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The Shipwreck Rose: Kind Hearts, Coronets

Wed, 06/08/2022 - 15:45

If I were British I would probably heap leftist scorn on the royal family, with their seedy sexual habits and their malfunctioning fashion sense. If I were British, definitely, there is absolutely no way I’d accept my rank in the social order: I get bent out of shape when I have to sit in a less-than-choice seat at the movie theater; there is zero chance I’d happily accept my station in the British class system. Who are these English and Welsh and Scottish people standing by the side of Pall Mall wearing paper crowns and waving flags during the Platinum Jubilee parade, as that horrendously tacky gold-plated state coach (commissioned for King George III in 1760) rolls past? And why are they so servile?

This is a sign of self-delusion, I realize, but I have actually considered if I would or wouldn’t bow, if and when I were to meet Queen Elizabeth. And the decision is no. No, I would never, ever bow. I’d be charming and courteous and I would shake Elizabeth’s hand. Tom Paine would not bow or scrape, and neither should any self-respecting Yankee.

I am not British, however. That’s the crucial point here. And from the airy remove of 3,161 miles across the windy Atlantic — between my dinky cottage on Edwards Lane and Balmoral Castle — I have the elbow room and luxury to be an absolute stinking Anglophile. From a distance, I don’t begrudge the royal family their palaces. For decades, in the 1980s and 1990s, indeed, I read every word about the royal family in Star magazine, the supermarket tabloid (before the magazine was bought by David Pecker and ruined), and I consider myself something of an armchair expert, a hobbyist. The world seems to have forgotten the words that Diana, Princess of Wales, said to a clutch of reporters a week or two before her death, in company with Dodi Fayed, but I have not. I’ve read various biographies. The royal family is as familiar as cousins.

Whenever the subject of the British monarchy comes up, someone says something like, “Who gives a flank steak about these gibbering morons?” I’m not contending that several members of the royal family aren’t gibbering dolts, but the objection to their inanity is totally beside the point. The Windsors are the stars of the world’s longest-running soap opera. We’ve been following them all our lives. How could their romances and spats not be subjects of curiosity? The Kardashians are the morons I don’t want to hear anything about.

So I loved every minute of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this weekend. On Sunday morning, I was up at 6:30 and began watching the live stream on Sky News even before the first Morris Minor had set off through Whitehall. It was a great parade, with dancers doing the Lambeth Walk down the Mall, and a convoy of convertible Jaguars led by Dame Joan Collins in the head car that got stuck behind a busload of drag queens when the drag queens stopped to vogue before the reviewing stand; one of the drag queens was named Bagga Chips.

Now I’m going to give you eight good reasons why I like the monarchy. 

One: preservation. I’ve said this before in print, but when you have anything that’s hundreds of years old, you don’t destroy it. To those who like to loudly lodge lower-R republican complaints about the monarchy’s outdated ceremonies and the ridiculous toy-soldier uniforms they force the Household Cavalry to wear, I reply: Why are you criticizing those things now? You’re a few centuries behind the plot. We beat the monarchy centuries ago. Most of them are dead. Keep up!

Two: fashion anthropology. I’m still trying to understand the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma of the royal family’s fashion sense. As someone who wrote and edited style commentary for 20 years, I feel I have a strong analytical foundation for understanding why different sorts of people wear what they wear, but I cannot for the life of me deduce why the royal family wear those matching pastels. The chiffon, the lemon meringue. Is it really just terrible taste? Or is it that I am not in a position with the right perspective — not in the catbird’s seat, social-pecking-order-wise — to comprehend their aesthetic sense?

Three: the English language. The geography and arcana of the monarchy come with all sorts of vivid words and phrases. “Cuirass.” “Birdcage Walk.” “Rotten Row” — that last one is a corruption of “Route du Roi,” according to Dame Joanna Lumley of “Ab Fab” fame, who was one of the commentators in the Sky News box on Sunday. (She is my favorite television personality of all time and the person I plan to be when I am her age.) Another broadcaster in the commentator’s box during Sunday’s jubilee parade used the word “titivations.”

Five: souvenir china. I like home décor — plates, cups, tea towels — emblazoned with portraits, with faces. I love porcelain with pictures on it. It’s a Pop Art impulse. It doesn’t have to be the royal family. I’d just as soon (rather?) have Thomas Jefferson or Frederick Douglass on my teapot, but the manufacturers of bone china don’t go in for many personalities other than kings and queens. I have mugs and teacups back to King Edward VII, and tea towels back to the Silver Jubilee in the punk year of 1977.

Six: service. This is totally uncool — and I mean uncool in the “not okay” sense, rather than just the “not cool” sense — I am a booster for the idea of “service.” A few centuries of using that sterling word, “service,” as an excuse for expecting poorer people to dutifully shine your boots or jump in front of a machine gun without grumbling have given service a bad name, I know. But, again, that is a 19th and 20th-century objection. In the 21st century, the children could do with a bit of encouragement to embrace the idea of doing good in service to others, making an effort for the whole rather than the self. I don’t think the queen has done a bad job of modeling that behavior.

Seven: anachronisms. Witnessing something from the past is my favorite form of fun, and the entire royal circus is a cavalcade of old things and stuff. “It’s medieval,” exclaimed Joanna Lumley as eight Windsor Grey horses clip-clopped around the bend at the Victoria Memorial, pulling the gold carriage, followed by wave after wave of mounted guards wearing uniforms dating to the Napoleonic Wars. “It’s something quite out of our ken!”

(See? She used the word “ken.”)

Finally, I really like Prince Charles. I like his taste in historic houses, organic farming, heritage roses, architectural preservation, and dogs. His erudition. His suits from Anderson & Sheppard. I’m fully Team Charles. When you consider the class of clowns who have been lawfully elected to highest office in recent years in both America and Britain, do you really think Charles would have done a worse job of governing if he had been an actual monarch? (Which he is not and never will be. And, of course, I do realize this is not entirely fair. All sorts of people would have made better dictators than Donald Trump. Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” would have made a better dictator. The guy who did the voice-overs on those old “honey badger don’t give a sh!#” YouTube videos. Tim Curry; he’d wear a cape with epaulets.) Anyway, I’m ready to move into Clarence House if Camilla ever breaks up with Charles.

In honesty and real life, I like being an American and being a hard-working person. But being Charles’s consort would have strong advantages: I’d be very glad not to have to stick my hand, ever again, down a clogged kitchen sink drain to remove soggy egg and onion leftover from breakfast.

At the same time I’m also quite eagerly anticipating the public embrace of Camilla when Charles ascends the throne and the television-viewing public realizes with a thunderclap that “The Crown” is fiction. Camilla is a very interesting personage to me — at once a horsey, lockjawed toff in a very stupid hat, and a scarlet woman. The first woman, I believe, to have become the object of mass-media social shaming because she was caught talking dirty on the telephone. Go on, Camilla. Go on with your bad self.


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