The organisers of the Queen's visit to Ireland next month won't be getting any medals for tact. Were they right to prepare an itinerary that takes Her Maj into Dublin's Garden of Remembrance with its beautiful statue of falling soldiers and ascending wild geese commemorating those who died for Irish freedom; then takes her down O'Connell Street, past the GPO where the Easter Rising began in 1916, and on to Croke Park stadium where British soldiers fired on a football crowd in 1921?
Which genius decided to start the visit on 17 May, the anniversary of the loyalist car bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in 1974, in which the British security forces allegedly colluded and for which no one was ever charged? Is somebody asking for trouble?
Sad to say, almost any date in the calendar could reverberate with significance for Ireland's past troubles with her neighbour in the 100 years since George V came for a few days in 1911. Factor in the Republic's neutrality during the war, 30 years of an implacable republican force which bombed, maimed and knee-capped English targets for 30 years (blowing up the Queen's relative Lord Mountbatten in the process) and were locked up as terrorists, not to mention the steam that's again issuing in alarming clouds from the Ulster pressure cooker, and yes, there's a real possibility the past might invade the royal visit and spoil the fun. The elephant in the room? Please. This is the great hairy mastodon standing right there on the red carpet.
But maybe they're right to send the Queen into these sensitive territories. The Irish, for all their long memories and historical grudges, are sentimental about people. They can hate a nation, but forgive individuals. They'll look at the Queen and see, not the accursed head of a tyrannical colonial power, but an 85-year-old granny, out without her shawl, who deserves respect and sympathy for her wayward and idiotic family.
Famously good at hospitality, they'll be pleased she has come visiting, and will press cups of tea on her like Mrs Doyle in Father Ted. They'll probably welcome a chance to regret the past together and consign it to history. And I suggest the best way to do that would be a trip to Midleton.
Midleton is a town in County Cork. It probably doesn't have much direct link with Kate's family, but it's vividly emblematic of England's and Ireland's past. Both countries' fortunes intertwine there. It was given its charter as a market and postal town by Charles II. A few reigns earlier, Sir Walter Raleigh lived there. When he brought potatoes from the New World, he planted the first ones in nearby Youghal.
Imagine it – Sir Walter Raleigh gave the Irish potatoes! The first Speaker of the Irish House of Commons was Viscount Midleton. The Midleton Distillery makes Jameson and Paddy, the two best-selling Irish whiskeys. Two of the houses in town were designed by Augustus Pugin, the architect behind the English House of Commons. And at the top of the main street there's a memorial to 16 members of the old IRA, killed fighting the British Army in 1921.
There's so much entwined history, so much conflict and harmony, in this town with the newly resonant name. It stands as a symbol of old oppressions and new beginnings, before which we can shake our heads over the folly of past bloodshed before going for a drink and a singsong in McDaid's Bar. Can't we? As an Irish comedian Eric Lalor said the other day, "I think we've matured as a nation. We're kind of over the whole English-Irish thing. I mean, what's 800 years of oppression between friends?"
But what if my dog is against the monarchy?
My colleague Susie Rushton has been keeping an eye on rubbish royal nuptials paraphernalia in her column. I have a contribution. A company called Here For a Day assures me, "Now your dog can watch the Royal Wedding," and thoughtfully sends a picture of a Union Jack Dog Bed featuring an attractive lurcher reclining on a cushion. The Union Jack, by the way, is by something called Danish Designs. I absolutely give up.
My son's treatment shows the wonders of the NHS
Last week one of my children went into a hospital for a minor op, and I got a close look at the workings of the NHS. It was called the Princess Royal Hospital, having somehow escaped being called a "primary care trust." I used to complain about the folly of renaming medical buildings – but then I checked out the Princess Royal online and discovered that it started life as the Sussex County Lunatic Asylum. You can, I suppose, take plain speaking too far.
My son was in a small, light and rather pleasant room with five other geezers. I remember when I was in hospital at his age, lying in an endlessly long and gloomy room, apparently designed by Tim Burton with dark, cobwebby shadows and 20 Gothic-Victorian beds with brass knobs and claw feet, where the prevailing smell was of festering lilies, tomato soup and other people's bottoms, and the nursing staff looked pale and upset and seldom came near you.
In the Princess Royal, you're never short of company. First the anaesthetist, then the surgeon came by to talk Max through what was about to happen to him, then the sister came for a motherly chat, then the Malaysian nurse (who was about my son's age) popped by for some teen banter. The beef stew with dumplings wouldn't have left Torode and Wallace gob-smacked, but was more than bearable. The doctors performed the op, kept Max around for observation, then breezily dismissed him with the words, "There's nothing inside you that interests us at all, I'm glad to say."
It was a weirdly jolly experience. On the way out, I noticed how many visitors took the option of anointing their skin with disinfectant gel. They walked along the corridors, rubbing their hands together as if anticipating a treat. I think we'd like to keep the NHS just as it is.