I'll have to tell the Queen we should cool it for a bit. It can't go on like this. People will start to talk. We met again, yet again, yesterday, in the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster; she wanted me to hear her launch her anniversary programme. My Jubilee and I.
There were 2,000-odd of us. Some very much odder than others. The House of Lords had come, as had most of the House of Commons. The Lord Chancellor was there. Two maces, of course, and two Trainbearers (well done, Mrs Nora Dobinson). Just the one Pursebearer (they're economising). Fourth Clerk of the Table there with Reading Clerk (is the pace of modernisation getting just a little hectic for you?)
Gentlemen Usher of the Black Rod arrived but whether he had his Rod with him, I can't say. Dignified in their dark suits, one in a sleeveless cardigan, Her Majesty's Loyal Sketchwriters; but sat so far to the back that the Queen looked like an Impressionist's daub in the distance. The Queen likes to keep her Sketchwriters close to her; someone's head will roll, but never mind.
Her Bodyguard marched down the red carpet. Big men in scarlet, Beefeater sort of tunics. Medals. Pikes. Nicotine-stained moustaches.
At the south end of the hall, a frieze of musicians marched very slowly across the ledge under the high, stained-glass windows. They were dressed in cloth of yellow gold. They were the State Trumpeters. The band of the Grenadier Guards was playing the song we sang as children.
"Fierce the beacon light is flaming, With its tongues of fire proclaiming, Chieftains sundered to your shaming, Harlech for the right."
Yes, that's what a lot of it's about. Chiefs lying dead and wounded yet where first was grounded. Freedom's flag still holding the crag.
I'd had dinner the night before with some soldiers. Very likeable young men; cheerful, funny. Heaven knows how many men they've killed between them. One described the look on Geoff Hoon's face when he'd retailed the previous night's strangling and stabbing. The Secretary of State went white and wanted to sit down.
"There's no way we'd fight for some transitory government," the major said. "Our oath is to the Queen. We fight for the Queen."
The huge bell, Big Ben, struck the hour. She didn't arrive. She can't have been late. The clock was fast. Two thousand of us sat under the hammer beams with the flying angels, looking at two red thrones on the distant steps. How unlike a political occasion it was. Party conferences are filled with driving, purposeful music, clever lighting, warm-up acts, applause leaders. We sat looking at the blank backs of the empty thrones.
There she suddenly was, our head of state, head of our armed forces. A youth carrying a long white wand led her up the red carpet, into her world of ancient office and mysterious courtliness.
Whatever she is, she isn't, in that soldier's phrase, transitory.Reuse content