The Queen 1926 – 2022

Last Thursday, September 8th, 2022, for one brief unreal moment, the world gasped, and we all tried to figure out what we were feeling.  Elizabeth II had died.  It was that simple — yet completely unnatural.  For every person on this planet (and that’s not an exaggeration) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Queen.  She was not a queen, one of many queens, although there are still many queens in the world.  She was The Queen – universally recognized.  This is partially to do with the enduring power of the British monarchy – nearly 2,000 years old – but mostly it’s to do with the Queen herself.  For over seventy years she studiously cultivated her position in the world.

In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, Britain was still an imperial power.  Winston Churchill, who had served Queen Victoria, was the Prime Minister of Britain and Harry S Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri, was President.  He was the last President who did not have a university degree.  Joseph Stalin, a peasant from Georgia, was the ruthless master of the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao, a librarian from Hunan, ruled China.  Joe Biden was 10 years old but Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Liz Truss weren’t even born yet.

People wrote letters to each other.  Telephones were attached to the wall, and long distance calls were an event.  People still sent telegrams.  In 90% of the British Commonwealth (as it was called) television was an intriguing rumour.  Most people didn’t fly, and great distances were covered in boats and trains.

Computers were electronic monsters that filled whole rooms with their whirring and buzzing.  They were run by geniuses and mountains of hole-punched paper cards.

In 1952, the majority of Queen Elizabeth’s British subjects earned (in American dollars) less than $250.00 per month.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were outrageously expensive out of season, and there was no such thing as fast food.

In 1952, walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction; Sir Edmund Hillary hadn’t even walked on Mount Everest.  Although transistors had been invented by Bell Laboratories in 1947, it would take Sony, a Japanese company that didn’t exist yet, three more years to commercially market the Transistor Radio.

In 1952, Queen Elizabeth was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and nobody thought that sounded strange.

In 1952, automobiles didn’t have seatbelts.  Cyclists didn’t wear helmets, and consumer products didn’t come with warning labels.  There were repair shops for household items.  Doctors made house calls, and lawyers didn’t advertise.

In 1952, the world was halfway through the 20th century.  The good old days were vanishing and our contemporary society was just being born.

It is a testament to Her Majesty that, despite the upheavals of a world that now seems to be spinning faster than most of us can understand, she maintained an unassailable dignity. For over seventy years, she represented the best of what we are supposed to be.  Quietly and continually, she did what was expected of her, not perhaps what she herself wanted to do.  She spent a lifetime dedicated to her task — without comment or complaint or the flares of ego so common these days.

Few, if any, institutions have survived intact from 1952.  They’ve all been swept away by history.  Yet, Queen Elizabeth II (even in death) remains The Queen.

When Harry Met Meghan – Epilogue

harry

As the world churns (yes, that’s a hopeless TV reference; get used to it!) with airplanes falling out of the sky, impeachment hearings, Putin seriously off the rails and polar bears poaching in the sun, the big news across the globe is what’s going to happen to Harry and Meghan.

Disclaimer:  I am a hopeless monarchist, and I’ve always been in Harry’s corner (even when he dressed up as a Nazi) so it’s more in sadness than anger that I lampoon this two-ring circus.

Apparently, Harry, the Englishman formerly known as a Prince and Ms. Markle (former “briefcase girl” on Deal or No Deal) don’t want to be royals anymore.  It’s just too difficult for them.  This intolerable situation has caused them to seriously reflect on their role as A-listers on the world’s media stage.  They want to “take a step back” from the drudgery of photo-ops and ribbon cuttings.  They want to find their own “financial independence.”  And they want a chance at “a normal life.”  Not to worry though: they’re not going to give up being the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (they’re currently trademarking that brand.)  They just don’t wanna waste their time on the royal responsibilities that come with the title.  In “normal life” terms, what that means is “Okay, when grandma’s dishing out the cookies, let us know, but we’re not going to hang around and help her clean the oven.”

For the last couple of years, the world has been fascinated by the Harry and Meghan Royal-ity TV series (Season 1 – The Wedding, Season 2 – Here Comes Archie) but so far in Season 3, the story arc has gone a little flat.  After all, Harry’s not the heir; he’s the spare, so there’s not a whole lot of drama there.  And Archie’s cute and all that, but a 7th in line cousin is not necessarily tabloid news.  Meanwhile, Meghan’s media presence has disappeared entirely.  Even the bitchy stuff isn’t getting much ink these days.  The truth is Harry and Meghan might impress the likes of Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney (Ya gotta ask, though, would they have showed up at the wedding of second banana TV star, Meghan Markle, if it wasn’t for Harry?) but in the rare air of royal affairs, it’s William and Kate who carry the big stick.  From here on, Harry and Meghan are going to be trotted out for Ascot, hospital openings in Sheffield, Eastern European funerals and that’s about it.  They may have decided to “take a step back” from the limelight, but the reality is it’s already getting pretty dim.

I don’t actually care if Harry and Meghan trash it all and open a bed and breakfast on Vancouver Island.  Knock yourself out.  But what the hell does ‘a normal life” look like to someone who’s negotiating with two national governments, Canada and Britain, to figure out which one is going to pay for the bodyguards?  I don’t care how you slice the Gateau des Rois, that’s not “normal.’  Here’s the deal.  Harry’s accident of royal birth and more importantly, Meghan’s accident of royal marriage have given them both a ton of advantages that they can’t ever switch off.  If they don’t understand that, they’re totally out of touch with the real world.  If they do understand it, this latest semi-royal proclamation is simply grandstanding.  Personally, I think it’s a little bit of both.

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria!

queen-victoria

Today is Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday!  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Queen Victoria is William and Harry’s great-great-great-great-grandmother.  She reigned in Britain when Britain ruled the world.  She was the most influential woman of her time (by a nautical mile) and therefore has been both loved and hated by history.  Currently, thanks to PBS and Judy Dench, she’s enjoying a personal renaissance, and some have even bestowed upon her the saintly title of early feminist.  However, I’m old enough to remember a time when she was considered the embodiment of every uptight, sexually repressed, socially regressed, narrow-minded, bigoted, colonial attitude that was wrong with our world.  In fact, not so many years ago, calling someone “a Victorian” was an insult.  Popular culture is history’s master, and even though history does not change, the people who write about it do – regularly.

The truth is, there is no one verifiable truth about Queen Victoria.  At various times during her reign, she was both adored and scorned, lauded and mercilessly lampooned.  She was frequently cheered in the streets but also survived 8 assassination attempts.  As a constitutional monarch, she had no legitimate power, yet through her ministers and her family, she influenced events in Britain, Europe and around the world for over half a century.  It isn’t called the Victorian Age for nothing!

The reason our appreciation of Queen Victoria gyrates so wildly is that our world prefers simple, expedient answers.  We don’t like nuances and generally resort to: good people do good things; bad people are sinister and “never the twain shall meet.”  Unfortunately, Queen Victoria doesn’t fit into that neat package.  She used her influence and the British navy to fight the slave trade, yet believed it was Britain’s God-given duty to colonize and civilize the world.  She encouraged legislation that successively gave women better education and employment opportunities, property ownership and even divorce and child custody rights; yet she believed gender equality was “a mad, wicked folly.”  She supported the Reform Act that extended the vote to most working men — even though it eroded her royal power.  She rode on a railway when it was still considered dangerous.  She used chloroform in childbirth when religious leaders were preaching that it was against God’s will.  She was an early advocate of the telegraph, photography and, in later years, the telephone and electric lighting.  Yet, despite her great admiration for science, she still believed she was Queen by “divine providence.”  And even though she was the secular head of the Church of England, she employed Protestants, Catholics, Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims in the Royal Household, and, for years, stubbornly campaigned for (and eventually achieved) religious freedom throughout the British Empire.

In contemporary times, we have the luxury of hindsight and the leisure to judge, and we’ve judged Queen Victoria rather harshly.  Generally, she’s still seen as the reigning queen of a nasty world of Dead Europeans who, by their thoughts, words and deeds, were sinister.  Actually, history isn’t that tidy.  The truth is Queen Victoria was neither a pioneering feminist nor a blood-spattered imperialist; she was simply a person of her time.  She did the best she could with what she had to work with — and it takes a lot of arrogance to criticize anybody for that.