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Friday 20 May 2011

A Role Model for Another Generation

People often speak of the need for good role models for the young but, in my experience, it’s not the youth who need role models so much as older people! In fact, it is quite often older people who are very set in their ways and love to complain (and they probably complained about something else when young) who speak of the ‘youth of today’ as being so wayward.

It was ever thus. This is a quotation from Socrates in the 3rd Century B.C. ”Young people today love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they disrespect their elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Young people now are tyrants...They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannise their teachers....”

It’s not politically correct to admit this but walking into shopping centres or queuing in the Post Office, it isn’t young people who drop the door in your face or ram their shopping trolley into your ankles or moan and sigh about the length of the queue – it is more often than not elderly people.

I would (smilingly – tongue in cheek) misquote Socrates by saying that quite often, “Elderly people today love being waited upon; they have bad manners,contempt for the young; they love to discuss their ailments instead of their successes. Some elderly people now are tyrants....”

Of course, this is a huge generalisation but I do believe that some people of more mature years have a greater need of role models than the young...and in Ireland this week, the Queen displayed all that is finest in her generation and what a great role model she is! Dignified, sensitive, devoted to her life’s calling, tactful, courageous, demonstrating both humility and dignity, using her years of experience to know exactly how to respond and converse with people of all different backgrounds, striding over that field towards the castle....

People might say, “Oh well, it’s different for her – she has always been waited upon....” but I know very few people (in fact none) of her age who have such a busy schedule and always appear at their best, smiling and being genuinely interested in other people. No matter how luxurious a lifestyle might appear, it’s tiring to travel and to fit in with a tight plan of events. Only a few weeks ago, she was entertaining people at Prince William’s wedding. In a few days she will be entertaining President Obama....and between those two events she managed to fit in one of the most historically significant visits of her reign! What a beautiful thing to see her interacting with the people of Cork today!

Let’s remember, too, that the Queen hasn’t been immune from family scandals, tragedies and dramas. She is the daughter of a reluctant king who suffered from a dreadful lack of self-esteem and reputedly had a strong temper; she lived through the Blitz and worked throughout the war when Britian was on the verge of defeat...I hugely admire Queen Victoria but I think our present Queen has outshone her in so many ways...not least for her example of how to live gracefully at any time of your life.

There is a lot to learn from people who have a great deal of experience...and it doesn’t need to involve a load of moaning and groaning about aches and pains and being ‘old’.

Friday 13 May 2011

Long May She Reign!

As of yesterday, the Queen, having reigned for over fifty-nine years, is the second longest reigning (or, as it is reported on the news, the second longest serving) monarch Britain has ever known – the first, of course, being Queen Victoria, who reigned for sixty-three years.

It is very interesting that, considering that historically daughters only attain the crown if they have no surviving brothers, our greatest monarchs have been women. In my view, in the past thousand years, the monarchs who made the greatest impact on the country and world at large have been Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and our present Queen. Equally interesting are the similarities and differences between Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.

Both were young when they came to the throne but whereas Victoria became queen at a
time when, thanks to the waywardness of her Hanoverian uncles, the royal family was held in low esteem, Queen Elizabeth arrived at a time when there was deep respect for the monarchy, due largely to her father’s courage and determination throughout the Second World War. Although their paths were dissimilar in so many ways, both dealt with rapidly changing times and the necessity of finding the balance between maintaining (or in Queen Victoria’s case establishing) tradition, and adapting to the mood of the country. After the death of ‘beloved Albert’ Queen Victoria withdrew from public gaze for about six years, consequently attracting a great deal of personal criticism and being described as self-indulgent in her grief to the extent that Republicanism seemed a very real possibility. The first time she appeared again in public, however, the crowds were even more enthusiastic and she remained a very loved and respected figure for the rest of her reign. After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Queen Elizabeth kept her distance for a few days, consequently attracting a great deal o criticism from the press and being described as cold-hearted for failing to express grief. The newspapers had a field day in their misguided prophecies that this would mark the end of the monarchy. When Her Majesty returned a couple of days later to London, she was met with nothing but the sincere devotion and appreciation of the crowds. Queens, it seems, cannot do right for doing wrong in the journalists’ eyes, and yet now, after fifty-nine years on the throne, even the most cynical journalist would find it difficult to find anything for which the Queen could be criticised.

A wonderful sign of our times, perhaps, is the relative ‘youthfulness’ of our Queen compared to her great-great-grandmother. At the time of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria was only seventy-eight years old and yet she was driven in a carriage to St. Paul’s and remained in the carriage throughout the service as she was incapable
of walking unaided. The present Queen is eighty-five years old yet walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey at the recent Royal Wedding, as brightly as ever. Queen Elizabeth has moved with the times without compromising the mystique of royalty or tradition. What a wonderful example she is of remaining true to your ideals, without being rigid!

(Incidentally, speaking of the age of the Queen, dreary people often say this has become the era of youth, in which the elderly are dismissed and overlooked. Well I say that is a jolly good thing! I grew up among elderly people who were grumpy and demanding and expected to be waited upon merely because they had lived a long time. Then I met elderly people who were so young in their outlook that they were inspiring and their life experience had created a wisdom that could be lightly and beautifully shared. Youth is not a matter of how long you’ve been here, it’s a matter of outlook and the ability to adapt. In my experience, the longer people live, the more they become themselves and so in reality, the older we get the healthier and brighter and more interesting we could become....but that is another story....)

