‘To the Wet Windsors…’
Sometimes I go to bed and just want to read something warm and reassuring, something that lowers the heart rate and produces an unconscious smile. For the last twelve months, on and off, I have been reading this:
Not every night. Sometimes I don’t pick it up for a week or even a month. But when I do, it’s like an old friend and I dread that I’ve actually reached the last few pages within the book. I wouldn’t be adverse to beginning again, to see what I missed as my eyes shuttered down.
I knew very little about the Queen Mother beyond the commonplace before reading this book. I knew her place in the monarchy, her family tree, and that she had complete disregard for Wallis Simpson: ‘If Mrs Simpson is not fit to be Queen, she is not fit to be the King’s morganatic wife. The Crown must be above all controversy.’
And that she loved a tipple.
‘To the Windsor Wets, Fellow Soakers. I have received with gratification the invitation to become the Patroness of your exclusive club… you may rest assured your patroness will be with you until the last glass. And so… let us go forward together, always remembering our watchword – ‘Aqua Vitae NON aqua pura.’ With kind regards and many hiccoughs. I remain yours in thirst, Elizabeth.’
What I didn’t know was how gracious and graceful she was,
how much she loved Bertie, King George VI, or how he proposed to her three times over many years and she kept denying him. Nor that she was so politically astute, caring of her subjects and aware of her position. I was in awe of her fine etiquette and the fact that she wrote a heartfelt thankyou note to everyone who had shown her affection or a fine time.
Her wit in many letters is obvious:
‘You must come round and ‘ave one soon. You have no idea how tiring it is being engaged! I am quite gaga already and can only clutch my magic stone and hope for the best. Good ‘ealth, Yours… Elizabeth Lyon’
(on being elevated to the Duchess of York on her marriage to Prince Albert) ‘As to what to call me, I really don’t know! It might be anything! You might try “All hail, Duchess”, that is Alice in Wonderland sort of Duchess or just “Greetings” or “What Ho, Duchess” or “Say, Duch” – in fact please yourself, as it will certainly please me…’
‘Well, so long Bertie, don’t forget your honey lamb, will you? Darling B, you are an angel. Your as ever loving E.
PS: For gawd’s sake, don’t leave my letters lying about!’
Her love for her grandson Charles patent:
‘I can’t tell you how much I look forward to seeing you next month and with much love ever your devoted, idiotic, supine, sentimental, vacillating, keenonfishingandshootingandallthosedelightfulthings and very loving, Granny.’
Her affection for Phillip evident:
‘Best love, darling Phillip, & I pray for your happiness and guidance every night – from your darling Mama, Elizabeth.’
Her honesty refreshing and breathtaking:
‘I feel as if I never want to go to a dance again, one only makes friends and then they are killed.’
‘I am still just as frightened of bombs going off as I was at the beginning. I turn bright red and my heart hammers, in fact I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot of people are, so I don’t mind… Tinkety tonk old fruit, and down with the Nazis.’
Her love and admiration for her daughter Elizabeth powerful:
‘…and that it will rest & relax your darling mother – I thought she looked tired, & no wonder, with all these… political worries to deal with. See if you can look after her, darling Charles, and even persuade her to sit in a comfortable chair & REST (occasionally!). She is very precious to us all.’
Her predilection for the outdoors and especially Scotland blatantly obvious:
‘The ground here is covered with primroses and violets and cowslips and anemones and the birches are just coming into leaf and the cherries are in full flower. It is such a lovely time… we eat rather early and fish later… all muscles ache, backs practically broken… shoulders in agony… a slight cold in the head and a small chill in the tummy, bruised feet and legs & probably a twisted knee, but its all worth it.’
On her first visit to Australia as Duchess of York, she visited my own state and my home town, and she picked up on the regional atmosphere straight away. Nothing has changed and the north and south of the island still embark on bitter unfounded jealousies. So this piece to Queen Mary really tickled my funnybone.
‘For instance in Tasmania, when you and Papa stayed in Hobart, we had to go off to Launceston their other town, merely because there is keen hatred and jealousy between the two towns and if we had not gone there, the whole island would have been furious. The jealousy in Australia is terrible – of course they are very young but it makes everything so suburban.’
And then there are her friends, her horses and her love of the good times … so many letters that I would need to re-read to get the best quote, they are all so wonderful.
Prince Charles spoke of her as ‘the original life enhancer … with an irresistible mischievousness of spirit.’ And I do agree, after reading this book. She is, quite simply, wonderful.
This is one of those books that now discovered, I will never let go, and if my daughter insists that I hand it back, I shall just have to buy her a new copy and keep this much fingered one for myself, if nothing else to remind me that being a life enhancer is a pretty good place to be!