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The soap opera that is the British Royal family had a lavish ceremony earlier this month and millions of fans from around the world joined in. Personally, I found little to celebrate in an event that diverted funds from feeding the hungry and that saw the pre-emptive arrests of potential protesters under the kind of law you’d expect of a police state. Nevertheless, I confess I smiled at a couple of rousing anthems I’ve sung several times appearing in their original context, but only slightly.
Instead, I’ve been focused on a milestone in a much more modest House of Windsor: this month, my fictional Ms Windsor becomes a three-book series. The character who first appeared as a seventy-year-old psychiatric patient in Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, then backtracked to an abused young woman in Stolen Summers, finally reaches her centenary as a care home resident in my new novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones.
When the care home manager promises her a mammoth celebration for her hundredth birthday, Matty imagines something regal. If not quite on the scale of the Coronation, she’s inspired by a grandiose ceremony to mark the Queen’s official birthday in June 2019.
Read an extract from Lyrics for the Loved Ones:
Matty is napping in the lounge among the Loved Ones when a baritone bark from inside the television shudders her awake. She could have dropped straight off to sleep again had Oh My Darling not crouched by her chair to hand her a nylon Union Jack on a candy-floss skewer. She blinks at the screen.
Two sky-grey stallions clip-clop a Cinderella coach past ranks of men in pillar-box red jackets and furry hats. Behind them, lines of conker-coloured horses, their riders sporting pointy helmets streaming silver hair. Pay attention, says her mother. You might learn something of consequence.
As the men stomp in formation, Matty sees that some carry bugles and some carry drums. Then, as if by dint of her paying attention, they pay attention to their instruments, and thrash out such a merry melody that Matty would dance a jig if she could rise from her chair unaided. Oh My Darling would help her, were she not so consumed by the spectacle, beaming so widely her gold tooth gleams as she conducts the performers with her flag. Matty follows suit until her arm founders.
Presently, militiamen supplant the musicians. Matty’s flag falls at her feet. They drill like clockwork soldiers, clacking their weapons in unison from shoulder to shoulder and down to the ground. She would not be surprised if, as they about-turned, she spotted a wind-up key protruding from each red-coated rear.
The Loved Ones have been observing quietly, apart from the standard coughs and throat clearings; now one of them harrumphs. “How long does this flimflam go on for?”
“Aren’t you enjoying it, Olive?” says Oh My Darling.
“I’d rather sit through a reception-class nativity,” says the Loved One. “It’s less effort keeping my face straight.”
Matty notices her face is indeed askew: not only her mouth but one eye droops. Yet her pearl earrings and ebony chignon confirm her as Popeye’s Sweetheart, Olive Oyl.
“I’m a sucker for pomp and ceremony,” says Oh My Darling.
The Maharaja concurs: jolly decent of an aristocrat accustomed to cavalcades of elephants and tigers. “It’s our heritage.”
“It’s obscene. A waste of public funds when folk are feeding bairns from food banks.” Olive’s chair whirrs as she wheels away. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Oh My Darling’s gaze pursues her to the door before sweeping the room. “Everyone else happy to watch it? We could have a game of Trivial Pursuit if you prefer.”
Matty racks her brain for something to restore her maid’s bonhomie. As the screen flips to cheering crowds attired for a blustery English summer, she recalls the solitary passenger in the gilded carriage. “That lady is held in high esteem.”
The Maharaja guffaws. “I should bloody well hope so.”
“You might have missed the introduction, my lovely,” says Oh My Darling. “It’s the Queen’s official birthday.”
“Queen Elizabeth?” says Matty. Where is King George? she wonders.
“Who did you expect?” says the Maharaja. “Queen Camilla? Queen Kate?”
Matty bristles. He might be Oriental royalty but a subject of the British Empire has no right to mock. She directs her words to Oh My Darling. “Is she a hundred?” Nothing less could merit such display.
“In another seven years,” says the Maharaja. “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen Trooping the Colour.”
Matty does not deign to reply. She does not even comment on the ridiculous notion of trooping a colour – like a rainbow parade of paint pots. Nor does she quip that an Asiatic has no business patronising her on questions of English idiom. Her brain buzzes with loftier concerns.
The universe beyond her chamber can be draining. The Loved Ones’ babble. Mrs Jefferson’s rules. The meddling of Goodnight Irene. Matty often returns to her quarters with her mind in tatters; only when she’s cloistered with her knick-knacks and chattels can she effect the necessary repairs. Today the blasted television has created the muddle: battlefields mixed up with orchestras; flags and fancy dress and fairy tales; a queen without her king. Yet now, amid the maelstrom, she gathers the ingredients of a brilliant plan.
It is most irregular. Matty brushes her skirt and flexes her toes. Pats the top of her head for good measure. She certainly seems real. Did her mother not advise watching closely? Matty has caught every clue. Olive Oyl’s passion for drama. Her Royal Highness’s birthday pageant. Even the Maharaja was impressed.
Next year, Matty will be a hundred. She will mark it with more than a card from the Queen.
All three Matilda Windsor books are on special offer in e-book format this month in honour of
the coronation the Matilda Windsor series. Lyrics for the Loved Ones – launches at a discount; Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is £0.99 / $0.99; and Stolen Summers is currently free. Why not pick up the set?
Check out the Matilda Windsor series page on Amazon:
or get Lyrics for the Loved Ones here: