They’re Changing Guard

From The Chestertown Spy, 9/13/2022:

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

Alice is marrying one of the guard

“A soldier’s life is terrible hard” says Alice

When I heard the news that Queen Elizabeth had died, A.A. Milne’s poem “Buckingham Palace” came roaring back into my mind after all these years. While Winnie the Pooh never appears in the poem, Alice does in every verse. I dug a little and discovered that Alice was really Olive Brockwell, the real-life nanny of Christopher Robin, Milne’s son. She cared for Christopher Robin until he was nine, at which time he was sent off to boarding school.

They’rechanging guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

We saw a guard in a sentry box

“One of the sergeants is after their socks” says Alice

When I was 12 years old, my parents took me on my first tour of the British Isles. One evening in London, we went to the movies and when the film was over, we immediately got up to leave. We were pushing our way out of the aisle when suddenly we realized that everyone else was standing at attention, singing “God Save the Queen.” It was probably the first time I ever heard the song, and I was confused and embarrassed about why everyone else in the audience was singing and we weren’t. That might well have been my first real “teaching moment.”

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

We looked for the King but he never came

“Well, God take care of him, all the same” says Alice.

So now Charles, erstwhile Prince of Wales, is King Charles III. It turns out I have not one, but two small degrees of separation from His Majesty. In 1988, a childhood friend accompanied Prince Charles on a tour of the Homestead Steel Works in Pittsburgh; he found him to be surprisingly refreshing and personable, hardly the stiff and overly formal “Royal” as portrayed in the press. The second degree of separation came in the form of an anecdote from a college classmate who was a new student at Gordonstoun School in Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland in 1965. On the first day of classes, some older boys were teasing my American friend (“stupid bloody Yank”) who was unsure of what to do when he heard his name imperiously called out to read by the Master. He was saved when he heard someone nearby say, “Milton. He wants you to turn to page 112 and read aloud, beginning with the second paragraph.”  The speaker was Prince Charles who had endured his own portion of English public schoolboy hazing, but was nevertheless unafraid of the consequences of helping a new student. To my friend, it was a simple gift, one never fully repaid, but never forgotten.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

They’ve great big parties inside the grounds

“I wouldn’t be King for a hundred pounds” says Alice

I’m hardly a devoted monarchist, although I will admit that I believe there is ample room for traditional institutions in an ever-changing world. The Queen’s steadfast devotion to her myriad Constitutional duties was a wonder to behold. If she suffered from a human foible or two, it only made her fairy tale story all the more real. I find I’ve softened on her. Her public formality and remoteness may have been the necessary shell she wore to protect her family’s mouse hole of privacy. And, like her pastel hats and overcoats, she wore it well.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

A face looked out, but it wasn’t the King’s

“He’s much too busy a-signing things” says Alice

The new King has trained his whole life for this moment. In his first few days on the throne, he seems to be rising to the challenge. The tragedy of Diana’s death and the scandal of Camillagate have faded, while Charles’ openness to change, his understanding of the dangers of climate change, his articulate support for sustainability, his love of art and architecture, and his belief in science are all hopeful signs that a new monarchical era has begun. He also seems to have his mother’s graceful touch.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace

Christopher Robin went down with Alice

“Do you think the King knows all about me?”

“Sure to, dear, but it’s time for tea” Says Alice.

The Queen is dead! Long live the King!

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.

Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *