In my line of work it’s not unusual to see a flicker of hurt in someone’s eyes because you’ve got their name wrong despite a previous meeting or the irritation on a resident’s face when you can’t quite recall the details of their problem.
So yes, over my long career I’ll admit to the occasional lapse. In fact if truth be told, I am lucky if I manage to go 64 days without one, let alone 64 years. Which brings me, rather elegantly I think, to the subject of Her Majesty The Queen.
On 9 September the Queen became our longest serving monarch, overtaking her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria who reigned for 63 years, 216 days.
It has become commonplace to say that throughout this period she has never put a foot wrong. In an age of immediate, twenty-four hour news coverage how has that been possible?
Just think of all those thousands of banquets stuck beside some of the greatest beasts and bores of the age; the long hours under a baking sun watching battle re-enactments, military tattoos and traditional dances; the millions of conversations at garden parties and grand openings; and all those Royal Variety performances; and then think of the dreary republicans who delight in falling on a single word out of place if they think it might do damage to her, her family or the institution of monarchy.
In sixty four years, she has given them precisely nothing. It may have cost her any chance of an entry in the Penguin Dictionary of Quotations, but as an act of iron self-discipline it’s without equal in public life.
There is enormous and widespread respect for the Queen because of it.
In a period of unparalleled change in almost every aspect of our lives, she has embodied the history and prestige of the nation, keeping these quite separate and untainted by day-to-day political pre-occupations and squabbles.
When Bagehot described the importance of the ‘dignified aspect’ of the British constitution, he cannot have foreseen the age of trivia, mendacity and over-statement that would characterise the era of mass communication. Nor could he have imagined that such an effective antidote to it would occupy the throne with such distinction and for so long.