Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Imagine you are twenty-six years old. You are taken aside and told that your job has been decided for you. You may have no say in where you live, or what you do from now on. Your daily life will be mapped out in increments, inscribed in intricate official diaries, drawn up by other people. You may not carry money. No one, except for members of your very close family, will ever call you by your name. Your every move will be scrutinised. You must weigh each word before you utter it, lest you carelessly cause a scandal or a constitutional crisis. You will never again be able to ride on a bus or hail a cab or cycle down a city street. You cannot nip down the shops for a packet of fags. Your first question on meeting anyone will be a variant on: 'Where do you come from?'. You will spend an inordinate amount of time with Lord Mayors and other dignitaries. Everyone who ever meets you will be on their best behaviour, which means the likelihood of antic conversation and good jokes are vanishingly small. Nothing you ever do, ever again, may be on a whim.

This is why I love the Queen. I know she has palaces and some nice horses and a few jewels, but I would not wish that constrained life on my most devout enemy. I used to take the easy, fashionable view that the whole lot of them were a bunch of worthless showers; now I am older I think, perhaps it is not quite that simple. Anyway, I salute Her Majesty and all who sail in her.

The awful thing is, that I am now such an old fart, I also rather love the State Opening of Parliament, which happened this morning. I love the ripples of history that run through it. The Yeomen of the Guard must search the basement of the Palace of Westminster, because of Guy Fawkes. It's only four hundred years since a band of plotters tried to blow the place up, who knows when they might try again? I love that the Cap of Maintenance must be delivered, to remind us that once monarchs craved the blessing of the Pope, until Henry VIII got jiggy with it and decided to put an end to all that. I love that the door must be slammed in Black Rod's face, forcing him to knock three times in acknowledgement of the supremacy of the lower House, in a particular reminder of the moment in 1642 when Charles I attempted to have five members of the Commons arrested. I like that we still have a Lord Great Chamberlain, after 900 years, and that he gets to dress in this amount of fabulous frogging:


It's all absurd, really, but it's wonderful at the same time. It is so much more aesthetically pleasing than men in suits in black motorcades.

I missed the beginning, but I turned on the BBC just in time to see the Queen leaving. I was delighted to witness the Imperial Crown, on its own special cushion, and the Sword of State being taken back to the Tower of London, in the Queen Alexandra state coach, accompanied by the Crown Jeweller and the Barge Master. I did not know we had a Barge Master, but I am very reassured to hear it. The barges must be mastered. I wonder if it is a job one could apply for? I quite fancy being Mistress of the Barges.

The imperial crown from Number 10 flickr feed

I caught a happy glimpse of the state coach and two troops of Household Cavalry taking up half of Whitehall, the spanking black horses gleaming in the late spring sun.

The Household Cavalry accompanies the Queen home via The Telegraph

The Queen's coach makes its way down the Mall by Dan Kitwood

The Queen's Coach leaving parliament by the EPA

I do have a soft spot for a fellow in a really good uniform, so you can imagine how happy all this made me.

The Queen in her coach Andy Rain

(I do hope someone mixes old Queeny a socking great dry martini when she gets home.)

Along with all the circumstance and pomp, I love the slight irreverence with which the British press greets the event. 'Her Maj delivering speech' went one caption in The Sun. Ann Treneman tweeted: 'Am counting tiaras. It's my job. Amazing bling.' The Times reported that the Imperial State Crown 'looks in fine fettle and very sparkly'.

For all the jokes, and we are right to make them (great British sin: taking oneself too seriously), the whole event is a rather stirring spectacle. I know that we are just a small, crowded island in the North Sea; we no longer have much clout in the world. Last week, I read about an official from the State Department in America saying: 'There's nothing special about Britain. You're just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.' It was brutal, and not very mannerly, but not entirely untrue. I don't like jingoism or exceptionalism, although when I am feeling cranky I do think: we have SHAKESPEARE, so everyone else can just bugger off. But for all our reduced role on the global stage, boy, can we do ceremony. It's not the cure for any of the world's ills, but it's not nothing.


(Photographs by Allen Warren; Number 10 Flickr feed; The Telegraph; Dan Kitwood; the EPA; Andy Rain.)


  1. I love the tradition your country has and the Queens is just lovely.
    I really enjoyed reading this post.

    :) Marcie

  2. She does bear the constraints with apparently astonishing grace, and for that, I must also admit to a tiny fondness for her. The State Opening of Parliament is one of the best of our ceremonies, and yet, even as I was reading about it today, I was wondering 'How much does it cost? Who pays for it? How much less would we have to take out of the Health and Education budgets if we just didn't do this, but had the PM stand up in the Commons and tell us what the government plans to do?' Probably not a noticeable amount, but I couldn't help wondering.
    And still, I am fond of old Brenda.
    Lovely post, as always.

  3. Marcie - thank you so much. Always feel slightly shy about admitting late-blooming love for our own dear queen.

    Mona - Do agree about mad cost, but if it were some president and entourage, I don't think it would be so much cheaper and it would undoubtedly be drabber. Imagine no changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. (So much for my younger radical self.)

  4. Tania,
    You've so eloquently summed up the whole dilemma. I'm immensely moved by the whole pomp and circumstance thing, but I can't justify it on any rational, political or emotional grounds. Nevertheless, I think we'd be a worse place without it.

  5. Sharon - actually, I think YOU have just summed it up. The whole thing is not rational, but even though I am a proud child of the Enlightenment, I think we all need a dash of the irrational with our reality. Perhaps that is exactly why the whole glorious absurdity pleases me so.

  6. Those men in suits in their black motorcades are slightly sinister, I think. The Queen, the parade, the ceremony are all quite reassuring of stability and continuity. I must say I've become much more royalist as I've got older having had republican tendencies in my youth. (I live in NZ.) The Queen, or any of the royal family as head of state is infinitely preferable to some of the ghastly people who could be foisted upon us in NZ as heads of state (presidents?) should we become a republic.

  7. Thanks for posting this Tania, I have to say I agree with other comments, it doesn't seem rational or make sense but then most of life's great joys defy logic !

    As for the rather obtuse American comment, I do often wonder how such a tiny island with lets face it not great weather, a smattering of natural resources and a challenging history can have made such an impact on the world - linguistic, scientific, literary.

    I know it may not be our finest hour at the moment but as they say there must be something in the water as once in a while we Brits deliver something or someone utterly ground breaking and marvellous. I hope the Queen had a belter of a martini too - she must be the High Priestess of smalltalk. She is also a still married mum of four with a job that carries sure tons of perks but a serious payoff in her personal freedom.

    Beautiful photos as always. xx

  8. Kay - can't tell you how exciting it is for me to have a reader all the way from New Zealand.

    Belgravia Wife - do so agree. Feel oddly proud of tiny island doing sometimes remarkable things. Then have to check self for any traces of chauvinism, in a very British way.

    Are you actually in Belgravia? Can you see the Queen driving past if you lean out of your window?


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