Many years ago when the world was young I was one of the four Vice Presidents of the Linnean Society of London. Each year the society would have a ‘conversazione’ — basically a drinks party — in some nice location, preferably of scientific or historic significance. One year it was to be held at Down House, the home of Charles Darwin. A duty of the President was to welcome guests to the event, shaking hands, smiling and finding some suitably anodyne words of welcome. As the conversazione was the society’s ‘Ladies’ Night’ the President was expected to be accompanied by their spouse. (This was quite a few unreconstructed years ago – I am pleased to say that the Society now has a female President). That year, the President couldn’t attend (field work abroad); one VP was ineligible (going through a divorce); the other two couldn’t make it (for reasons I can no longer remember) so the baton was passed to me.
After work me and Mrs Gee hoofed it as fast as possible to Down House; were ushered into an upstairs room to change into our posh frocks; and were then stood in the front hall of Down House to welcome the guests. We stood there for some hours. The floor was very, very hard. The guests just kept on coming. After they had all arrived we had a very quick chance to enjoy the party and take a look at the inside of Down House. Then we went home.
We were dog tired. Our feet ached from standing on that hard floor. Our hands ached from all the handshakes. Even our faces ached from all the forced smiling. The last thing I remember before falling gratefully asleep was Mrs Gee saying ‘now I know what it feels like to be the Queen’.
And that was for just a couple of hours.
Imagine having to endure day after day of it, week after week, for more than seventy years.
In the immortal words of Paddington Bear: thank you Ma’am. For everything.