Baby Talk Overheard at Balmoral

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It is before nine in the morning. The Queen's senior dresser, Shirley MacDonald, a woman who has served The Queen for decades and is now nearing retirement, is brushing out The Queen's hair. They are in The Queen's sitting room, looking out on a shaven lawn in Aberdeenshire. A dark mountain can be seen in the distance. The Queen is sitting in a hard-backed chair with a tartan slipcover on the seat.

"The baby arrived just in time, Ma'am," said Shirley.

"One or two days more and we would have had to delay coming up here," said The Queen.

"It would have been a nuisance, Ma'am."

"I loathe altering the calendar."


"Everything was settled and arranged months ago."


"Why, it would have meant dozens of changes."

"Dozens and dozens, Ma'am."

The Queen detected a hint of mockery in the air. "That will be enough Mrs MacDonald."


Shirley had long ago ceased to be intimidated by her employer, whom she'd come to think of as Mrs Queen. This was approximately how her employer also thought of herself, though The Queen did feel the need occasionally to put her foot down.

"You must be happy, Ma'am, that the succession is assured."

"It's been assured for a long time Mrs MacDonald. Since 1948. With the birth of the Prince of Wales. I did that."

"You did, Ma'am."

"The Duke of Edinburgh helped, of course."

"Of course, Ma'am."

"But not in the same room for the delivery. I believe he was off having a cigar somewhere."

"No doubt, Ma'am."

"Barbaric custom, that."

"The cigar, Ma'am?"

"No, no, Mrs MacDonald. Having the father in the delivery room."

"Do you think so, Ma'am?"

"Yes, I do think so. Why have the husband there? One wants to scream in peace."

"I agree, Ma'am."

"A stout midwife and a strong opiate is what one wants, not some hopeless male covered in dismay."

"The opiate is a must, Ma'am."

"In my day, one also had a cabinet minister in the anteroom as well."

"Did you, Ma'am? Why was that?"

"Well, it all goes back to the baby in the warming pan."

Mrs MacDonald had been told by the physicians to be on the qui vive for telltale signs of President Reagan's condition. The Queen was after all 86. She proceeded with caution. "The warming pan, Ma'am?"

"Look it up Mrs MacDonald! Look it up! King James II had a baby in 1688. Rumor had it that it wasn't his baby or the Queen's at all. It was a stray child smuggled into the bedchamber in a warming pan. It was a plot to divert the succession!"

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