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The End Of An Era

The Queen is dead! Long live the King!

So went the cries around Britain, and for that matter, around the world yesterday with the news that 96 year-old Queen Elizabeth had passed away after an incredible 70 years of being on the throne. At long last, and 73, her son Charles finally becomes king.

When my stepson texted me the news midday yesterday, it didn’t come as a big surprise only because earlier I’d caught a bit of a TV morning news show that talked about how her doctors had issued a statement saying they were “concerned” for her health and that any of the Royals who seemed in good standing (that is to say, those besides Andrew, Harry or Meghan) had canceled all their plans and were rushing to her bedside in the Scottish Balmoral home. Her doctors typically notably never said they were concerned. Even when she was 95 and suffering from Covid, they merely issued some lukewarm news release about Her Majesty being told to rest for a couple of days and ease up on her schedule for the rest of the week. That sort of thing. To hear they were “concerned” was a not-too-subtle code for her days on the Earth were very numbered. But the news took most by huge surprise, even though she was…96. As the stepson’s text said, “I thought she was immortal. Have I been lied to?”

Joking, obviously, but the basic sentiment was shared by many. No wonder, she seemed like a fixture as constant as the Tower Bridge over there. Her mother lived to 102, and she grew up in an era with health care inferior to ours today. For the majority of people there, and elsewhere, she was the only British monarch in their lifetime. Eventually, despite the inevitability of death, one came to assume she would go on and on and outlive us all. It’s probably what I thought, albeit subconsciously.

I felt quite a range of emotions and thoughts about it. As a Canadian, she had been a big, albeit low-key presence in my life there. She was pictured on the back of all our coins. Her face was on the $20 bill. Many postage stamps. When I was a child, her photo, a young queen in royal furs and crown, was framed and on the wall of every public school classroom. Once in a blue moon, she’d come to Canada to visit and she’d be about all one would see on national news for the duration. Whether you like the person or not, it’s hard to imagine a world where that wasn’t going to be the case. I thought about my Dad, an avid coin collector, and how he’d have been excited at the prospect of new commemorative coins that are sure to be issued in good time and seeing a new design on the backs of quarters and loonies. A coin with Prince, err, “KING” Charles will probably look as phoney to Canucks as the brightly colored paper money does to Americans. Alas, my Dad preceded the Queen into the Great Beyond last year so he won’t be rifling through a pocket full of change looking for them. My dad was a constant in life; so too was the Queen. Now they’re both gone. That’s a little saddening for me.

I thought of my Mom as well. Only a couple of years younger than Elizabeth, she too passed away, a few years back. She was British and spent the first couple of decades of her life there. She wasn’t an ardent monarchist, but all in all figured they were a good institution. She was particularly impressed by the Queen because of her behavior in World War II. Rather than shelter away out of sight, young Elizabeth toured London after bombings, talking to people, and volunteered for the Army, driving trucks for them. That kind of solidarity with Her people didn’t go unnoticed and goes a ways toward explaining the loyalty shown towards her, if not all the Royal Family, by so many old-timers from there. Mom was a rarity in that she didn’t like Princess Diana. She wasn’t keen on this new king either, with his obvious carrying on with his mistress (now the new Queen it turns out) Camilla, but she thought Diana was too “common” for the role and demeaned the concept of royalty by being photographed in a bikini or going to rock concerts. I thought Diana did a great job of humanizing the family and helping good causes get noticed.

Back then, I was no fan of the Queen nor royalty. I didn’t like the idea of that kind of privilege being bestowed on someone merely because of their birth and having power without being voted for. I especially didn’t like that we in Canada had a picture of a foreign person on our money instead of an actual Canadian dignitary or hero.

I’m still not a big fan of the concept of royalty, but as I’ve matured, I see it through less hostile eyes. And I must say, I’d become something of an admirer of QEII. I wrote about it two years back, actually, in reference to the show The Crown which I have been a fan of; a semi-fictionalized look back at her life and times. I wrote then that perhaps – just perhaps – it wasn’t the worst idea having some body overseeing the elected government, just in case they got too out of control. And as for Elizabeth, she was “an ordinary woman asked to do extraordinary things.” Indeed, the show made me realize that the role of Queen was in many ways a burden…and one she would have preferred not to shoulder when she was young. She was a fun-loving, country girl – a rich one, make no mistake – who liked being on farms, riding horses, going on grouse hunts, wearing wading boots and so on. She was thrust into a world of official parties, openings, world tours to shake hands and smile. Wear the crown, both literally and figuratively. In one telling and fun clip of her shown on many news reports yesterday, an elderly Elizabeth is asked about the official crown and she says it weighs “about three pounds”, and when asked if that was comfortable, she laughed a little and with no hesitation replied emphatically “No!”. What a daft question, you could almost imagine her thinking. She was a real person it turns out, a mother worrying about her wayward kids and doting on the little grandkids and great-grandchildren, wanting to spend more time with them and her dogs…and less on official business. But she did what was expected of her, and did it well. At times it couldn’t have been easy, like recently when she made the decision to essentially “fire” her own son Andrew and turf him out of the family for his behavior and association with criminal Jeffrey Epstein, but she did it anyway. She had an undeniable sense of dignity about her.

A constant presence no longer present. And a role model of putting duty ahead of herself and her own desires… a lesson very many politicians these days could do well to learn and adopt if they are to continue “serving”. An imperfect woman to be sure, but one who tried and helped steady her land. That will be missed.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

The Crown – Story Of Queen Royally Good Drama, Maybe Not Such A Joker Of An Idea?

My sweetie and I have been watching The Crown this past month. We got to the current end of the series and are now counting the days until the new, fourth season begins in November.

For the uninitiated (which would have included me until a few weeks ago), the Crown is a Netflix series based on the life of Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth II to be precise, there was a previous one some four centuries earlier. The first three seasons begin by seeing her childhood, with her father (George VI) being thrust into the role of king when her uncle David (who was King Edward… don’t ask me why “Edward”) abdicated – quit – to marry a woman the family, and Church of England, didn’t approve of. George VI is a decent-ish man but a chain smoker and he soon dies of lung cancer. In what the country would have considered the ideal situation, he would have had a son, but instead left two daughters, so the eldest, Elizabeth became queen while barely out of her teenage years. Ironically it was a role her younger sister, Margaret coveted and Elizabeth didn’t want, preferring “country life” riding and selling horses. To her, the crown’s something of a burden. Small wonder “crown” and “anchor” are linked together so often.

We see her develop into the role of Queen, come to understand its gravitas but also lose a bit of her own soul and self in doing so. We see her as a steadying presence in a country losing prestige in the world, but also a somewhat powerless one as a succession of prime ministers come and go and make decisions she often disagrees with but puts up with, because, well, that’s what The Crown does. From time to time we see small victories the Queen and her kin have; Margaret securing a huge “bailout” loan from the U.S. after a night of un-regal drinking and dancing with President Johnson in the ’60s, Elizabeth herself nudging a reluctant, frail and failing Winston Churchill into retirement when he was no longer up to the job’s demands. But for the most part, it’s a life and job of sitting politely and doing little. Where we’ve left off, the ’70s are rolling, her son Charles is stuck on Camilla Bowles but Diana hasn’t arrived on the scene and other son Andrew is just a lad, not the infamous “Randy Andy” who befriended Jeffrey Epstein. I’m more than a little curious to see her reaction (at least the show’s interpretation of it) to those events.

It might seem a weird one for me to get hooked on watching. I grew up in Canada, which is part of the “British Commonwealth” but has little real association with the UK these days. Nevertheless, growing up I saw the Queen’s face on every coin I used, most of the paper money and many of the stamps I put on letters… some of which were probably railing about how much I despise seeing a foreign leader on our money! No fan of the monarchy am I. It’s not so much that I ever really had it in for Elizabeth (watching the series only confirms she is an ordinary woman asked to do extraordinary things) but merely the two facts that she was from another country, not mine, and she wasn’t even picked by the people over there! Democracy people! Let the people pick the leaders.

That was how I felt. Now, in this insane year, I might be re-evaluating the idea. Hey, I still have a problem with someone being leader just because of the family they were born into. But I might be coming to see that Britain might have something going there with its two-part balance of power. Like the rest of us, Canada, the U.S., most other “civilized” lands, it still has its elected leader (a prime minister in their case) and the hundreds of elected politicians in Parliament, their equivalent to American Congress. That’s where the real power lies, where laws are made and changed, national budgets set and policies created. But then, quietly sitting there, taking it all in, is the other part, the monarchy. Sitting, politely waving once in awhile, not saying much in public beyond “Happy Christmas” every December 25th.

But, behind the scenes a force which can potentially influence a wayward government and could theoretically, change it. Laws there still give the Queen the “power to appoint and dismiss ministers (as in heads of branches of the government), regulate the Civil Service, issue passports, declare war or make peace, direct the military and negotiate and ratify treaties and alliances.” All that and be the official owner of all the swans in the country! That’s a lot of unused power. And maybe not such a bad system of checks and balances.

It all comes to mind because more and more, it’s becoming apparent that democracy as we know it, although better than the alternatives, isn’t working all that well. Lindsay Graham sits in Washington piously declaring in 2016 that it would be wrong to appoint a Supreme Court judge only nine months before an election and that if it happened in 2020 we should use his words against him. Now he’s blithely declaring they can do so, only six weeks before an election, so they will. And of course, the Democrats don’t shine by warning that if the Republicans follow through on that, they’ll simply expand the court to their advantage as soon as they can. Get your kids to take a high school law class parents, because if it keeps up, by 2028 Supreme Court judge might be one of the big growth jobs. (“Oh yeah, appoint four more judges will you!? Well when we win the next election, we’re going to put in 200 of our friends and make it a court of 213! Bazinga”). My Canada has long had a similar problem with elected government stacking the inexplicably unelected Senate with partisan patsies often quite unqualified for the role.

