A little less than a year ago, I was in Washington DC, where I met Bill Clinton's former chief of staff. He greeted me warmly, and when he discovered I was British, he arrowed in on what he thought would be my specialist subject. “I guess it's been a really exciting time for you folks back there,” he said.
This puzzled me. What was he talking about? I wondered whether he was referring to the heatwave we'd been experiencing. He couldn't possibly have been talking about the cricket? The inflation figures? “Sorry,” I said, hesitantly, “I'm not sure what you mean.” “THE ROYAL BABY!” he replied firmly, clearly taking me for an idiot or an anti-monarchist, or maybe both.
The truth is that the birth of George Windsor didn't mean very much to me, but here was one of the most serious political players in the most serious political town in the world coming over all doe-eyed about a Royal baby.
It's fair to say that, when it comes to the Royal family, we Brits are somewhat less credulous than our American counterparts, but with so much horror in the world — I am finding it almost impossible to watch the footage from Gaza any longer — I completely understand why even those with a resistance to Royal affairs are silently engaging with the trivial matter of George's first birthday.
Perhaps that's an unheralded function of the House of Windsor: to provide a distraction from the everyday traumas of world events. A pleasant couple with a perfectly nice-looking baby. What's not to like?
I found myself looking at the pictures released yesterday of this young family at the Natural History Museum, and examining what I feel about the Royal Family now.
Would I rather be a citizen than a subject? Unquestionably yes. Am I content to live in a country where so much privilege is conferred on so few? I am not. The honours system? Outdated. Does a constitutional monarchy sit easily with a mature democratic state? Probably not. Have I been insulted face-to-face by the Duke of Edinburgh? I have. Do I wish everyone could have access to the gardens at Buckingham Palace? I do. Does all this make me a Republican? I don't know.
The reason for my equivocation is one of practicality. I would rather Britain were a modern republic, but I just don't know how we get from here to there, and whenever I have challenged die-hard republicans on this question, I have never received a credible answer, other than revolution.
So we lily-livered liberals have to get through the day with a tacit acceptance of the status quo, expressing a vague distaste for those who find the first birthday of the third in line to the throne a matter of rejoicing, or indeed interest.
But, in truth, we have neither courage nor conviction, and are unlikely to be revolting any day soon. So, George, you will grow up in a land where your position is secure, and your subjects are pliant. Revolution is a long way off, particularly while house prices are rising as they are, widescreen televisions are so cheap, and 5G is just around the corner.