Saturday, June 17, 2006

Trooping of the Colour for the Queen's 80th Birthday

Sometimes my husband can say things that stop me dead in my tracks. I was watching with detached fascination the trooping of the colour for the queen's official birthday. As he walked away I said, "Don't you want to watch this? After all, she's your queen."
And that's when he dropped the bombshell: "She's yours, too."

I had thought about a lot of things when deciding to marry him. I knew he came with cattle and an accent that most people in Indiana thought was cute but incomprehensible and a far flung extended family, but I never even thought about the fact that he came with a queen--sort of a Ginzu knives package deal. (OK, for my British friends, forgive the American pop cultural reference. Think late night shopping channel fervor and the worst of American high pressure marketing and you'll have all you need to catch the flavor of the phrase.)

I am still struggling to get my driver's license over here, so I have given only fleeting thoughts to acquiring a red passport. What does it mean to become a citizen of a country where you have a choice about it? I remember my friend Xuan struggling with that decision. She never intended to go back to Shanghai, but becoming a US citizen was a real stretch in a lot of ways for her. She finally resolved it in her mind by saying that she never agreed with everything that happened in her country of birth, so she shouldn't expect that in her adopted country. It made good sense. I never thought I would have to apply it in my own life.

So let me get back to the trooping of the colour. It is always a spectacle but today was remarkable (as the BBC informed me) for several things. But first, some back story. The queen's actual birthday is in April, but her grandfather (I think, Edward VII) decided that it was kind of a gyp for the people if the monarch had a birthday in one of the drearier seasons, so he made an official birthday in the summer so everyone could have a great party.

Normally reserved British women seem to put all their expressiveneness into very elaborate hats or hat-lets, large hair ornaments or tiny hats, in which they manage to compress a lot of material with exuberant feathers and rows upon rows of pastel organza or other prom gown fabric defying gravity. Among the Royals the only exception to this frothy head gear was Princess Anne who appeared to be dressed as a man in a Gilbert and Sullivan admiral's hat. She was a colonel of the parade or something so she rode a horse and apparently had to be dressed like that to fit her role. Remarkable also among the headwear are the bearskin hats worn by the guardsmen. (Controversy about their hats includes the fact that the bear fur is going to be real bear fur again rather than the synthetic they had been using.)

Today's celebration was noteable for the fact that the queen was given a feu de joi, a celebration of shooting guns somehow distinct from the 41-gun salute that she was also given. It was also notable because the flyover by the RAF contained more and more varied planes than ever before. It included their latest plane as well as a Spitfire that actually saw duty in the Battle of Britain.

Even with the BBC guiding me through every step of the way I lost track of Welsh troops doing a slow march to a Scottish medley and why the baton was given to the other drum major so that the first one could raise his sword and why it was that there were bands that played on horseback. Last year, one of the troops on parade today had been in Iraq. Another one of the troops there will be going to Afghanistan when they have finished their drilling tour of duty. If a prerequisite for becoming a citizen is to understand all this or appreciate it without any trace of irony, then I am going to be relegated forever to resident status.

I have actually begun to like the Queen. I had never really thought about her before, but looking at her today I thought that she was a hard working grandmother fretting about handing her responsibilities over to her somewhat disappointing son or untested grandchildren. For me, even harder than accepting the queen, will be accepting her son. I don't much care about the whole Pricess Di thing, but I am struggling with someone who has had all the money and privilege and seems still for all that to be, at best, mediocre. He and Camilla would be pretty good country lords--doing environmental things and farming and riding and local community events. I think he could do that well. Or mostly well.

Up here Prince Charles is known as the Duke of Rothesay and he and wife Camilla do attend local functions since he inherited his grandmother's responsibilties along with the Castle of Mey. It is the subject of much local gossip and cynical disappointment, but that says as much about the character of gossip as about the Duke's abilities.

More disconcerting to my mind are the recipients of the queen's awards. I don't know the difference between a CBE and an MBE. Some of each were given out on the occasion of her birthday, but one has sparked a controversy that even I have to appreciate as a genuine impediment to absolute affection for the queen. One of the recipients is the deputy police commissioner in London who is currently under investigation both for the killing of an innocent man in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings as well as a heavy-handed pre-dawn raid on two brothers' homes in which one was wounded.

I joke that I left the country rather than live under George Bush as president. Of course it is never that simple or that easy. Just to be even handed about it, I remind my British friends that Tony Blair looks up to and listens to Bush, which if they try teasing me too hard, I suggest is even worse. Sadly, both countries have much in common in the assault on individual liberties and visionless leadership. Is it an advantage to have a queen, a monarch who is, in theory, at least, not political?


At 12:59 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

I was moved by the image of the Queen standing all by herself next to the blank wall of a building at noon on the anniversary of the bombings, when the entire country observed a minute of silence. Her standing alone was what did it. Of course, there were probably guards very close to her. Even if it was deliberately staged that way, someone thought to show her alone.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

The queen has a sense of duty that her children do not seem to have to the same extent or maybe not the character to live it out. As with other people driven by duty this can make her admirable and terrible--sometimes all mixed into the same moment. I think her image catches that admirable quality.


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