Walking through the city centre yesterday, I was struck by a group of well-dressed people stopping various individuals going about their business, including myself, and forcibly turning them around to face a different direction. They explained that it is customary not to turn one’s back on the Royal Family, and this crack team was but one small portion of a vast crack squad of vigilante commemorative plate collectors and Mail readers (although the Venn diagram of the two groups is essentially one circle). For decades, they have been travelling the country and making sure people are always facing the correct way, in the manner of facing Mecca to pray, except in perpetuity. If we wanted to carry on in our original direction, we would simply have to walk backwards.
Some of the squad have infiltrated the Palaces’ catering services and regularly plant transmitters in the food, meaning they can always tell which way any individual member of the Royals is facing. They can thereby factor in a series of rapid corrections simultaneously across the country. If for instance Prince Harry were to think someone had called his name, turned around quickly, saw no one had, and immediately returned to what he was doing, the whole of Britain could imitate his movements immaculately. Another welcome challenge for the team comes when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dance a waltz around their home, which they still do frequently, such is their enduring love for one another. As Will twirls Kate, so he twirls the nation.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is that for members of the squad dealing with transport infrastructure. If, for example, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are standing at a given point, any motorist or train commuter to unwittingly pass them will shift in an instant from a position of respect to one of shame and dishonour.
Two short-term solutions have been attempted so far. In one case, all traffic moving in one direction has been blocked until the Royal couple change the way they are facing, at which point that stream of traffic is free to move, while the one travelling in the opposite direction is immediately stopped. This has been causing severe delays. Meanwhile, the roundabout outside Buckingham Palace has been impossible to use for years. In other cases, new vehicles have been designed with revolving chairs fitted for passengers and drivers alike. At the critical moment of passing the Royals, these chairs immediately swing round, ensuring that everyone is maintaining a position of sufficient reverence. This has been proving highly popular on trains, but has been causing numerous deaths on the roads.
The long-term aim is to develop a vast digital network utilising the changing positions of all the Royals about the country to greatly reduce the amount of corrective turning labour required. Once up and running, this will make it much easier to ensure everyone is facing at least one Royal at any one time. The system is sure to be far more efficient than a national system previously used in which each segment of the country was assigned one Royal to face. This came in a brief period in the early nineties when the young Prince Harry mistakenly thought the Royals weren’t allowed to turn their backs on each other, insisted the entire family face in on itself, and his relations decided to humour him non-stop. Britain was accordingly divided along lines drawn from the points each Royal’s hand touched another’s, as they stood silently in an unmoving circle for five months. William still occasionally ribs him about this misunderstanding, as well as the Nazi uniform incident.
It might be tempting to question the squad as to whether it would be more practical simply to limit the custom to those in the immediate proximity of royalty. Sadly, this has been raised before, and has only ever been met with accusations of treason and large-scale hate campaigns driven by multiple newspapers. And so the custom remains. And, although it has led to numerous difficult situations, it is now increasingly likely that new technology will help ensure the worst is behind us, and the best in front, where they should be.