Two women have been with me all through my conscious life - the Queen and Peggy Archer*. There was a third, my mother, up until a couple of years ago, and these three female figures were oddly intertwined at some level of my consciousness. I know I would feel it strongly, perhaps disproportionately so, if one of the remaining two were to die. If? I suppose it's more a matter of when now, but I devoutly hope that the Queen, in particular, lives long, preferably into triple figures, preferably long enough to avoid the embarrassment of a Caroline succession.
The Queen - who yesterday, as all the world knows, became the longest-serving British monarch ever - is the living embodiment of the great English public virtues of reticence, restraint, modesty and discretion, and in all her long reign she has scarcely put a foot wrong. The fact that, after all these years, we essentially know nothing of her private views on anything is at once extraordinary, refreshing and laudable, and makes her virtually unique among public figures. That she has survived so long and is still so obviously popular owes much to that remarkable restraint, a product of her equally old-fashioned devotion to duty - but also to the Queen's having absorbed the great lesson enunciated in Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard: If you want everything to stay the same, everything must change. The stability and apparent changelessness of our monarchy is the product of continual quiet adaptation to changing times - and Elizabeth's have certainly been changing times. One of history's other great exemplars of continuity through change was the first Elizabeth, whose motto was Semper Eadem. Always the same. Which sparks memories of my father's bathroom recitations of stirring patriotic verse - here's strong stuff from Macaulay's The Armada:
*Note for American readers (and others): Peggy Archer is the matriarch of the Archer family of Ambridge, whose lives are chronicled in a long-running, strangely addictive 'everyday story of country folk', The Archers, on BBC Radio 4. Peggy has been played by the same actress since 1950.