As a result of the reshuffle, I found myself having to go a few days ago to receive some seals of office from the Queen in Buckingham Palace.
The protocol surrounding events at the Palace is always rather mysterious, though enormously smoothly carried out by the very efficient and ineffably charming people who work there to keep the dignified part of our constitution running with clockwork efficiency and very considerable style.
The surroundings, of course, are magnificent, and utterly different from any ordinary government building – both because they are so much grander and because, despite this grandeur, they manage in some way to be much more domestic.
A palace is, in short, both a home and a palace, and very much not part of the normal bureaucratic apparatus of the state.
But it wasn’t the building or even the impressive way in which the ceremonies were conducted that really fixed in my mind.
The truly remarkable thing about the whole event was the way in which the Queen herself conducted it.
Once again, I found myself awe-struck by the way in which this person, now of such a great age and with an experience of the world’s affairs that probably out-matches that of any other living human being, manages to be at one and the same time so ineffably, effortlessly distinguished in bearing and manner, and so natural and straightforward and un-pompous.
It is so easy to talk to her – even across the vast gulf between her age, experience and distinction and your own – that you are led at moments to forget entirely who and what she is and to feel (quite mistakenly, of course) that she would somehow welcome an indefinitely prolonged conversation.
I have absolutely no idea how she manages this extraordinary combination of distinction and conversational charm – but it is evidently something that arises from a combination of innate gifts and a lifetime of practice.