I just love the documentaries over here. I am watching a 3 part series called The Queen's Castle, an intimate portrait of life at Windsor Castle.
Today's episode concerns the State Banquet planned in honour of the detente cordiale between England and France. The guests of honour were President and Mme Chirac, who were to stay in suite 204 with his and hers bathrooms, a drawing room with a footman, and one of the best views in the country - that of the Long Avenue. Has to be seen to know what I mean.
After the banquet, the evening's entertainment would be a performance of Les Miserables for which the cast and crew would make a mad dash from London after that day's performance. The celeb who played Jean Valjean wondered aloud at the choice of Les Miz, as he thought that would probably offend everyone.
Perfection in everything is the rule at Windsor.
A scene of two men called the Fendersmiths who, using an old traditional fenderstick, place over 100 chairs exactly 27 inches in front of each place. Then they stand back, squinting, to make sure it's straight, and will return to a chair to tap it into line. They joke that it should become an Olympic sport.
A woman in the kitchen is making butter crowns. Every guest has his or her own dish of two little butter crowns. As she rolls a small ball between two wooden panels, she comments that when the Queen was a little girl, she and the Queen Mother used to do that job. It's a tricky thing to learn. After rolling the ball, it is placed on the royal seal which has been dipped in cold water, and then she pats the pat with a paddle and voila! you have a royal pat of butter.
Even vegetables that don't look right are whipped right off the golden chargers before being whisked into the State Dining Room.
The meat course for the evening was, I think, Angus beef from Scotland, which the chef and his assistant had travelled up specifically to see before it was shipped down south.
The old fellow on the roof had taken down the Union Jack in preparation for Her Majesty's arrival home. Constantly in phone communication with the ground, he must wait until the Queen's car is within the gates of Windsor Castle before hoisting aloft the Royal Standard.
As he ties the rope around the mast, he quips, "For Queen and Country." This is a phrase used by any loyal British subject, and one that was of course part of our motto in Girl Guides and Brownies.
As she made her pre-banquet rounds of the dining room and theatre, I was tickled to hear the Queen say, "Yeah, sure....uhuh."
And even Her Majesty, that veteran of State Banquets, can still be impressed by the preparations.
I found a pleasant irony in the fact that the president of the French Republic which had struggled so hard to free itself from a Monarch and then an Emperor, would come to its old nemesis England, to be feted by its Queen, the figurehead of a monarchy which has lasted for nearly 1,000 years. Broken only once, for 11 years by the short-lived Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, in the golden revolution England once more returned her monarch to the throne to restore, I think, the world's most successful kingdom to its rightful place in history.