Add to that a sitting president urging his followers to vote twice – a criminal offense – to scuttle an election and make it null and void and an increasing number of voters getting their info from entirely unreliable sources (mainly social media posts) and one has to wonder where it’s all heading. Suddenly the concept of having an overseeing body watching it all, mainly observing passively, maybe yellling at a few dunces behind the scenes but ready to if necessary pull the carpet out from underneath any government that gets to be too delinquent or self-indulgent might not be a bad idea after all.

Of course,it’s still an unrealistic idea outside of Jolly Ol. They’ve had the concept and the practise of a ruling royal family for centuries and that’s the way it is. Having them requires nothing more than a bit of inertia and the occasional rolling of one’s eyes. Over here, we have no such tradition and needless to say, trying to install one would do little more than perhaps manage to miraculously unite the two polarized parties in Washington in outright frothing anger at the suggestion. Although the Kennedy’s have long been nicknamed “America’s Royal Family”, they aren’t and if we can’t agree on whether it’s OK not to stand during the national anthem or not, we sure as H-E-double- hockey sticks won’t be agreeing to a change of that magnitude. Who would get to be “the crown.”

Unrealistic? Yep. But a starting point in the discussion on how to “fix” democracy perhaps. By the way, I can sit and watch from the sidelines…just sayin’! I wouldn’t mind owning some swans…

Does The Only Queen We Need Sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”…Not Live In A Palace?

I would have expected more of the royal family.” So said achy Emma Fairweather, complaining loud and wide to the British media about her broken wrist, which could have been much worse, after the car she was in was smashed into by the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Fairweather was a passenger in a car driving along a British highway when it was broadsided at high speed by a Land Rover, driven by Prince Philip. 97 year old Prince Philip. Witnesses to the crash say that Fairweather’s car clearly had the right of way, and was traveling under the posted 60 mph limit, when the Land Rover sped out of the driveway from the royal Sandringham Estate and smashed into her without slowing. The dazed royal driver took about ten minutes to regain his wits, and said he was blinded by sunlight, which Fairweather doubts. It was, according to her ,“overcast”. Photos taken minutes later at the scene would suggest her weather report was more accurate than the prince’s. The same witness does say the prince eventually asked if everyone was OK and headed towards the other car before being stopped by guards or police. A mere 48 hours later, papparazi snapped him again behind the wheel, sans seat belt. The police say they gave him “advice” on safe driving but of course, no charges have been laid. Do you want to be the traffic cop writing out a warrant for the Queen’s hubby?

Fairweather says neither the Prince nor the Royal family have even said sorry. “What would it have taken for him and the queen to send me a card and a bunch of flowers,” she wonders.

Fair question and one which leads to a lot more questions. Like should any 97 year old be motoring around freely? Drunk driving is illegal because being impaired dulls your reflexes and cognitive powers. I hate to say it, but nature does exactly that to very old people. No 97 year old is going to be able to make quick snap judgments and react properly when motoring along at 60 clicks.

Moreover, it makes me wonder why the Prince is driving himself around anyway. The U.S. president, far younger and hopefully more mentally acute, is famously not allowed to drive himself (or herself should a woman ever gets there) around. That’s what the Secret Service is for.

Indeed, perhaps some would applaud Philip for being independent and driving himself where he wants, when he wants.Like an ordinary guy. Problem is, he is no ordinary guy – which leads us to the paradox which shows why royalty is outdated and pointless.

The royals whole point is that they aren’t the same as us. Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton are pretty and from most accounts, entirely lovely young women. But as princesses, if I was a Brit, I wouldn’t want to be standing in the checkout line behind them as they buy tampons. The young princes – William and Harry- both have done some fine charity work and might be very decent young men, but they aren’t ordinary dudes. I don’t want to have them in the neighborhood bar throwing darts and spilling Newcastle Brown Ale on their Levis with the locals who are coming off their shift in the coal mines. If the Queen is supposed to be something above the rest of us, then she should be sitting in some Disney castlein London, wearing a big crown, waving to commoners and adoring tourists, Monday to Friday. Not donning a frock and going shopping at Marks and Spencer’s. And her husband shouldn’t be driving an SUV recklessly around. He should be in some sort of golden pumpkin, being transported along by a team of white stallions.

It’s a paradox. The more the royals try to prove they’re just like us, the more they prove they’re irrelevant. If they’re ordinary average guys and gals, why does the country give them huge estates, riches and jewels to wear? If they are something of a privileged elite class born to rule over everyone else, they should act like they’re something special… and be prepared to answer a lot of questions as to why their DNA gives them some sort of birthright to rule over all the rest.

Prince Philip is 97. He’s said that badly made items “look like they were made by an Indian” and publicly worried that English students visiting Asia might come back “slanty-eyed.” He’s an anachronism from another age, one most of us would rather turn the page on. Which is kind of representative of the whole concept of “royalty”.