Wednesday 23 January 2008

Seize the throne, sisters.

A weekday evening. Nini is glued to some ghastly 'alternate docu-tainment' TV drama about a fictional English royal family, which I am kind of semi-watching while attempting to use the laptop to list items for sale on EBay. I am feeling fairly irritated, firstly because I think the TV programme (which Nini appears to be showing every sign of enjoying enormously) is truly dire, and secondly because my mouse pointer is doing that infuriating thing whereby, if left alone, it will wander off to the top left corner of the screen. This means I have to constantly wrestle with the mouse, in the manner of a sailing skipper fighting to maintain the helm in heavy seas, just to tick the 'PayPal accepted' checkbox.
The TV programme breaks for adverts. "Are you enjoying this show?" I ask Nini, hoping she will say "No" so that I can watch something else, even if its the home shopping channel, or the static screen that says 'CBeebies will return at 7 a.m' - or even Channel 5, if there was no other choice...
"Yes, I am, apart from the stupid storyline about the Princess."
I have not really been paying attention, and this has passed me by. Nini is swift to bring me up to speed:
"It has this storyline where the King had died, and his eldest son takes the throne. Even though the King had a daughter, who was older still."
I wait expectantly for the punchline. There clearly isn't one coming. "Right...?" I ask.
"Well it wouldn't happen nowadays, would it? So it's all a bit stupid."
"I think the whole programme is a bit stupid, but what do you mean, specifically? What wouldn't happen nowadays?"
"The prince getting the throne. It would just go the the princess, as she's older."
There is a short pause. Somewhere deep in my mind, a warning siren sounds, and a little voice says "Leave it. Leave it well alone. No good can come of this conversation, so just agree with her, and get back on EBay". Sadly, I have been ignoring that little voice all my life, and do so again:
"It wouldn't. The crown always passes to the oldest son, unless there are no other descendants."
"Not any more, surely? Not these days"
"What do you mean 'not any more'? Of course it does."
Nini sits very still and looks at me long and hard, in the manner of a tree frog watching an insect and thinking about lunch. I realise she is trying to determine if I am telling the truth or trying to wind her up.
"It's true," I say. "Tradition and all that."
There is another short pause. The air has that feeling of pressure about to be violently released, akin to the moment after you've seen the lightning flash but not yet heard the thunder. On my laptop, the unattended mouse pointer sneaks into the top left corner of the screen and pushes insistently against it, as if trying to hide.
"Kings. Sons. Crowns." I babble, helpfully.
"You. Are. Kidding. Me", she says quietly, with distinct menace.
"If we had a King, and he died, and his eldest child was a daughter, she wouldn't get the throne?"
I shrug. "No"
"What if she was an only child?"
"Yes. Oh, actually, no - not if the king had a brother. His brother would get it instead, I think..."
"WHAT? Still? In this day and age?"
It is clear that Nini is working up a good head of steam on this one. I suspect she may soon starting ranting, which feels a bit odd as that's usually my department. I decide, on balance, that it's probably best not to ask the question I desperately want answered, which is: "Nini, you went to school. You've got a degree. How can you not know this?"
"That is outrageous," she continues. "That is completely unacceptable."
I scratch at my chin and say nothing. This is partly because I am not sure what to say, and partly because once false comment from me and I can easily see myself being held personally responsible for thousand of years of British royal succession.
"Don't you think it's outrageous?" she asks
Even I recognize this as one of those occasions when the truth ("No, actually I've never even given it a single seconds thought before now -and in the brief time we've been discussing it, I've come to realise I simply don't care") although technically the correct response, is not the right response. Instead, I try to calm the situation:
"Yes, it's awful", I nod, not entirely convincingly. She looks briefly mollified.
"But you do have the right to vote now", I add unnecessarily. This does not have quite the soothing affect I had hoped for.
"Oh look," I say, pointing hopefully at the TV. "It's starting again..."
She picks up the remote control and pauses the live broadcast, and for the first time ever I start to think that the modern entertainment miracle of set-top-boxes is a stupid idea.
"If this happened in real life..." Nini hisses, pointing at me with the remote and carefully enunciating each word. "....people would march. They would march on Westminster."
There is another pause. It is clear I am expected to fill it with some kind of affirmative statement.
"Well", I say slowly. "I think women would march..."
Nini looks outraged. "Men would march, too. You would march, surely?" she asks.
Ah, I think. Here it comes.
"Well..." I say, "No. Probably not."
"No? Why not? You think it's right that men should automatically get the throne, do you?"
"No, its not that. I just...don't really care."
"You don't care? About equality? You are a father of two daughters and you don't care?"
I make a vague shrug. "Nini, it's just a rich family who live in a lot of big houses. Does it really matter who has the master bedroom...?"
Nini actually balls her fists in fury. "Well", she says "I would march. And I would take the girls with me. Your girls."
"But you would just sit here at home, being a man, would you? Doing man things."
"Um.... yeah?" I offer.
"You'd just sit there, on the sofa, farting and cupping yourself in front of Top Gear, would you?"
"What if it were your daughters who missed out on the throne?" she asks angrily. I stop and think about this.
"Well, that would make me the King, surely?" I point out.
She turns away and unpauses the TV, muttering under her breath. I can't hear what she's saying but it sounds a bit like "King of bastards, maybe..."
An uneasy silence descends. I notice the mouse pointer is still flickering away, and for a wistful second think back to when we wrestled together over my Ebay listing, in what now seem like happier times...

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