The biggest unanswered question in the aftermath of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday wasn’t “What happens next at Oldfield School?”
It wasn’t “You know those national ID cards? How would you feel if you were a young person who’d forked out £30 on one so you could buy booze easily, and now you can’t get a refund? Because we’re just about to scrap them?”
It wasn’t “What did the Duke of Edinburgh do to win all those medals? And is he going to stay awake this time?”
It wasn’t “How soon can we book a holiday to avoid election fever in May 2015 once they introduce fixed-term parliaments?”
It wasn’t even “How can David Cameron and Harriet Harman be so chummy one minute while they’re walking into the House of Lords and then rip seven colours of whoopsy out of each other a couple of hours later in the House of Commons?”
No, what everyone was asking – well, some people, anyway – was this: “Why did half the people at the State Opening of Parliament look like they were extras in a costume drama set in the far-away kingdom of Ruritania?”
If you have the time and the inclination, take a quick look at the website of Messrs Ede and Ravenscroft, robe-fettlers to the gentry.
Here you will discover that at the tippy-top of the tree of ennoblement, dukes wear robes with four rows of ermine and gold, followed by marquesses with three-and-a-half rows. Mere barons bring up the rear with just two.
There’s a load of stuff about coronets too but it’s all a bit too complicated and technical.
The robes, you will be intrigued to learn, are made from scarlet superfine faced cloth, and “rarely need replacing”.
All of which sounds a bit like a certain lumberjack shirt which makes occasional appearances at Dixon Towers when the proprietor is called upon to undertake wintry DIY duties. And just as smelly.
Here the similarity ends, though. Because when the duking day is done (or marquessing, or baronising), the wearers don’t just stick their robes in the back of the dukely (or marquisly, or baronial) wardrobe. They send them back to Ede and Ravenscroft for safe keeping. E&R wouldn’t touch the Dixon plaid with a barge pole.
But before you become too entranced with the day-to-day romance of the British nobility, remember this: uncounted stoats died to supply those trimmings.
Isn’t it time for the killing to stop?
And then there’s Black Rod.
Bloke in funny britches gets door slammed in face. Bloke knocks three times on door. MPs open door and come quietly. What’s all that about? Don’t answer, please: life’s too short.
Space prevents us from going into the duties of Black Rod’s four counterparts, the Rods Green, Scarlet, Blue and Purple. They do exist, though, and they don’t live on Cloudbase with Colonel White.
It’s 2010, and we’re broke. And in the Houses of Parliament, once a year at least, they’re partying like it’s 1859. Does anyone really care?