I was asked a question today that I've never been asked before. The question was "are you a royalist?". And honestly I didn't have an answer.
See one of the things that separates us Brits from our cousins across the pond is the royal family. It gives us something to hang our hat on when feeling patriotic, something we can identify with. They're kind of our version of the American flag (Gee Note: Although as far as I know nobody has ever set fire to Prince Charles in an act of protest. Which is surprising really. I mean generally speaking organised protests are the most tedious things on earth. No really, it's all slogan chanting and standing around making polite small talk, while every once in a while a car will drive past and honk at you. Trust me I speak from experience here, civilised protests are beyond dull. Now if you were to protest and flambé a monarch at the same time then maybe the day would pass a little quicker. Or, you know, perhaps not). But in reality the British monarchy have absolutely no impact on my day to day life.
The thing is that in these modern times the Royal family are more like Paris Hilton than anything else. As in they don't really do anything, they're just kind of there. Once in a while a member of the house of Windsor will surface in a news report talking about how we should do more to save the environment or help third world countries. And everyone will go "Yes they're quite right" before promptly forgetting all about it and carrying on regardless.
Because of this the Royal family are, well, they're kind of boring (Gee Note: Not that I can say that with any authority of course. For all I know our dear Queen could spend her evenings drinking Jack Daniels out of the bottle, snorting cocaine, and trashing hotel rooms, all while listening to The Sex Pistols at ear bleed volume. But if she does, she must do it very discreetly, as the most exciting news we've had from the old girl recently is that she uses "Tupperware" sometimes instead of fine china). In fact, with the exception of the Duke of Edinburgh, I can't think of the last time I even thought about a member of the royal family for more than three seconds.
(Gee Note: The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, is the exception to the rule. For our overseas readers Philip is Queen Elizabeth's husband, of Greek descent, and kinda looks like a stretched version of Dobby the house elf. He is also a publicist's nightmare, as inevitably not a year goes by without the jolly old Prince making some kind of faux pas. For example, on a trip to Scotland he asked a local driving instructor "How do you keep the locals off the drink long enough for them to pass the test?". On a trip to Budapest he ran in to a British national and exclaimed "You can't have been here that long, you haven't got a pot-belly". When asked about what the key problems facing the nation of Brazil were the Duke replied "Brazilians live there". After being "entertained" by a Jamaican steel drum band on a visit to the Welsh Assembly, the Duke was introduced to a group of local deaf children to which he announced "Deaf? Well no wonder you're deaf with that bloody racket going on". In short the guy is comedy gold, and by far and away my favourite British public figure).
However Royals weren't always a bland shade of grey. On the contrary, previous generations of Royals have been a motley crew of hell raisers, war mongers, drug addicts, religious fanatics, and nymphomaniacs. For example, take a look at Richard the Lionheart. Unlike the Scottish King Richard that graced our screens in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (Gee Note: Man, would I have loved to be on that film set. "Umm, say, shouldn't we tell Mr. Connery that King Richard wasn't Scottish?". "Dude, we've got a Robin Hood with a Californian accent and an Afro-American playing a Muslim. Don't you think we've got bigger problems to worry about?"), Dickie was a native of France and could barely speak a word of English. This didn't stop him almost bankrupting his adopted country by trying to teach chaps with a different colour skin how to properly worship God. Except when I say "teach", I really mean "beat the hell out of them with an army the size of Africa". Or Queen Mary, who decided that the best way to display religious tolerance was to burn anyone found practising the protestant faith at the stake. Or James I who, if scholars are to be believed, would pretty much have sex if anything that moved. Seriously, male, female, horse, all the same to this guy. Or Queen Victoria, who dined on opium as if it was going out of style (Gee Note: Which, er, come to think of it, it was). Honestly, one would want to party with any of those guys.
Sadly by the time George V took the reigns as head of state the hedonism of the previous incumbents had started to wane. The second son of Edward VII, George was born on the 3rd of June 1865. Upon the death of his father he was crowned King in 1910 where he reigned over Great Britain until his death in 1936, surviving the 1st World War in the process.
Now George by all accounts led a simple life. Indeed during his time as the Duke of York George pretty much kept to himself, content with spending his time hunting, fishing, and, er, collecting stamps. In fact if you had pin point an exact moment where the royal family went from being wild party animals to terribly sensible sorts, the crowning of George V is probably it. So it may come as surprise to hear that George V is my favourite all time Royal.
Why? Well it's simple really. George V once had a run in with The Flying Dutchman.
Ah The Flying Dutchman, arguably the most famous ghost story of them all. The legend has it that the Dutchman was the captain of a ship that ran in to a terrible gale whilst trying to round the Cape of Good Hope. Rather than turn back he decided to plough on through the storm, fuelled by either madness or drink depending on who you believe. At some point during this escapade the crew and passengers decide to stage a mutiny, the leader of which the captain killed and dumped overboard. This apparently narked off God, or the Devil, or some other form of vengeful deity as the captain was immediately doomed to spend the rest of eternity sailing the seas on a phantom ship with other lost souls. Over the past 200 years The Flying Dutchman has been reported numerous times by sea faring folk, and is either a portent of impending death or, you know, just something to talk about before lunch time comes around.
Back to George V. Seeing as only 15 months separated George from his elder brother Albert (Gee Note: Who, in keeping with tradition with the rest of the Royal family was involved in a rent boy scandal in later life before a premature death which has been the talk of conspiracy nuts for years. Some even link him to the infamous Jack the Ripper murders. Meanwhile his brother collected stamps. Makes you think) the decision was made to school the two boys together.
In 1880 the two lads were in their mid teens and on a three year journey around the world under the tutelage of Rev. John Dalton. One fine day while sailing on the HMS Baccante while off the coast of Australia, where the spied the infamous Dutchman in the distance. According to the Dalton's log:
"At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars, and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her...At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms."
“Ooooh nasty!” as Hugo Myatt would say (Gee Note: Man I love Knightmare. Does anyone remember the episode where that kid was like two doors away from the end and sidestepped from left to right when there was no earthly reason to do so, falling down a hole in the process? And his team mates were all like “What the hell did you do that for?!??!”? And Hugo Myatt was struggling to keep a straight face. That was ace. Also it had a great theme tune. Daaaaaaah daaaaah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah daaaaaaaaaaah. Fantastic. You know they should really bring that show back. By the way Rob from Generation Minus One was almost a contestant on it once. I think. I don't know, he's told me story like a thousand times but I keep on forgetting it. You know, if it's not about me or a rock climbing Werewolf or something then I have a hard time caring).
Now many an explanation has been given as to how a boat load of reasonably sane people could have spotted a ship in the waters that for all intents and purposes doesn't exist. The most common is that the ship is a Fata Morgana, or a Superior Mirage to give it a less complicated name (Gee Note: As opposed to those inferior mirages I guess. If I could be bothered I would find out the difference between the two. But it's late and I've got a chicken stuffed with mozzarella to eat. So I'm just going to guess that a Superior Mirage is when you see something brilliant like a ghost ship, and an inferior mirage is when you see something rubbish like a small toad. Who knows? I could be right).
Fata Morgana is caused when in calm weather, warm air lies on top of cold air. If the area between those two remains undisturbed it creates a refracting lens, creating a heightened imaged of an object way off in the distance appear bigger in the foreground. Fata Morgana of Venus is often sighted as being responsible for UFO sightings.
So could it be what the future King of Britain spied at the age of fifteen? Well it's certainly possible that Fata Morgana has been responsible for sightings of ghost ships previously, and The Flying Dutchman's reputation as a forewarning for disaster could be due to the fact that superior mirages are most prevalent in the calm airs just before a storm.
But here's the thing. Dalton wasn't an idiot. Fata Morgana had been a known phenomenon since 1818, some 62 years previously. And Dalton's job was to make sure that the young Princes were given the best education possible. So upon discovering something that you wouldn't be able see in, say, Hampshire on a chilly Wednesday afternoon then he would've made sure the boys knew what they were seeing. For him to write in his journal that what he saw was undoubtedly The Flying Dutchman makes this all the more interesting.
And thinking about, if George V really did come across The Flying Dutchman when he was fifteen, is it really any wonder he took up stamp collecting? I mean running in to the World's most celebrated nautical ghost would be enough excitement for anybody, Royal or not.