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as a dedicated Liberal I should be a Republican and dismiss the concept of monarchy  and the flummery surrounding it as outdated superstition.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."


  1. Agree about GSTQ, particularly with its downright offensive verse about crushing rebellious Scots. However, I expect the whole question of the national anthem will not be reopened now until after Scottish independence forces a redefinition of the identity of the remainder of the island.

    In the case of Scotland it is likely that we will take the view that "Flower of Scotland" has served its purpose but that "Freedom come all ye" ( ) better reflects the image the new nation would want to project to the world and the relationship we want with our neighbours than recalling a 700 year old battle with one of them.

    As for England, it has numerous stirring regional anthems such as "Blaydon Races", "The Lincolnshire Poacher" and, of course, Yorkshire's "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at", but trying to think of something that unites it is a bit more difficult.

    If you will accept suggestions, The Jam's "English Rose" is a good option but may be too sentimental for some. Something more traditional like "Ye Mariners of England" is probably ruled out due to being penned by a Scot. So may I suggest Richard Thompson's "The New St George". It is written in a recognisably English folk style and there are contents of its lyrics that should appeal to patriots, liberals and socialists. ( [0.00 to 2.33] lyrics at (

    1. (Personally I like the bit about frustrating knavish tricks… and confounding politics doesn't sound too bad, sometimes, either)

    2. As I know to my cost, having led numerous camp-fires and sing-songs, "Ilkla Moor Baht 'At" is not good for singing as the range is too great. Start in a key in which the low notes are singable and the high notes are too high, and vice versa.

      I liked the words for "The New St George" but was not moved by the tune.

      For an English anthem I think the BBC, with "Early one Morning" in its UK theme, has had it right for years, but we'd need some suitable words. As for the UK, should it survive, I still favour the "Men of Harlech " tune with different words. Or, as a second choice, some suitable words to go with the "Non piu andrai" march from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro"

  2. Thanks, I'll look these up when I have more time.

    I'm hoping that we'll vote to "remain" and that there still be a UK with Scotland in it after the referendum, so I'm still looking for a better national anthem. I'm quite happy with the present tune: would just like more appropriate words.

    If we have a different tune as well, I rather fancy "Men of Harlech." This preference is probably influenced by my learning as a Boy Scout "The National Anthem of the Ancient Britons" which, reflecting on the fact that in those days we were clad only in blue dye (it must have been warmer then) began;

    What's the use of wearing braces,
    Vests and pants and boot with laces,
    Spats or hats you buy in places
    Down in Brompton Road?

    What's the use of shirts of cotton,
    Studs that always get forgotten?
    These affairs are simply rotten,
    Better far is woad."

  3. Ah, the Woad song. Having a rousing Welsh tune might help with inclusiveness should they decide to remain with Westminster.

    I also hope you vote to "remain" as well as us. The demographics of the YES and NO to independence voters in Scotland (no voters tend to be much older) makes independence more likely as time goes on. It would be in our best economic interests to become independent with the rest of the island also still inside the EU even if it means waiting some years longer. That is why after our general election, our government, should it be re-elected, will be making the positive case for "remain" throughout these islands including making a positive case for free movement of EU labour which politicians in the rest of the island seem notably reluctant to do. Did you know, for example, that EU immigrants contribute a net £55 per second to the public purse?

    Maybe an anthem should reflect the admirable qualities that a country has? What qualities do we, in the rest of the world, most admire about the English and Welsh? Well, two of the qualities we admire your humour and your willingness to get on with things in the face of adversity, often at the same time. So from that point of view, maybe Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" is not as daft an idea as it might sound at first?