COLUMN

Going to the dogs with the royals

Allan Fotheringham November 4 1991
COLUMN

Going to the dogs with the royals

Allan Fotheringham November 4 1991

Going to the dogs with the royals

COLUMN

BY ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

Those outsiders viewing our perpetual angst might do well to ignore the national trauma over language. Not language as a whole, of course, just single words. The nation threatens to fall apart, for example, over the meaning of one word— “distinct.” Semantics is the key to our survival.

But the outsiders, ignoring this fuss, have a quicker route to understanding the confused country called Canada. It is to observe the semi-annual charade called a visit by the royals. Bored news editors, tired of multiple murders and pileups on the freeway, denude entire forests so we can learn the length of skirt of another country’s pin-up doll. Tiny princes are dressed up to look like ordinary Canadian brats, and photographers break ankles to record this amazing feat.

The best way to measure the immaturity of Canada is not to dissect the nonsense over the notwithstanding clause, but to observe the contrived hype over the most privileged family in the world. If we really want to resemble Ruritania, we achieve it at least twice a year with the arrival of the royals.

One would think, with the advent of People magazine, we could achieve a surfeit of voyeurism with these foreigners. But there always is some jumped-up alderman’s wife in a neglected municipality who wants to dine out ever after at having touched the hem of the garment of a slightly eccentric prince who hopes one day before his dotage to become a king.

Some of us loved Dr. Seuss; others, it appear, like their fairy tales live. Most Canadians (ask your neighbor) are bored by what the news editors thrust on us. It is why—Buck House shipping over ever more obscure relatives on a rotating basis—they must now do with Sudbury as a landing spot.

As the public boredom with a foreign family increases each year as Canada attempts to grow up, the nervous bureaucrats who arrange these things must reach farther and farther afield to find the innocent locals who will go gaga at their arrival.

One can clearly imagine the day when the chief pooh-bahs of the royals will get their

official welcome in Inuvik, to be followed by a visit to a day care station just outside Wawa, with the main banquet hosted by the Governor General in Bella Coola.

Only then would the significance of their irrelevance sink in. Only then would we be spared the presence of the clutch of Fleet Street hacks, the camp followers who trek their soggy tweeds along in the slipstream of the chinless wonders, sending back their tired clichés of life among the colonials.

This time, their fevered dispatches revealed how the two head royals giggled together in condescension as Arlene (Pearly Queen) Rae, wife of the resolutely socialist premier of Ontario, ordered in relative after relative—rather like the Charge of the Light Brigade—to a Queen’s Park reception that threatened to last until dawn.

All it reveals is that the offspring of the richest woman in the world can giggle, a

momentous discovery we thought we had learned from People magazine—or was it TatleP—some time ago. Toronto the Good, as the demographics tell us, is now less than 50per-cent Anglo-Saxon, which is why said bureaucrats—terrified of a blah response— shipped the royals to Sudbury, where they were absolutely fascinated to discover a mine.

The hacks from Grub Street were delighted, naturally, with finding the world’s tallest smokestack in Sudbury, since their main interest in such excursions among the colonies is not to cover the royals but to unearth banalities among the natives. The essential search is to find an equivalent to the waitress at a remote Vancouver Island banquet, some years ago, who instructed Prince Philip: “Hold the fork, Dook, the pie’s to come.”

Such gems decorate London newspaper pubs for decades, rather like the tales of those guests in Africa who arrive with bones through the nose when white tie and tails is clearly indicated on the embossed invitation. Why Canadians put up with such nonsense is the essence of the nonsense of the Canada that hasn’t yet learned to grow up.

Each year, as the interest in the royals subsides, since TV and the newsstands provide all the essential trivia, there is a search for which marketable brand of the family can be shipped abroad. Randy Andy is a worn-out item and Fergie seems déclassé. Eddy we apparently don’t talk about anymore and therefore the brilliant solution is to send the kids, which no photographer even with a steel heart can ignore.

The real interest in the latest semi-annual visit of the royals has nothing to do with the monarchy, that connection long fled from a Canada that has decided to be populated as much from Hong Kong and Jamaica as from Bognor Regis and Clapham Common. The titillation is about whether this particular brand of the royals— this month, this photograph—are truly coupled or just another version of Elizabeth Taylor’s latest marriage-for-ever.

These are not royals. These are a gossip item. It is Ken and Barbie in person, fodder for the water cooler and the hairdressing parlor. People marches off the supermarket shelf and arrives in Sudbury, while giggling over the endless relatives of the wife of the premier of one of the larger colonial principalities.

One day Canada—don’t hold your breath— will grow up. One day Canada, if it wishes, will have a subsidized family of public relations experts of its own. If we don’t, here is a warning. This year the kids, next year the dogs.