Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Queen... and Monarchy

It's not surprising to me that I should be writing something about Her Majesty the Queen, with so much colourful stimulation prompting us last weekend. It does surprise me that I have not written a poem or two, because I have been very moved by some of the things we've seen. But hey, that's creative life, or is it more than that?

Copyright John Anstie 2012
I feel that I am writing something that addresses more than just the pageant, the colour, the magnificently organised ceremonies and events (only we can do this so well and with such style), the street parties, the visual and audible nature of the celebrations. No, I am going to nail my colours to the mast, colours, I might add, that I've held close for most of my adult life.

I believe in the importance of the monarchy as it exists today and as it has existed for the past sixty years; in the way it has developed during the reign of HM QE2, which spans the vast majority of my lifetime - I was a wee tot when HM KG6 died.

I am going to try and defend this, but I am not necessarily going to employ lots of reason, philosophical and intellectual gymnastics in the process. I'm rather going to do so by gut feeling, by emotion, by instinct. However, before you dismiss all this flag waving as irrational emo (isn't that cool street talk?), I perhaps need to explain my belief in a certain aspect of the human condition, which it is important to understand.

This is that we are essentially emotional animals. My life's experience has taught me in several different ways, and in several different departments, that we are thus, irrefutably so. Starting out in my life, my education and my early career programmed me as a scientist and an engineer. This early influence is still with me today and informs many aspects of my life, particularly when it comes to problem solving. Its downside is that it affected my thinking to the point where I felt I had to analyse everything I did, every decision I made to the 'n'th degree, to the point where I sometimes ended up in a state of high anxiety, incapable of making a decision! For things that are important, I still do analyse carefully, particularly in life affecting financial decisions, but I was once informed by someone with a certain financial expertise that, even in the financial sphere,  decision-making on the Stock Markets is 90% emotion and 10% reason! Now is that scary or what! I do think the emotion here is inextricably linked to instinct, but, whatever it is, it is not what you'd expect.

Anyway, I digress, slightly; but, as I go on, don't forget the emotion, the instinct bit.

Behind every one of us is an influence, a whole host of influences. These include every aspect of our upbringing, education, life experiences and particularly our long term relationships. Mine were very conservative (with the 'c' in both lower and upper case!). So I grew up believing in and respecting the monarchy and very normal middle class conservative values and aspirations, many of which still hold me in good stead today. I didn't grow up feeling envy and in need, although we were not well off by any stretch of the imagination and a whole bundle of domestic difficulties tainted the second and part of the third decades of my life with unhappiness and uncertainty, although that in itself is not a particularly unusual human experience. I feel that very few of us will have led perfectly enchanted lives, and I only write about these things because I believe they do inform our views on the privileged classes.

I was blessed with comfortably above average intelligence, even though emotional strain impaired my ability to concentrate and therefore comprehend during my teenaged years. I have therefore always had to work very hard for all that I got out of my working life. I married a woman who is at least my equal in those departments of intelligence and hard work, which was the beginning of a long road to recovery.

So these were my influences. I tell you about them simply because, I hope, it helps you see how my opinion formed; how I, like most people, may not be what I at first seem to be. The fact that recently, I have found myself veering slightly towards the left hand end of the political spectrum, has been influenced by the effects, particularly over the past five years, of my observation of the unbelievable behaviour of some investment bankers and, worse still, by the disastrous influence that 'speculators' have been allowed to wield on the financial markets, on economies and whole nations. Above all what has disappointed me, even upset me, is the fact that the present and past governments have been too slow to address these misdeeds, but then I think we all know very clearly why they haven't; they are weak and frail human beings, who are unprepared to stand up to reality, just like most of the human race!

So I believe unequivocally in the monarchy as it stands, because it has provided a largely unchanging and constant anchor to keep our inherent culture rooted with an oh, so subtle, but significant common purpose. This is particularly what HM QE2 has achieved for the country. She has not been a contrary Mary, locking protestant detractors up in the Tower, torturing them and cutting off their heads. She has not ransacked churches, cathedrals and monasteries to wage war on the Roman Catholic church. She has not retreated behind closed doors in dereliction of her duties.

