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