You can see what Sir Alan Reid, the Keeper of the Privy Purse, had in mind when he broke down the annual cost of the monarchy to a per capita basis in presenting the Royal Family's accounts to us yesterday. Only 69p a year for all that history, we were supposed to think.
Why, you can't buy a Battenburg cake for that, or a packet of Bourbon biscuits – and yet for a simple one-off payment we get 365 days of pageantry, royal openings and pastel hats. It makes the BBC licence fee or a Sky subscription look like a Viking raid by comparison. A mere 69p is the kind of sum that – barring real poverty – gets silted up in coppers on your bedside table. It's what some people dismissively refer to as shrapnel.
On the other hand, £41.5m, which is the accumulated figure, looks considerably more serious and, in these recessionary times, might even prompt awkward questions about belt-tightening and value for money. It's a sizeable enough amount to make you think about what else a society might do with such a sum, while 69p sounds almost too small to bother with.
Sir Alan has cheated of course – not in the accounts themselves, which I'm sure are unimpeachable – but in the sum. You arrive at 69p if you divide £41.5m by 60,144,929 – in other words roughly the entire population of the country rather than just taxpayers. Some of us are clearly going to have to chip in for babies and children – those shameless freeloaders – not to mention anyone else who isn't in the tax system.
And while there might be some people who buy the line that this is a matchless investment in our tourist industry – anyone selling postcards of Buckingham Palace or teddy bears in busbies, say – there are quite a lot of others who would point out that if this is an investment, we've yet to see a direct return on it. Indeed, the whole question of tourism is perhaps better left alone, since the Queen has just turned down a suggestion by MPs that Buckingham Palace might open to the public more often to defray the costs of building repairs, for which she's asking all of us to scrape down the back of the sofa for a few more coppers.
And the figure of 69p has one unintended consequence, I think. It immediately summoned for me a mental image of the Queen, sitting on the pavement next to a cashpoint with her crown upended beside her. Any spare change mate? The amount was small enough to make you think of other very modest acts of disbursement – dropping coins into a beggar's polystyrene cup say, or topping up a busker's hat – but then thinking of those acts made you realise that in this case the money was travelling uphill, in defiance of the usual economic physics.
Rather than going from the better-off to the poor it was heading in the other direction; from those on ordinary incomes towards the richest woman in the country. It's trickle-up enrichment.
All kinds of arguments will be marshalled in favour of the Civil List in the next few days – the extraordinary economy of a measure that protects us from President Blair, the Queen's exemplary record of public service, the dangers of unpicking the warp (or the woof) of the national fabric etc. etc. – but I'm not sure that any of them really get round this odd feudal hangover, a head of state with her hand out for our petty cash.
It makes you wonder about just how many royal palaces a monarch needs to maintain before monarchy loses its lustre – and whether a true national figurehead would think a little harder about asking for more when so many of her subjects are, for the first time in a while, having to count every penny.
Films we love that no Oscars panel ever seems to
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to increase the nominations list for Best Picture from five films to 10, miffed by the fact that its members keep voting for relatively modestly budgeted films rather than the bloated merchandising vehicles on which the industry depends. This way, they hope, some of the multiplex juggernauts will get a look in and viewers in Squashed Frog, Idaho, won't be turned off by a contest between films they haven't seen and in several cases haven't even heard of.
Given that there's nothing to stop the Academy members turning in 10 art-house titles, though, I wonder whether a new ring-fenced category wouldn't be a more productive approach. Alongside Best Film, retained for cinematic art, you could have Most Fun, targeted specifically at movies which invite you to leave your brain at the door and wallow in the pleasures of high explosives or the fart joke.
I saw The Hangover on Saturday night , a film that probably wouldn't even really merit a footnote in the history of cinema, but which is funny enough to induce pulmonary distress. Best Picture? Not a chance. But giving an audience that much pleasure is surely not undeserving of some kind of statuette.
How Iran used Frodo to prevent a revolution
An intriguing report out of Iran (source a blog, provenance uncheckable) suggests that state television suddenly upped its game in terms of the transmission of foreign films during last week's unrest.
The piece for Salon.com, unbylined for obvious reasons, explained that Iranian viewers suddenly found all sorts of big-name movies appearing in the evening – a marathon screening of The Lord of the Rings trilogy being the most salient example.
I have to say that this wouldn't have worked for me. In fact it would have made me want to throw bricks through the windows of the state broadcaster. But the idea was that the people's willingness to take to the streets might be sapped by the provision of a big Western title.
It doesn't entirely seem to have worked for the authorities either, with the blogger reporting that the end of the film was marked by a sudden surge of shouts of "Allahu Akbar" from the rooftops, much in the way that British audiences rush to put the kettle on when a big programme ends.
True or not, it raises an interesting question about the most pervasive social opiate of our times. Without the anaesthetic of telly, might public anger about MPs' expenses here have found vigorous al fresco expression – and made genuine political reform been a bit more likely?