mind the lead item, in this staunchly Republican nation? They replied that they were very interested in the British royal family, but pleased that we rather than they were paying for it.
So today the Queen is 90. Interestingly this was not the lead, but the third or fourth item on the Radio 4 news at 6am this morning. The first was something about the funding of GP practices, the second about some alleged fudging in the accounts of the Department of Defence in order to justify the claim that we spend 2% of GDP on it.
I'm well aware that, as a dedicated Liberal I should be a Republican and dismiss the concept of monarchy and the flummery surrounding it as outdated superstition. However, I take the view that, in the unlikely event of my doing something brave I'd rather receive my medal from one of the royal family rather than from some current or former politician such as Tony Blair, Ed Miliband or even Charles Kennedy - and if it were from Margaret Thatcher I should refuse it..
I would, however, like to see a scaled-down monarchy on the "bicycle" model, with fewer palaces (most could be opened to the public as museums), less invented ostentatious historicity such as the State Opening of Parliament, and a less close relationship with the armed forces. What a pity both William and Harry joined the army rather than VSO.
And I'd also like to see new words to the national anthem. Simply praying that the monarch will live a long time seems pretty banal, and a bit unfair. But not "Jerusalem" - that's superstitious myth as well. Maybe some suitable words about freedom, liberty and enfranchisement to the Archers' theme tune Barwick Green, by the Yorkshire composer Arthur Wood.
Quoi qu'il en soit ( a useful multi-purpose subjunctive for gaining a brownie point in French essays), Happy Birthday dear Que-een, Happy birthday to you."