New hats, old titles and trying not to giggle at the Cap of Maintenance

Simon Carr
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The Independent Online

Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary. Maltravers Herald Extraordinary.

Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary. Maltravers Herald Extraordinary.

There are some sketch writers who might be tempted to make foolish jokes about these great offices of state - a loyal and respectful Sketch merely records their existence.

Clarenceux King of Arms. The Keeper of Her Majesty's Privy Purse. The Cap of Maintenance (at last they've found a use for Baroness Jay).

The state opening of Parliament (or, more loyally, the State Opening of Parliament) is one of those rare public occasions when we shop-soiled meritocrats can look down from our gallery and point at the shimmering Countess Erroll (1452) sitting next to the sparkling Countess Ferrers (1711).

They don't look three or four hundred years old. Lady Mowbray and Stourton, sitting two seats away, dates from 1283! She doesn't look a day over 550!

No, actually, she might be a teenager for all we could tell, trying to match the faces to the seating plan. According to the plan, Cherie was apparently married to Mr Prescott and Pauline was married to the Prime Minister. Both were wearing marvellous look-at-my-hat hats in the magnificent equality of ... I don't know how to finish that sentence.

Trumpets sounded distantly. A faint crash as two ancient Beefeaters fainted in the Robing Room, their nine-foot pikes clattering to the floor. Silence gathered in the ancient buildings. Gold leaf gleamed. Robes rustled. You could almost hear Baroness Thatcher scratching her nose.

It was very important not to giggle. The silver helmets of the Household Cavalry gleamed behind the throne, their plumes waved ("Hello sailor!"). A pack of heralds huddled in the corner like a standing deck of cards.

And then, suddenly, the Queen came in with her huge crown, a man in front of her walking backwards, crouching slightly. It was vitally important not to giggle. The whole fantastic procession burst into the House of Lords, and it was gorgeous in reds and golds, with sticks and swords and lace ruffs and white hose and a wand.

Gormenghast had spilt its guts.

The Queen did the steps and sat on her throne. And then nothing happened. She looked at the Lords. The Lords looked at her. The silence entered a new phase of soundlessness. The Duke sat sideways in his throne, quite rakishly.

Nothing kept on happening. The minute became two minutes. By the mathematics of this chamber, two minutes is 10 times longer than a minute.

Had the Queen forgotten the Queen's Speech? It starts, doesn't it, "My Government and I"? Was she going to make it up herself? Or had a page been sent to fetch her glasses? Or - terrifying thought - were they waiting for me to stop giggling? I held my breath viciously, but the silence went on.

No, they were waiting for the Commons to come in. Which eventually they did. Men in suits, and women, talking among themselves, casually, cleverly disrespectful. They are the masters now.

The Queen began to read. Economic stability. Access to learning. Long-term care for the elderly. Tiaras glittered as she announced: "Progress will be made on a new form of tenure for flat-owners." Diamonds and, it is believed, Dennis Skinner twinkled loyally.

It was a short Queen's Speech for such a busy government, laying out the legislative programme up tothe next election. Who knows? Maybe there won't be any laws at all before the next election.

Such a brilliant government, of course, full of surprises. They even let the Queen do the speech herself. Brilliant. Increased majority predicted. I won't hear a word against them. And neither will the Queen.