I have just finished reading ‘Mrs Queen Takes the Train’ written by William Kuhn. I had not read anything of his before and indeed I had not heard of him before …but I saw this book on my favourite book website, Amazon and decided it looked like an interesting story. It is.
I’m often drawn to stories about Royalty – it’s a throw back from my childhood. My grandmother was English and upheld the elegance of the English traditions in our family home inspite of the harsh Australian heat and our some times rough and ready ways. Gran told us many stories of the palace and of being ‘presented’ and her ‘debut’ and all the other bibs and bobs that go with being part of the aristocratic mob. Her grandfather was a Lord and owned a large estate where she had been brought up – none of the estate or heritage was passed to any of Gran’s descendants though, because she had chosen to marry a young German and was more or less kicked out of home. Sad but true and it made for many good stories to be told and listened to after dinner when I was a kid.
My life was at the extreme opposite end to my Gran’s as a child and young girl, but I always had a fascination with her world and would have loved to experience some of it first hand. Now though it doesn’t appeal as much, probably because reality has taken a grip over the years and it has been widely revealed that life in the upper classes and royal families, is not without the drama and unhappiness we all suffer. Gran’s life on the farm in Queensland with our adored German grandfather was good enough for all of us.
William Kuhn’s story is about the Queen who decides she is a little bored with life in general, and although she would rather cut her left foot off than admit it, she is feeling depressed. Well that’s credible, because I think I too, would be incredibly bored and depressed with her lifestyle. Always having to do and say the right things, in constant readiness to smile and shake hands (no wonder she still wears gloves) and attend all the dinners, luncheons and other functions held in honour of the Monarch or some other leader of a foreign country.
As the story continues, the Queen has become a little friendly with the young girl who cares for one of her horses called Elizabeth because it was born on HRH’s birthday….the young girl Rebecca, is awkward with life and people and prefers horses and by some quirky chance, finds that the horse Elizabeth enjoys cheddar cheese. This amuses the Queen so she decides on this particularly down day while alone and with nothing else to do, to visit the stables with a lump of cheese for the horse.
It’s cold, wet and windy (sounds like Victoria’s weather really), and the Queen arrives at the stables wearing just a scarf round her head for protection from the rain. Rebecca hands her a hoodie as she is leaving which the Queen graciously accepts. Walking back to the palace HRH decides to take a walk and perhaps buy some more cheese for her horse …and she rather fancies a little trip down memory lane with a visit to the Royal yacht Britannia.
There are all sorts of adventures, encounters, friendships formed, relationships tried and tested and built along the way, while during this time HRH boards a train for Scotland and makes small talk with a blind man, his almost blind wife and a young hood.
I can understand her wanting to be alone and to get away from all the planning and scheduling that must be involved in any movement HRH makes outside her various homes, and I find the idea of her boarding a train and taking the risk someone would recognise her, enthralling.
She finally makes it to the yacht where it is now a tourist attraction in Edinburgh. Mistaken as the cleaner by the security guy, access is gained at last to her beloved yacht where HRH spends some time in one of the sitting rooms to reflect and rest. How happy her life had been back then. How simple yet elegant. How safe! The Royal family had enjoyed their trips on the yacht where they could be free and happy away from photo lenses and prying eyes of the public.
It is mind boggling to think what would happen in such a situation in real life. Would people be as kind as they are in the book? Would they not recognise her just because she is an elderly lady wearing a hoodie with a skull and cross-bone on the back? Would the few close staff members along with Rebecca and the young man who sold the cheddar cheese to HRH be able to maintain a watch on HRH from a distance without letting the security thugs or Scotland Yard in on the secret?
The other thought that kept coming to me was that it must be frightening at times for HRH to be out in the big wide world (other than her country estates where she walks alone often), totally alone with no ladies-in-waiting, no guards, no drivers and no one to pay her fare. As a kid I was always told by my grandmother that the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret never carried money with them in those ever-present and practical-looking handbags slung over their arms so elegantly. William Kuhn must not have been told this as a child because when the fare for the train was requested, the Queen hauled out crisp 50 quid notes from her purse. Wasn’t that lucky? That could have been game over right there…..no money, no fare….off the train sweetheart.
Personally I enjoyed the story immensely but then I’m a fan of the Royals from way back and especially the Queen. I remember very clearly seeing her in Australia when she and the Duke visited almost every town in the country. My father hoisted me up to sit on his shoulders so I wouldn’t miss seeing them, and the Duke leaned over and shook my little hand. I was about four I think if not younger and can see him and the ‘beautiful lady with him’ as clearly as if it was yesterday. Later when I was about eight or nine, Prince Alexandra came out and swept us all off our feet. She was the fairy-tale princess of the day and remains so in my view even though Diana did a pretty good job of usurping that title when she visited Oz.
I thoroughly recommend ‘Mrs Queen Takes the Train’ to anyone who wants to read something a tad different to the usual romance or mystery thriller.
Happy reading and writing everyone and big hugs.