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The Kaiser and Archetypal Images

There was once a rare radio phone-in, which differed from many others in that it wasn’t just a whole load of people complaining about things, and it happened to be about racism. What made it wonderful was a call from a local taxi driver who said that, being short-tempered, whenever a poor driver pulled out in front of him without indicating or someone drove badly, it was his natural instinct to shout out about the first thing he saw in that person, “You stupid....” maybe it was the colour of their hair, or their facial hair or an older person or a young lad...whatever it was, he found the immediate phrase. The driver happened to be Asian and said that when he made a similar driving error, he understood why people shouted what might be taken as a racist comment at him. In fact he said he would have shouted the same comment about another person who looked like him! Of course, I am not advocating aggression or nasty personal comments in this post but this man’s honesty was not only a refreshing change from political correctness (whatever that means??) but also made a big impact on me.

Immediate images are more powerful than years of learning and in times of heightened emotion we resort to our immediate impressions and the archetypal images from childhood. Dark-haired men tweaking their curly moustaches are usually sinister; pretty little women, like fairies, are often innocent damsels in distress; hooded figures are frightening like the Grim Reaper and so on.

While researching for a forthcoming series of books about the royalties in the First World War, I have seen Kaiser Wilhelm II - for whom I have always felt affection, though thought him a little bizarre!! - in an entirely different light. One of the questions I have often asked myself is why he is still seen as either evil or an imbecile. A chance comment from a child to whom I showed a picture of the Kaiser led me to an interesting thought. The child said, without knowing anything about the Kaiser, “He looks like a Nazi.” When I asked what he meant, he replied, “He has that look about him...a wacky moustache and a strange arm.”

It suddenly dawned on me how Wilhelm’s image has been massively tarnished by Hitler, who is often viewed in the same light, though two men couldn’t be less alike! Have you noticed how Hitler, during speeches such as the one in this link, keeps his left arm pinned to his side while gesticulating with his right arm? He is imitating and distorting the mannerism of the Kaiser (who, of course, could not use his left arm due to an accident of birth). Hitler’s moustache, while completely different to that of the Kaiser, is an equally noticeable feature of his face.


It is horrific to think that the image of the Kaiser – whom I firmly believe was a ‘good’ man who did his utmost to prevent war – has been so distorted by this shadow of the maniac Hitler. There is a great deal more to write in defence of Kaiser Wilhelm, whose image, I believe, has been so terribly distorted for the past hundred years. Again and again I return to the certainty that many of the charges levelled against him - like the charges of weakness levelled against Tsar Nicholas II - are completely without foundation.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

No Man Is an Island

I will and do rejoice in the end of violence against any other human being or any animal or creature. Surely, though, it's impossible for any thinking/feeling person to rejoice in the death of any other part of humanity - no matter how violently that person has lived - without compromising our own humanity.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

(John Donne)

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Prince Harry as Tsar?

How incredible is this amazing story? I doubt it will come to pass but stranger things have happened...and what a lovely thing that would be!

Prince Harry as Tsar

Sunday 1 May 2011

Not So Desperate Flaws

I hesitated in writing this post as I do not know the full details and certainly do not wish to draw attention to a child's minor and correctible condition but, after reflection, decided to write it anyway.

One of the beautiful children at yesterday’s wedding was particularly delighted to be playing such a role because, until then, she has been kept away from photographers due to an eye condition, which creates a squint. This little girl looked absolutely beautiful yesterday and I am sure she is equally beautiful all of the time! I am a little aghast at the need to keep her away from being photographed until now, for so minor a reason?

The newspapers have often reported that the condition, which led to her being kept from the public gaze, is ‘rare’ – but I don’t believe that is true. It is a quite common occurrence (and I know this as I, too, grew up with it and have experienced this way of viewing the world). It’s no big deal. In fact, though it was a big deal in childhood (going around with nail varnish on one lens of my spectacles so that one eye would work harder; or being called various names like ‘speccie’ and ‘cross-eyed’) it became quite fascinating to me to think why things were as they were. After some painful surgery as a very small child, I used to go to church and pray for a cure...and - wonder of wonders! – at the age of 13 - I underwent surgery again and was told afterwards that I could throw away my glasses and probably wouldn’t need them again until I was about...17. Three decades have passed since then. I still don’t wear glasses and have better eyesight than many of my contemporaries! What really happened was that I decided it was no big deal and it stopped bothering me. In fact, I decided it was symbolic of having an eye in two worlds – that which is ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ and that which is, ‘aren’t things unpleasant’? - and whenever it bothered me physically, I realised it coincided with my not being focussed on ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

On a much grander scale, though, it brings to mind the way in which some royal families have felt a need to conceal or protect their children, if there was the slightest hint of them not being ‘perfect’ in any way. Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, was so often left out of royal visits because of his haemophilia. Prince John was sent to live apart from the rest of his family because of his epilepsy and other conditions. The haemophilia of the beautiful Tsarevich Alexei, was hidden from the public because his parents feared that people wouldn’t understand or would lose faith in the monarchy.

Perhaps the worst thing that parents can do – with the best intentions - is to try to hide their child’s condition. By hiding it, they exacerbate it and make a big deal out of something which, left to his/her own devices, the child is perfectly capable of dealing with or even healing. I do not honestly believe in the necessity of illness in any form, and, harsh as it sounds, so many lifelong invalids tend to be the victims of their parents’ well-meaning over-protectiveness. It’s okay to have a condition; it’s okay to be ill for a while – it’s all a question of balance and not being led into adopting the sick role.