Saturday Evening 02 June 2012
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle
“What? Oh, no!”, groaned the Queen, roused from a contemplative half-doze in her pew. “I’d better call security.”
“Don’t do that!”, soothed the same voice, now warmer. You know who I am? Surely?”
“Oh, dear! I thought I’d seen a __!”
“Not ‘ghost’,” urged the form beside her, now more solid. “I prefer ‘spectre’. It sounds like ‘sceptre’. Much more our style, perhaps?”
“Good grief! Red hair. White makeup. Ruched blouse. You’re a dead ringer for my near-namesake.”
“Bull’s-eye!”, chortled the first Queen Elizabeth. “But please don’t rub it in. You’ve no idea of the time and trouble it took to get me here. So to make things easier, I’ll call you ‘Lilibet’ – and you may address me as ‘Ma'am’.”
“I may - what?” scolded Lilibet, beginning to enjoy herself immensely.
“You may be my chronological senior but as I’ve reigned for 60 years against your 45, I’ll just use ‘Bess’, if you please. But how did you get here? Why aren’t you wearing period costume? Umm, and I must say,” she added peering at the first Elizabeth more closely, “I could murder you for those pearls.”
“Bit late for that, darling,” snorted her new friend. “Your own beads are super and as for farthingales, ruffs and whatnot - you try getting that lot through the ether. Not even Judi Dench could do it!”
“Well, she’s not there yet, glory be. Anyway, I’m more interested to know why you’re wearing contemporary clothing and how – er, on earth - you’re using colloquial, modern English.”
“Those in charge,” gestured Bess with raised eyebrows “chose my outfit as we didn’t want you frightened off. I had rather fancied a t-shirt and jeans but was told it was a ‘no, no’!
“Haha!,” chuckled Lilibet. “You’re talking like my grandchildren. In humorous moments Philip and I envisage William and Catherine one day also in tees and jeans under their Coronation robes – holding a football and wielding a hockey stick instead of an orb and …”
The two ladies grinned.
“As for the chat”, continued Bess, you must remember that I was known as an able linguist, so picking up current jargon has been great fun. Even Winston helped to coach me on word usage from the 50s and 60s. He sulked dreadfully after he lost out to me for tonight’s job. But he came round when he was told they wanted to arch the years between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Elizabethans and for us to discuss the less obvious similarities and differences.
“Such as?”, asked the present Queen.
“Well, it often seems that despite all the documents, diaries and artefacts at their disposal, historians cannot help but reduce entire reigns - lives - to grubby wisps of war, sex and politics.”
“So generations of schoolchildren, for example, tell their parents they’ve ‘done the Tudors and the Stuarts’ through the prism of Geoffrey Elton’s popular books as though we had bit parts in a television show written by his nephew, Ben!”
“A little like 1066 and All That:? Or maybe the younger Elton’s Blackadder? I know what you mean,” replied Lilibet. “Of course our situations are quite different. You had much more direct power than I do, as my position became largely ceremonial after 1688.
“Dear Bess, in my worst moments I long merely to be the power behind my throne! I may have offered a word here or a little advice there to a stream of prime ministers and Commonwealth Heads of State. But during the past 60 years with its extraordinary revolution of social and technological change, my family has sometimes felt quite powerless against the tide of hostile public opinion.
“I’m told we’re most popular now – and this is due not only to my length of service but to our grandchildren’s engaging personalities.
“Of course, the process began when we were forced to become less formal and more ‘subject friendly’ after Diana died. Now her children – and my other grandchildren – while taking their Royal duties most seriously – are determined to be as ordinary as possible. So I am desperate that we do not lose that sense of ‘kingship’ which marks the fine border between us and our people.”
“Young lady”, reproved Bess gently, “this is the other reason why I am here. But I see, judging by the hour on the timepiece which Dudley gave me, that my allotted time with you is almost spent. So I’ll be swift.
“My most important task is to advise that whatever troubles have beset you, your long and continuing reign will always be marked as a warmly benign and cohesive force in a turbulent world. You may have been snared by one revolution but you’ve most likely helped to prevent another.
“Now if I’m not mistaken, I can see your Philip loping up the path towards the church porch. My, he still looks like a Greek god!”
“Ooh, don’t tell him that Bess,” replied Lilibet, “he hates compliments.” But as she looked up, the old Queen had vanished and the lean, firm figure of the Duke of Edinburgh had taken her place.
“Are you all right, cabbage?”, asked Prince Philip. “You’ve been in here ages and – good Lord, you’re so pale – you look as though you’ve seen …
“Please don’t … oh, never mind … I’m fine. Nothing a pre-dinner drink won’t cure.”
They left the church and linked arms to walk back to the main house. Suddenly Philip stopped, turned to the Queen and kissed her brow.
“God bless my lovely wife,” he whispered. “God save the Queen!”, he yelled.
“Steady on, Philip. We don’t want you back in hospital,” she admonished – and someone in heaven smiled.
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 11 May 2012)