Queen is one of the few global figures among us
Last week I found a new anxiety to add to my wide collection. The Queen was ill. The Queen never gets ill. Supposing she died?
It was a thought so shocking I couldn't bring it into focus. Naturally the Queen will eventually die as other old women do, and intellectually I know this. I recall hearing of the previous King's death at a solemn morning assembly where even the teachers were upset. But she has been there since I was a boy, and through most of the seven ages of my manhood. During which, I have to admit, the royal family has been more a subject for mockery, frustration, ridicule, proper Cornish independence and indifference than veneration. From having to stand still for the anthem in cinemas to the blazoned incontinence of her family's affairs to the semi-morbid rituals which still surround her, I've never had much respect for the institution. But a Queen's a Queen for all that and she's been a good one, patient, dutiful, and yet when smiling, as my wife says, you can still see the pretty girl on whom the burdens of state crashed down in 1952. What an abyss she will leave. What then?
I think a majority of her subjects, especially the young, would rather institution died with her. How much better if the family, complete with some nice long-winded ceremonial titles, retired to their agreeable country homes to live out their undemanding lives in the twilight. Who has the stomach for her conflicted, petulant mess of a son to start imposing his overcooked visions of a monarchy on us? No no no. Elizabeth II is one of only a few people who truly belong on the world stage, who are part of our individual lives, like her or not. Who else? Who, as magazines like to ask, would you invite to your ideal dinner party? The answer rarely seems very stimulating, ranging usually from noble but sad Nelson Mandela (who would only talk about South Africa) to Aung San Suu Kyi (ditto Burma) to Kylie Minogue (herself) and Madonna (even more so).
Unlikely to receive many votes would be Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I. Even the crowds in St Peter's Square who would have acclaimed a meerkat if it had been accompanied by the right-coloured smoke have woken up to the fact that the Conclave has kicked for touch and opted for more of the same. The cuddly cardinal describes abortion and euthanasia as "abominable crimes", pro-choice as a "culture of death", won't sanction contraception, and believes same-sex marriage to be a "machination of the Father Of Lies" (The Devil). The honeymoon's already over and the Catholic hopeful must steel themselves to hunker down for another decade or two of medieval oppression. Don't say I didn't offer (March 4). As for our own Archbishop of Canterbury, he seems quite nice but already completely invisible.
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Who else impresses us? Not many political leaders would make the cut, certainly not Mr Cameron, who is now, according to His Holiness, best mate to the Father Of Lies. Definitely not young Miliband, hopeless Clegg, bonkers Farage, or self-obsessed Boris. Looking further abroad hardly anyone stands out except Mr Berlusconi who'd probably rather show you some dodgy card tricks and seduce your daughter than have dinner. Barack Obama brought more than his skin to the American presidency but is wallowing in a crazy country where intelligence in a leader is considered a bad thing though weapons of mass homicide are fine.
It's human nature to look up, to have role models who set the bar for the rest of us. Boringly most of the ones I'd choose have no profile at all, they just busy themselves around my home town making other people's lives easier, happier, livelier, and raising the aspirations of children. In contrast opening the door to the real eye-rolling Twitterati, the ego-maniacal Ramseys, Frys, Rosses, Cowells, Brands, Clarksons and Coles of this world would be my worst nightmare.
Who would join my fantasy table? It changes, but I care about Tibet so I'd be honoured to welcome the Dalai Lama. Despite all his sorrows he comes with a good sense of fun. And I know he'd get on fine with Eric Cantona.