It may have become apparent in the course of recent posts that I’m not exactly a card-carrying, flag-waving, forelock-tugging monarchist. But what set me on this course ? What traumatic event in my distant past ?
To answer that, we must take a journey back through time to the early 1970s. My home-town was having a year-long festival to celebrate the fact that it had been the venue of an important battle 500 years before – about the only thing that ever happened there – and someone had persuaded Mrs Windsor to distribute Maundy Money at the local church there that year.
Maundy Money ? One of those ancient customs that are now pretty obsolete but presumably continued because it makes it look like the monarch is working for their money. Royal Maundy is a religious service in the Church of England held on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.
At the service, the British Monarch or a royal official ceremonially distributes small silver coins known as Maundy Money as symbolic alms to elderly recipients. The coins are legal tender but do not circulate because of their silver content and numismatic value…well, actually they do circulate, you can buy them on eBay. I guess real cash in the bank beats symbolic alms every time.
Like many of my peers at that time I was a member of a paramilitary youth organization founded by an ex-soldier with imperialistic views. Once a week we would don uniforms and salute the flag. Ok… it was the Cub Scouts, but nevertheless we were told we were going to strut our stuff, such as it was, for Mrs Windsor.
I dont remember being particularly enthusiastic about it to start with, and my expectations dropped further when the great day dawned cold and grey. Standing around freezing my pre-pubescent bits off was not top of my list of things to do, especially as we had been ordered to wear short trousers. No-one wore short trousers in the Cubs normally, but apparently failure to do so on this occasion would have been an affront to the monarch in some unfathomable way. This minor fashion detail may well have been the planting of the first small seed of republicism.
So there we were, lined up behind the church, our green uniforms set off nicely by our increasingly blue-tinged skin. Then there’s a flurry of activity and there she was – Mrs. Windsor herself.
My first impression ? Well, I thought she’d be bigger. Even a few of our more gangly Cubs, myself included, seemed to tower over her.
Second impression ? Didn’t she look…I dunno…kind of dowdy ?
Ok, I know what you’re thinking – since when was a 10-year old, especially one wearing short trousers, considered an authority on sartorial elegance ? But that’s rather the point, I think. If even I was struck by the fact that, despite unlimited wealth, she looked a bit frumpy…I mean, she wasn’t even wearing a crown. I really felt she hadn’t put the effort in.
These two impressions were formed in a split-second, just before we were engulfed and completely hidden from the view of the midget monarch by a pack of cameramen, tv news, security men … I dont think the woman even saw us.
And then the circus passed on and that was that, leaving me with a distinct feeling of anti-climax and what I guess was the first symptoms of a case of Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome – we’d spent all morning hanging around and risking exposure for that ? Why ?
Once you’ve asked the all-important question “why ?” and started to think about it, there’s no going back, I guess, even for a frozen 10-year old in short trousers.