Friday, February 23, 2007

Hats Off To Harry

from Jacqueline

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am not a great fan of the monarchy. Yes, I know, I know, even though I think Helen Mirren did a great job with those wellies and that headscarf, I believe that as long as there is a monarchy in its present form, there will exist an unacceptable elitism in Britain based on the provenance of the family from whence you came and how you speak. And I know that in Cool Britannia that’s all supposed to have gone now, but sorry, it hasn’t. It’s simply camouflaged. We’re still all subjects, not citizens.

So, speaking of camouflage, in a rare moment of admiration for the British royals, I can only say, “Hats off to Harry.” The third in line to the throne, Prince Harry, will be deployed to Iraq with his regiment in the near future, where he will command an armored patrol. Said Harry, “"There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst (military college) and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting.” I’m sure the SAS troops (very, very highly trained special forces) who will have to try to keep an eye on him are probably wishing he had chosen to be a right royal layabout, because clearly the lad will be a bullet magnet once he’s over there. The royal family, that most elite of the elite, will once more have more in common with the rank and file than the elected officials, because they’ll know what it’s like to have someone you love in danger in a war that was started for highly dubious reasons by those same officials who have never associated the words “flack” with “jacket.” As one journalist put it in a BBC article today, that, “not a single senior member of this government, the ministers of the Crown who committed Britain to the Iraqi intervention, [will have] had an equivalent experience.”

As much as I think the whole royal thing needs a serious overhaul (why can’t they be like the Swedish royals, who all more or less have normal-ish lives, then just come out to kick off the occasional winter olympics), I’ve always thought young Harry might be a bit of just what’s needed. Apart from the obvious mistake when he was photographed wearing that Nazi fancy dress costume (with all those equerrys and valets and butlers, you’d have thought that someone might have said, “Oi, Harry, don’t be a silly little prince, go out in drag if you want to cause a fuss.”), Harry looks to be a bit of a laugh, more so than the big brother, who seems to be getting more like his dad every day.

But in all seriousness, I will say this, that so see someone in such a position going off to war and not shying away from the hell of it, reminds me of something that old gin-and-tonic lover, the Queen Mother, said in “we the people” inclusiveness after Buckingham Palace was bombed in the war. “Now I can look the East End in the face.” She referred, of course, to the poor part of London devastated in the Blitz. More importantly, she refused to be taken to safe haven in the United States, choosing instead to remain in London with the King, and because she remained, so did her daughters – that bit in the film where Helen Mirren, as the Queen, reminds an underling that she was a mechanic in the war is the truth, she was. For all that I’m not a big one for the monarchy, such words and actions do much to inspire and bring people together, instead of driving in another wedge - and Lord knows, we’ve enough of those stuck in place around the world to be going on with. And though young Harry’s deployment has nothing to do with Blair’s decision to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, if young men and women with connections in high places in this country were part of the military deployment, as we all know, the question of “surge” wouldn’t be an issue. That tide of youth would be sucked back home before you could say, “And what about the body armor?”

While scavenging around in the news from across the pond this week, it seems that finally the female winners at the famous Wimbedon tennis tournament will be paid the same as the men. Is that a long time coming, or what? Many moons ago, on a very hot day, I had a center court ticket (and right up front, too) to see Steffi Graf in her first Wimbledon final against Martina Navratilova. Unfortunately, I had been quafffing a glass or two of champagne to wash down the traditional strawberries and cream, so it was all I could do to stay awake. By the time the men’s doubles began, I was fast asleep.

And so to writing, in all its naked glory. I’ve been checking in on the blog written by Barbara Abercrombie, a UCLA “distinguished instructor” and pretty terrific writer herself. Barbara teaches non-fiction writing and memoir, and if I can, I register for her workshops as soon as they are listed. I’ve written about it before, that need to exercise the creative muscle, to go back to basics in the quest to move beyond the plateau that rears up all the time in a writer’s life. Anyway, check out Barbara’s blog at This week she talks about the importance of taking notes, of recording those events, big and small, that impact our lives. The key is to remember smells, tastes, sounds, those elements that the senses are alive to. You see, it all becomes inventory (I’ve spoken about inventory on this blog before), material that can be drawn out and used in fiction and non-fiction alike. So, reminder to self: Take notes. Remember inventory. A book is like building a house, brick by brick. Or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird By Bird.” Those notes help you construct, and they’ll add weight to the stuff of your wonderful imagination.


  1. Absolutely!

    We're the ones with "right royal layabouts," starting with the Bush twins.

    I'm not saying Jenna and Barbara should be flying choppers over Baghdad. But what about working in the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany where our amputees, burn victims, and the like are treated?

  2. Paul, what an excellent idea!!! Barbara and Jenna in camouflage. Let's have Dolce and Gabbana get right on that.

    Our J, I love your posts for many reasons but one of the important reasons is that your veddy veddy British way of writing hasn't been Californiaized. It's amost like we're talking about literature and life over a cuppa.

    Re: Harry's desire to go to war with his mates. How sad that we count on our young people believing they're invincible.

  3. from Jacqueline

    Oh, Paul, I would love to see those Bush babies "over there." There would be no sticking their tongues out to the world if they had to do real work, instead being a pair of binge-drinking princesses. Landstuhl is the first place I'd put them, possibly after land-mine disposal in Bosnia, or Laos.

    In times of war politicians have always counted on that sense of invicibility, that optimism that the young take with them into battle. The old men are only too willing to send those younger to fight their wars. What was it Paul said in that great post a couple of weeks ago? We should have all said, "Hell, no - you go!"

    And Patty, I have never thought of myself as "veddy veddy British" - I don't even hear my own accent any more, which is strange, because I know I don't sound American. After a while, you don't "hear" accents in the same way, and that's really a delight for someone raised in Britain.

  4. I still speak like a native Yakimaniac except sometimes I squeak out a "like totally awesome" just for fun.

  5. from Jacqueline

    But you are totally awesome, Patty!

  6. Hi Jacqueline, interesting post. As a fellow Brit, I find myself agreeing with most of what you said.

    Possibly Harry's spirit of adventure comes with the red hair and the distinctly un-Charles-like appearance generally!

    Just one thing though - I think you'll find the 'plucky royals stay in London' story is a myth, though still one that's widely disseminated. At the time, they claimed that they spent the night at the Palace, then later on the story was changed to Windsor Castle... but years later it emerged that they spent the vast majority of the Blitz period much further afield, in Norfolk and Scotland!

  7. Robert, thanks for the info regarding the sojourn in Norfolk. I confess, I always thought that 'stay in the palace" story a bit thin, and now all I can say is, "I might have known!" The spin never ends.

    And speaking of spin, I know people have questioned Harry's red hair, but did anyone ever take a good look at Diana's father - Harry is the image of him! And both his aunts and his uncle on his mother's side are real carrot-tops. Thank heavens the boy's got some gumption!