I had such a lot of fun writing The Queen’s Corgi: On Purpose. Like The Dalai Lama’s Cat series, what I’ve tried to do in the book is to offer wisdom – in this case about how to lead a purposeful life – packaged in an entertaining and heart-filled format.
Chapter Three introduces the theme of impulse control, and I’d like to share a portion with you. I hope you enjoy it!
There is, in Buckingham Palace, a wardrobe which only a handful of people know about. Its very existence is one of the Queen’s most closely guarded secrets. Its purpose would shock even her closest aides, and it is the source of her security team’s worst headaches. Not that there’s anything especially unusual about either the wardrobe or its contents. It’s the use to which those contents are put that few people would believe.
I discovered this unseen dimension of Her Majesty’s activities within a few months of joining the royal family. Winston and Margaret had been left at Windsor that particular week, having come down with a tummy bug for which they were both being treated. Which was why I was the Queen’s only metropolitan corgi – and how I was to become the unwitting cause of one of the worst security breaches in recent decades.
It began on a beautiful April morning. The Queen rose earlier than usual, and spent some time looking down the Mall towards Trafalgar Square, taking in the verdant greenness of St James’s Park, the flower beds adazzle with the yellow freshness of daffodils. A light breeze rippled through the open window, bringing with it the stirrings of spring.
There is a particular quality about Buckingham Palace, especially those front rooms which face directly onto the Mall. While Windsor Castle, steeped in royal history, lends itself to withdrawal, reflection and mystic communion with the spirits of kings and queens down the ages, Buckingham Palace is the royal family’s shop-front. The epicentre of a throbbing metropolis, it is the heart not only of one nation, but of a global Commonwealth. When gazing down the Mall, it is as though you are directly facing into the main artery of the world. And when it is Her Majesty who is standing there, it is as if she gives new life to a flow of energy, a charge that sparks down invisible pathways as powerful as they are ancient, leaping across synapses, channelling through countries and continents, strengthening ties and renewing connections, returning back as an impulse of gathering vibrancy and force.
For the longest time she stood at the windows, looking out. Then she made a decision. Instead of breakfast, she summoned Huchens.
‘I’d like to make an excursion.’
‘Very good. I’ll see to the arrangements.’
Huchens had answered with his usual Scottish burr, but, as I watched, I noticed his face blush a shade pinker. What was it about an excursion that perturbed him?
‘When would Your Majesty like to go?’
I whimpered softly, and the Queen looked at me. I could tell that something was up. An ‘excursion’ – whatever it meant exactly – sounded like something I would like very much to be a part of. The same idea evidently occurred to Her Majesty.
‘Huchens, would the security dogs be available?’
I had met these great, prowling beasts. Two German shepherds and a Dobermann with whom I, and the other corgis, maintained a wary upstairs-downstairs relationship.
Huchens glanced in my direction. ‘I can see where you’re going with this, ma’am. I’ll make enquiries.’
Her Majesty nodded. ‘The Bow Room in fifteen minutes?’
‘Very good, Your Majesty.’
Moments later I followed the Queen to her dressing room. And to the wardrobe that was kept permanently locked – except, I was discovering, for when Her Majesty went on an ‘excursion’. Curious to know what she needed to retrieve, given that she was already dressed, I watched her find the key to the wardrobe from a hidey-hole in a drawer, undo the lock and – was it age that made her hand tremor slightly, or excitement? – reach inside.
As a corgi, I am no expert on the clothing worn by humans. As a male dog, barely out of puppyhood, I was perhaps even less sensitive to such matters. Nevertheless, even I was astonished by the transformation I witnessed. Her Majesty was changing into a pair of faded, blue Levis and a plastic anorak, before slipping into a pair of robust Nike trainers. This, even I could tell, was no apparel for a Queen. Not even Mrs Grimsley would have been seen in such attire.
Next, to my astonishment, Her Majesty retrieved something dark and hairy from the wardrobe and tugged it over her head – a wig! Followed, a short while later, by a cap with the intertwined initials NY emblazoned prominently on the front. Finally came the large and obviously fake Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.
The transformation was complete!
As she donned her disguise, I noticed the Queen’s posture changing. Her usual regal reserve was replaced by a casual jauntiness. Like a shape-shifter, she seemed to be morphing into a different kind of being.
‘Come on, little one!’ She leaned down, hands on her knees, with a playful expression. ‘Walkies!’
It started well. Better than well. Being outside on a glorious day, free of the constraints of being inside with all the usual protocols, for a while we could all simply enjoy being alive on a spring morning. A number of secret service men had already been deployed by the time we left the security of the palace. I was some way ahead of the Queen, my own identity, if not disguised, then at least distracted from by the presence of the two German Shepherds with whom I trotted politely, our leashes in the hands of a plainclothes police woman, Detective Lewis.
As it happened, the dog handler wasn’t around at that hour of the morning, but because the purpose of the German shepherds was unofficial, that absence wasn’t thought to matter. Detective Lewis, it was believed, could easily handle a walk in the park.
Some distance behind us Her Majesty was accompanied by Huchens. There were more plainclothes policemen behind them. As we made our way through the leafy luxuriance of Buckingham Palace Gardens, I took in the beautiful shrubs and trees, so many different shades of green. The ornamental lakes, their fountains gushing plumes of silver in the morning light. There were some people about but we seemed to be sharing the gardens mainly with teeming birdlife. This included several flocks of ducks – a kind of bird I had never seen before. As they swam about the ponds, I watched them, fascinated. As they dived below the surface, only their bobbing tail feathers protruding, I became even more intrigued.
We had completed a wide circuit of the gardens and were on our way home when the temptation simply became too great. Twelve ducks stood in the middle of the lawn, a fair distance from the ponds. From some part of my being I hadn’t even known existed up till then, I felt a sudden, urgent instinct … to herd them. Should they not be in the pond, rather than on the grass? The way they were waddling around and preening themselves seemed deliberately provocative. Impertinent! As a herding dog was it not my civic duty to tidy the place up?
Not to mention that it would be enormous fun.
I gave a jolt. As it happened, a split second before I did, Detective Lewis’s phone vibrated in her pocket. In that vital moment she was caught off guard. To my own very great surprise – and joy – I was free!
Tugging the leash from her hand, I raced across the lawns. And was rewarded almost instantly with a loud squawking of alarm. Some of the ducks quacked into immediate take-off, shedding feathers as they went. Others were lurching frantically towards the pond as fast as their orange galoshes would take them. Barking with excitement, I raced in a wide arc, rounding them up like a seasoned pro.
I was thrilled. Energised. Empowered. Within seconds there wasn’t a single duck remaining on the grass.
There were, however, quite a number of passers-by who had turned to watch my vigorous performance. Workers crossing the gardens on their way to work stared in my direction. Several early morning tourists paused and pointed. The word ‘corgi!’ came on the breeze. Then, in the next breath, ‘Queen!’
For the first time I began to realise what I’d done.
Several men materialised from the atmosphere. I recognised them immediately as special branch detectives from the palace. They were approaching rapidly from either side while Detective Lewis and the two German shepherds hurried towards me.
I looked about to see that Huchens had changed direction. His SAS training no doubt kicking into action, he was leading Her Majesty from the scene of my hot pursuit, well away from where she might be noticed by association. Rather than returning to the palace through the gardens, he was leading her instead towards a pavement.
Within moments I was apprehended, my leash held much shorter and with noticeable firmness. Detective Lewis was evidently in no mood to play. In fact, any sense of springlike zest had evaporated.
Even though the morning was just as clear and wonderful as it had been before my sortie, things seemed to have somehow shifted into a minor key. The rays of the sun felt cooler. The wind more bracing. Tension emanated down the leash from the police detective. The German shepherds were unsettled – I could see it in their disdainful, but somewhat envious, expressions.
The plainclothes special branch officers seemed to vanish as mysteriously as they had appeared. Detective Lewis was leading us in the direction of the pavement some distance behind Her Majesty.
There were few people on the pavement so early in the morning, and those who were took absolutely no notice of the Queen. Walking, hunched-up, over their phones, or caught up in whatever was playing through their earbuds, they walked right past her in a state of total self-absorption. Her Majesty gestured that Huchens should step ahead of her instead of blocking the whole pavement. And so we continued down a short distance of pavement on our return to the palace, outside the garden walls.
There was one, small intersection we needed to cross, and as we approached it, the traffic lights were red. Rather than expose the Queen by letting her stand on the corner, Huchens slowed his pace right down. There was only one shop on that particular stretch of the street. Palace Newsagency was a tiny store, barely larger than the Grimsleys’ shed, with a door to one side and a hatch that opened directly onto the pavement, framed by that day’s newspapers, neatly tucked into racks. There were also many glossy magazines, their headlines prominently displayed.
One of these caught Her Majesty’s eye as she walked by at the greatly reduced speed set by Huchens. ‘Equestrian world shocked …’, began the headline of Racing News. The Queen halted, angling her head slightly in an attempt to read the first paragraph.
What, precisely, was the cause of the upset, she no doubt wondered? She paused only for a few moments. Seconds, perhaps.
But in that time an Indian man appeared from the shop. Wearing a flowing white shirt, his head completely bald, there was a radiance about his features. Touching his forehead, throat and heart with his folded hands in rapid succession while bowing, he said, ‘Would you be liking this magazine, Your Majesty Elizabeth?’
By this stage, Detective Lewis and we dogs were only a few steps behind her.
‘Oh, erm ….’ I only rarely heard Her Majesty hesitate. ‘I think there’s been a mistake,’ she said, in her unmistakable voice.
‘Please.’ He was already taking the paper from the rack and handing it to her. ‘With a thousand blessings.’
‘Well, thank you!’ She accepted it, before Huchens had stepped back to guide her away firmly by the elbow.
He was leading her across at the green light when one of the plainclothes detectives slipped into the shop.
‘That, um, wasn’t supposed to happen,’ he said.
‘Not to be worrying,’ replied the shop owner. ‘Her Majesty Elizabeth is interested in the horses.’
The detective nodded briskly. ‘I mean her unscheduled visit.’
‘Oh.’ The other shrugged, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. ‘I know she likes to walk in the gardens.’
Perceiving a sudden, much graver security risk, the detective frowned. ‘You do? How do you know?’
‘I can tell she is walking close by sometimes.’ The man smiled enigmatically. ‘I can sense it here.’ He touched his heart.
‘Well.’ The detective coughed. ‘That’s not my remit. But regarding today’s … visit –’
‘Don’t you be worrying.’ The other reached out and touched him confidentially on the arm. ‘My lips are completely sealed.’
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