A Queen in Exile
Greenwich Mean Time
James Dye, by the Grace of God, QUEEN
Eight-thirty, ante meridiem, on a Saturday is a time of fable, of legend. Few now live who have endured it. It is a time like Brigadoon, coming once every hundred years, accompanied by cacophonous melodies not representing Lerner & Loewe’s best effort.
But it was the shrill cacophony of an alarm clock and not that of a Broadway musical that woke our royal person on a recent Saturday, echoing through the rooms and empty corridors of Gannwaithe Priory. In the muddle of dreams and waking, we called for the servants. In vain. The Priory is generously appointed with the mementos of a more elegant era and a more structured society but, alas, not with servants. Avoiding the reflexion above the wash basin, lest the Gorgon’s visage turn us to stone, we hurried through our ablutions and, wrapping our self sensibly in layers against the cold, set out to oversee the formation of our new government. Heavy is the head that wears a crown.
We crossed Merrimon, where automobiles display a blatant disregard for amber traffic lights, suggested speed limits, and displaced monarchs in the crosswalk. We proceeded to the Halls of Governance and a steaming samovar of coffee. The newly-elected chief executive—we were not yet sure of his title—greeted us with a smile and proper obeisance as we attempted, in the morning haze, to transfer the coffee from the samovar into the cup. “Mr Kalahari,” we greeted him. In an embarrassing breach of protocol, he responded, “That’s Kalahati, Dread Sovereign.” The lack of caffeine in the royal system mitigated the effects of our basilisk stare. “We regret confusing you with one of the more arid regions of Namibia,” we said, “but the hour is early.” Indeed, the last occasion we were up so early on a Saturday was to have blood drawn and to be subjected to various medical indignities. Mr Kalahati was fortunate that we only mistook him for a desert.
As if on cue, members of the board, officers, and interested third parties filed in, having already filled their plates from an amply-supplied breakfast bar. Informed that this would be a working breakfast, we filled the royal plate and took our place at the table. Disrupting the royal frittata and hash browns were numerous presentations, workshops, and lectures on conflict of interest, ethics, and responsible fundraising. Of course, these things have no bearing on us who rule by divine right but are frightfully important to the board and officers of our royal government.
During the lunch break we commanded an audience with Mr Kalahati. There was the pressing issue of his title (‘queen,’ of course, was taken). “Well you cannot be prime minister or premier,” we began, “because either of those sounds foreign, and to call you a chairman will invite the unwelcomed attention of the House Unamerican Activities Committee.”
Mr Kalahati thought a moment. “In your government, Dread Sovereign,” he responded, showing deference for our exalted person, “a chair is someone responsible for a particular meeting. I wish the various board members and officers to chair different meetings, to take charge of things. It is in the interest of shared power rather than absolute power.” The basilisk stare, now fortified with caffeine, was somewhat stronger this time. We recalled, however, that he had addressed us as ‘Dread Sovereign,’ our very favourite denomination, so we did not immediately discount him as a bolshevik.
“Well, Mr Kalahati, as you have a vice president, it follows logically that you must be president.” He nodded assent, albeit reluctantly. “We detect that you feel the strain of high office. Let us, therefore, assure that you enjoy our royal support, even though we are not fond of all this constitutional business.”
“I thank you, Dread Sovereign,” the president answered, “but the challenge before us is not merely who has what title or who is chairing what meeting but having an educated government, one that is equal to the tasks at hand.”
“Mr President, we perceive an inspiring oratory in you. Pray proceed.”
“When I was a little boy,” Mr Kalahati continued, “and when I was in trouble, which was often, I went to my tata for help and guidance. I could tell him anything, and he was understanding. Sometimes he was stern, but only as the occasion required, and he was always supportive. He was often a sounding board, letting me try out new ideas or innovative solutions.”
“Mr Kalahati,” we interrupted, “your story is sweet but somewhat cloying. Have you a point?”
“Yes,” he answered. “I don’t want to be the president of this board but its tata, its grandfather. I want board members to come to me because I have experience with nonprofits and can work with them to address the particular problems and challenges that will confront Blue Ridge Pride. We want to build a community centre. Right now we have one, but it is without walls….”
“Yes, Mr Kalahati, you should endeavour to get walls. It is very cold out right now….”
“As an organisation,” he continued, “Blue Ridge Pride has grown exponentially. I want to make sure our board has the tools and expertise to match that growth and anticipate the future.”
We put a finger to the royal chin in thoughtful repose. “Your point is well-taken,” we reassured the president. “We believe, in view of the passion with which you speak, that, in addition to the title of president, you should be called ‘Tata Alfred.’ Consider it an official nickname. Perhaps the royal smithy can come up with a badge or medal to commemorate that.” We thereupon concluded the interview, with Tata Alfred showing true savoir-vivre in a courteous bow.
The rest of the afternoon, Tata Alfred informed us, was to be devoted to financial oversight and fundraising. Calculations would be involved. There were whispers of algebra and trigonometric functions. Beneath our serene exterior panic arose as we had left the royal slide rule at Gannwaithe. Had we been deceived by the kindly Tata Alfred? Were his mastery of courtly behaviour and smooth rhetoric merely a ruse? Was he really a machine, a system of cogs and gears, analysing and computing columns of figures?
At that point we would have chewed off the royal leg to escape the impending arithmetic. Fortunately fate intervened, and a previous appointment provided a convenient excuse. We waved goodbye with the royal wave, which the peasants find so endearing, and swept out of the hall. We are an enlightened monarch, a modern monarch, the very definition of tolerance and forbearance. But there is a limit to what we will endure on a Saturday or, indeed, any day of the week. Her Majesty doesn’t do math.