That the Royal family attracts tourism and business in many ways is undoubted. That she has championed the Commonwealth of Nations, which has had a largely unrecognised influence on how we have coped with our new multi-cultural society, and has steered a course through some difficult times during her reign and evolved as a monarch is undoubted, but there is something more fundamental, something far greater in the scale of human achievement, something more important that wins my vote more securely than any of this.

If you saw any of the celebrations in London and all around the country, you cannot fail to have noticed the masses of people who lined the streets and waved their union jacks. Hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of people were not hand-picked and marshalled or dragooned into the streets (North Korea take note); they were not brainwashed by a massive sinister PR machine. They were all there by their own choosing, and not just for a good party! There is a strong undercurrent of loyalty that cements us together, there is a kind of voluntary fealty that transcends all political allegiances, that is at the core of our sense of community in this country. It is almost beyond reason, at least beyond popular rationale, but yet it isn't beyond my understanding of the human condition, driven as it is by powerful emotion and a need to work together.

I think it's fare to say that most of us are tired, not to say heartily sick of the self-interest, greed and corruption, with which so many of the systems of economic and political management seem to be afflicted. The monarchy does stand above this and stands for values that I think are very clear - and I'm not talking about financial values, so, for a moment, set aside the visual surface of monarchy, which we sometimes see daubed with extravagant dress and jewellery. Instead think of the values that are beyond financial measurement. In the fullness of time, their possessions and landed wealth cannot truly belong to them, they belong to the Nation; members of the Royal Family are merely custodians of it all. They are unlikely to sell off Buckingham Palace to raise funds to buy into a property development in Chelsea, or speculate for or against the value of currency movements somewhere else in the world, like Greece!

If you can rise above the feeling we all inevitably have from time to time, that feeling of envy and try another perspective, one which looks at the long term and how immediate members of the Royal Family are tied to their duties, it becomes easier to get a more reasonable perspective. OK, there are some very privileged so-called 'hangers-on', around the periphery of the immediate family, who may need to do more to earn their keep, to say nothing of all those lesser aspiring members of the middle classes, the social climbers, who would wish to elevate their status and associate themselves with the Royal Family, but who never will. They do need to get a life as soon as they can, rather than find out, all too late, that their destiny is far more humble, and their old pride is too stiff to cope.

And finally, as we kick and scream against the rising retirement age, let us remember how HM QE2 hasn't retired yet. She has been performing her duties day in day out, week in week out, month in month out, year in year out, decade upon decade... for sixty years; SIXTY YEARS!

The next monarch, probably HM KC3, has got a lot to live up to, albeit he has already reached retirement age, so will not start young, but HM QE2 will be a hard act to follow. As a result of her extraordinary efforts, The Royal Family, at least that part of it that is close to her, is the envy of many people in many parts of the world.

Copyright John Anstie 2012
So, for those of you so inclined, don't knock her any more. As it is, there are enough dark clouds hanging over the future of this country's constitutional, political and economic shape, so let's try to stand up straight and, in the words of Eric Idle, writing years ago for Monty Python, try to look on the bright side and maybe, just maybe, we will learn to see and appreciate what a constant, solid, consistent gem of an institution we have in the Queen and the present Royal Family. They will, all too soon, be faced with more challenges and change, when they will need our support.

I say God save the Queen.. and help us to understand what is good for us, what works, and, in the process, avoid killing the goose that laid the golden egg. If we sack the monarchy, there would be no voting them back in again, if it failed, or if a Republican style President became a touch too tyrannical! 

And you think that couldn't happen to us... in this country ..? Think again!

(In case you do feel the need for some poetry to mark the occasion I give you this. It is not by me, but by the talented Louise Hastings, soon to be published by Winter Goose.)

Thank you for reading.