16 MAY 1992, Page 7


arold Nicolson relates somewhere that his father, when Ambassador to Con- stantinople, witnessed the first minister of the Ottoman Empire running alongside the Sultan's coach during some ceremony or other. The ordeal of the poor, panting politician struck the elder Nicolson as evi- dence both of despotism and of decadence. Something of the same sort occurred to me watching the State Opening of Parliament last week. It is a feeling that has been grow- ing in me for the past few years. However much Mr David Dimbleby (supplemented on this occasion by Lord Blake and a chap from the LSE) may go on about the media- eval origins of Parliament and that daft Cap of Maintenance, the whole ceremony is pretty degrading to Queen and Com- mons alike. She is compelled to read out a lot of claptrap, while they have to trot along to the Lords to hear her. Mr John Major is not forced to run alongside the royal coach. His bad leg would prevent that anyway. But Lord Mackay has to walk backwards down some steps, an exercise from which Lord Hailsham in his later years was properly excused. The question is how much longer this nonsense can go on. I do not mean the State Opening alone, but the Monarchy itself. You do not need to possess a specially sensitive political nose to detect a whiff of republicanism in the air. There now seems to be general agreement that, while we may be prepared to put up with a sovereign, his or her consort, and an heir to the throne (together, of course, with the Queen Mother), the rest of the royal family has grown quite out of hand and should be disbanded forthwith.

Some of us have seen this coming since the Queen cut up rough about not being kept fully informed over the invasion of Grenada. But she has a dual function: as Head of State and of the Commonwealth. The latter is now substantially a collection of more or less corrupt dictatorships. Nev- ertheless, Her Majesty seems to be attached to her position. As Head of State, she can properly be compelled to kowtow to the Europeans. She may, with equal pro- priety, be compelled now to relinquish her Commonwealth role.

As• long as Mr Basil d'Oliveira contin- ued to play cricket, so long could I consider myself young. But he went. Soon the crick- eters were younger than my son. Even the Politicians were getting younger. In 1990 the Prime Minister himself was a younger man. But while everyone else has been get- ting younger, air hostesses seem to be get- ting older. Some of them are as old as I am. One or two could even pass as my mother — or, anyway, my mother as I now remem- ber her, in her middle years. The change originates, I believe, in United States poli- cies against 'ageism', and is doubtless laud- able. But then, even in the old times I had never regarded these overworked figures as the glamorous creatures of newspaper myth. My recipe for happy air travel is to have as little as possible to do with them, to accept liquid refreshment, but to refuse all food. I regard an air flight as I would a visit to Lord's or the Oval, and bring my own Marks and Spencer's sandwiches.

Whenever I am here I revisit S. Saviour in Chora, which was first a church, was then a mosque and is now a museum. It contains the finest examples of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the world. But that is not the real reason why I keep coming back to it. It is rather that the small, red, domed church itself gives a feeling of repose. Its architecture is not so highly praised as its interior. It is not so much lauded as that very different jewel-like small church, S. Maria dei Miracoli in Venice, but it has the same quality. Build- ings above a certain size never possess this potency.

Mr David Dutton has published a life of John Simon which I shall certainly read some time. I might once have undertaken the same project myself. I was having lunch at the Gay Hussar with Mr James Fenton, who was to succeed me as political corre- spondent of the New Statesman. Lord

Longford, having lunched, was as was his habit walking up and down the restaurant, treating it rather as a party that had been laid on for his benefit, This was in his pub- lishing days. Arriving at our table, he said that I ought to write a book for him, prefer- ably a political biography. I replied that they had all been done, but there was always John Simon. Yes, Lord Longford agreed, though without great enthusiasm: Simon certainly remained a gap. There the matter rested. But Mr Fenton was dis- tressed to realise that he had never heard of Simon. Determined to repair the defi- ciency, he consulted works of reference, got books out of the library, began to read them. Simon seemed to have had a lot to do with Manchester and the BBC. It was very odd. In his zeal, Mr Fenton was read- ing about E. D. Simon, later Lord Simon of Wythenshawe. He had got the wrong Simon.

When I was working for the present editor's father, Mr Nigel Lawson, as politi- cal correspondent of The Spectator, he would encourage me to write replies to let- ters on the letters page itself. 'You must come back on this one,' he would say. It is a practice which I have never greatly liked. It gives, or seems to give, the writer an unfair advantage. He has had his say, and here he is being given a second go straightaway. In the circumstances, however — because I have been watching the new BBC World Television Service — I feel it is appropriate to reply to Mr Michael Williams of the BBC (Letters, 2 May). While it is true that the Corporation has lost various sporting rights (thus the service showed the Rugby League cup final but not the Union inter- national championship), it still seems to me pointless to show specially made silly pro- grammes when the service can combine the best of BBCI and 2. It was better in the old days: that appears to be the unanimous view of the British community in Istanbul. I might as well mention Mr Michael Cock- erell (Letters, 9 May) as well. I did not know the full quotation from Mr Peter Jay.

Mr Cockerell has made a contribution to knowledge. What a pity he then has to go and spoil it all with a low (and certainly irrelevant) attack on my forecasting abili- ties, or the lack of them.

Following a terrorist outrage in Izmir, the Turkish police there staged a demon- stration with their families. Their slogan was: 'Death to Human Rights.' I thought my friend Sir Peregrine Worsthorne would like to know that sound old anti-Jacobin principles can still be found in some parts of the world.