Now, I’m no Royalist… let’s just leave the opening sentence at that for the time being. In my work as a choral singer, I have had to sing in the presence of royalty from time to time, but never in such close proximity as when The Queen (I’m supposed to say, ‘her majesty’ but sod that) came to visit Edinburgh’s less-than-illustrious Niddrie a few years ago.
She was attending a service at the Robin Chapel, a ‘peculiar’ place of worship built as a memorial to Robin Tudsbury who was killed in service in the last days of the 2nd World War. It seems he was known to Brenda and so, she popped in. As a member of the professional choir I was engaged to perform ‘God Save the Queen’ right in front of the very person God was being petitioned to save.
And God in ‘his’ infinite wisdom saved her, right there and then. Which was nice. Understandably, given my attitude to the Royalty (and my insistence on calling her ‘Brenda’) I wasn’t invited to be in the meet-and-greet line-up. I’m not sure what I’d say, but in my imagination, it may go something like this:
‘I’m a writer,’ I replied: ‘A poet’ –
resting on my imaginary laurels.
‘And is that lucrative?’ she asked.
‘Oh no! But I line my pockets
with villanelles, sestinas and sonnets.’
‘So what else do you do?’ she went on.
‘I’m a playwright,’ I proudly announce,
prompting her to question
if I’ve had anything performed lately.
‘No, but I bask in velvet curtain-calls
in the theatre of my show-biz bedroom.’
She raises a dubious eyebrow:
‘But have you ever been published?’
‘You might not find my novels in Blackwells,
on Amazon, or among the dewey-decimal delights,
but I’ve got shelves of scenarios,
characters, plots and locations waiting
to be “worded-in” with pen and ink,’
I tell her. ‘And you,’ I throw
the question back: ‘What do you do?’
‘Me?’ she answers: ‘I’m the Queen:
What d’you fucking think?’
When Carol Ann Duffy, our present poet Laureate, had her laurel wreath conferred upon her (and a sack of sherry or whatever it is she gets for writing sycophantic rhymes) she apparently had a chat with Brenda about poetry. “You know,” she said, “Your subject’s favourite poem is ‘If’ by Kipling?”
Quick as a flash (and to her credit) the Queen replied, “Well, I do hear he writes exceedingly good poems.” At times like this, despite my political inclinations, I have to say we could do far worse than our current monarch. Or to look at it another way, we couldn’t do much better.
As the country has, to some extent, been celebrating Brenda’s 90th birthday, many seem caught in a strange paradigm of her immortality. This delusion hasn’t many years to run, even if she lives to a hundred and one. There are many implications for future monarchs, and change is simply inevitable.
This will not go down well with those for whom dead tradition, establishment models, and in-born privileges are a part of an ingrained belief. Does that offer any hope? Somehow, I doubt it. Not while the two institutions over which she nominally rules – Government and Church – are in such disarray.
Here is my version of that odious, not exceedingly good, poem:
“If” – a paraphrase of the ‘Nation’s Favourite Poem’