Tuesday, May 15, 2007

God Save the Queen--from Bush

Queen Elizabeth visited England's paranoid ex-colony recently (maybe I'll coin a new word to describe America in the 'Noughts: terrornoid)--and our ever-inelegant President managed to make a fool of himself in her presence, stumbling over historical dates, cracking typically lame jokes, even winking at the grand old girl. (Forgive the fond familiarity, please, UK readers or fans of the Royals.)

The Queen journeyed across the Pond specifically to attend the Quadricentennial celebration of Virginia's Jamestown settlement (which has recently become a hot subject in revisionist histories, I believe), paid gentle homage to the recently dead students and faculty at Virginia Tech (a major change from her supposed reluctance to say anything at all when Diana was killed), and eventually hung out at the usual Washington, D.C. shindigs. But what I found most interesting was her visit with Prince Philip to the Kentucky Derby.

Radio/television newscasters made hay, so to speak, of her walking around the grounds, chatting with onlookers, and so on, casually enjoying such a crowded horse race--which just demonstrated once again America's willful ignorance of the rest of the world. For one thing, most royal personages are serious horse enthusiasts; moreover, England's Royals routinely and safely walk among the general populace, unencumbered by Secret Service or some phalanx of private-security bodyguards. (After all, hers is a nation of few or no guns.)

Besides, the Queen is a racing fan, of her own husband at least. Prince Philip for decades has raced (as in taking the reins) what's called a coach-and-four, meaning an open carriage pulled by four horses, and maybe larger conveyances too. He's a repeat champion, I believe, both from the Olympics and many years at the Windsor Horse Show, or whatever the name is for that two-day event on the vast estate of Windsor Castle.

Anyway, here's how my wife Sandra and I came to attend a Windsor weekend and wound up standing next to the Queen herself...

My family name Leimbacher is German-Swiss, and there are many more Leimbachers in the old country than in the U.S., although which ancestor emigrated 200 years ago to establish an American branch is unknown. But my father's brother Bob made it his special task from the Sixties on to track down Swiss Leimbachers and re-establish contact between the two purported branches of the family. The favorite Leimbacher he met and became close friends with (for a couple of decades) was my so-called "uncle" Heinrich, some years older than Bob or my father, but a cheerful, friendly, energetic guy.

Heinrich was well-to-do from the sale of the Swiss chemicals firm he'd founded. He and his English wife Barbara had settled in Sussex (as I recall) for many years, where one of their activities was riding--he had been an Olympic jumper, I think. Already acquainted with Prince Philip through the horse world, soon Heinrich became Philip's successful and well-liked Master of the Horses (I've forgotten the correct title) for maybe a decade, until ill health caused the older couple to leave England for Majorca.

To shorten this convoluted story, my wife and I visited Heinrich and Barbara on Majorca, and he made us promise that when we got to England later in the year, we'd go to the Windsor Horse Show, introduce ourselves as his emissaries, and then enjoy a royal (so to speak) welcome.

Came June or July and we trundled off to Windsor--where NO ONE we could connect with knew who Heinrich was at all! Instead of free tickets and a warm welcome, we were given the English brush-off, and ended up paying our own way in, just to watch the coach races since we had made the trip down.

Well, Prince Philip was driving that day, and Queen Elizabeth as usual came out to watch her husband race. The Queen arrived by car and then walked a short way along to stand at some favored spot near a stream... which just happened to be precisely where we had chosen to stand!

She was dressed in casual slacks and a jacket and head scarf, and had no more than one or two people in attendance--no guards with guns, no Bobbies with truncheons. She simply stood there patiently waiting. I'd like to think she gave us a friendly nod, but maybe not. There was certainly no one glaring at us or warning us off, but still we didn't quite dare cross the six feet of space that separated royalty and us commoners (i.e., we disinvited messengers from Heinrich).

The race proceeded. Philip drove by, splashing through the watercourse. The Queen watched silently and then climbed back into her car and departed. This time she did wave at some surprised onlookers.

A race or two later, we too left Windsor, convinced we'd actually enjoyed a bit of a royal welcome after all!

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