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The Royal Ruckus Over Her Majesty's Dreradful Digits

I have decided, after considerable ponderment, lasting a couple of minutes at least, that I will not, after all, have my portrait painted. Or not by Antony Williams, anyway.

It strikes me that non-royal-watchers may be unfamiliar with this portrait painter's name.

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Suffice it to explain, then, that he is the chap who recently did the face of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth - though it was not the face that was the problem. It was the hands. They do not look (as delineated by Mr. Williams with an extraordinary degree of realism) at all like the hands to which a queen might judiciously lay claim. Instead, they contain, as the Times (of London, naturally) has put on record, "the uncompromising detail of broken fingernails."

One might not mind if such fingers were well-gloved (as I am led to believe they generally are, though perhaps not when she washes the dishes); then they might be just about OK for the occasional shaking. But they are not the sort of hands with which you would willingly be knighted or that sort of thing.

Britain sports one or two professional royal watchers, people with superior accents on whom the news media call when they want a vivid opinion on the latest royal happening. Lord St. John of Fawsley (he is not pronounced "Saint John" incidentally, but "Sinjun") is unquestionably the cherry on top of this particular cake, the royal pronouncer-in-chief. Whenever he has anything to pronounce of a royal nature, he does so with a well-oiled assurance that convinces his listeners that he has known Her Majesty since birth like the back of his hand, and on this occasion he "declared emphatically" (said the Times): "These are not the hands of the Queen."

The very next day, however, the artist no less emphatically counter-declared: "These are the hands of the Queen." (Without wishing to be picky, an art critic might point out here that neither of them was right: They were not hands at all, but a painter's depiction of hands, which is another matter altogether.)

The queen, as is her wont, has said nothing on the subject - or for that matter about her various subjects who seem to know her better than she knows herself.

Whatever your nails are like, I do not think it can be easy being the queen. I mean, her habitual, dignified silence is all very well, but isn't she ever tempted to end needless speculation by making a simple announcement on a given matter? If these are "her hands," then wouldn't it be better to say, in a good round royal way, that friend Sinjun has taken his loyalty to her person rather too far this time?

Or contrariwise, if Williams has painted someone else's manual and digital regions and perpetrated them on the queen, wouldn't a swift, firm denial from Buckingham Palace be in order? Something along the line of: "The Queen would like it to be known that she does not now have, and never has had, a broken fingernail." That would do the trick.

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It is in the fingernail department that I myself would most prefer non-portrayal.

In fact, I can't help wondering if the queen has perhaps been digging a hole in her basement lately.

I have. And I can tell you, it plays havoc with things cuticular.

This is only a theory on my part, of course, but it might be an explanation of the matter of the royal hands. Although I believe Her Majesty may not herself be stunningly tall, the duke, I seem to remember from when I met him, was quite a height above sea level; and if their place is anything like ours, walking along the back passage in their basement may well be impossible to do without inadvertently crowning your bonce on numerous joists and hot water pipes. So it may have dawned on them that a bit of do-it-yourself is in order - a touch of the pick-and-shovel technique, a bucketing-out of earth - in order to lower the floor of said passage accordingly.

That, anyway, is why I am digging a hole in our passage here at No. 48, and if the queen and duke have not launched on a similar project of late, then I for one will be quite surprised. The duke is rather busy, I know, with this and that - watching polo matches and so on - so it has probably fallen to the queen to do the actual digging business.

You may well ask why she has not been wearing heavy-duty workman's gloves while she grubs and grovels away at the subsoil among her foundations. Again, I can only guess, but I suspect this is because she is so fed up with wearing gloves all day that when she goes down there of an evening to excavate for an odd half hour (just after "Coronation Street," probably) she simply prefers the feeling of mother earth right between the royal fingers to the clammy, intervening enclosure of yet more gloves.

Down there in the musty darkness she can just be herself, clawing away at the geological strata, not a care in the world, humming, "Dig-dig, Dig-dig, Dig-dig, Dig-dig" to her heart's content and without even thinking of asking Disney about copyright. She couldn't do that at a state dinner, I'll be bound. No way.

But what I would like to know is this: When did Sinjun last authentically and face-to-face have a look at the queen's fingernails? How can he be so certain that she has not been spending her spare time having a good dig at the basement floor since he last had audience with her?

The Times went on to say that "Lord St. John ... granted that it was a powerful painting. 'But it has not got the essence of the Queen, which is her serenity, benevolence and happiness. It has caught one aspect of her, but a portrait should capture the whole person.' "

It must be wonderful to be so sure about everything, so persistently, so confidently right; to voice your opinion with such incontrovertible self-assurance; to know everything there is to know about queens and portrait painting and portrait painting and queens. Wonderful.

But I'd bet (if I were a betting man) that Sinjun has never in his life dug a hole in a basement. You can tell from his shining morning face that his fingernails are immaculate.

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