and will those feet

The Queen has got a difficult problem as she approaches the Golden Temple in Amritsar later this month. It is not whether to apologise for the massacre there in 1919, when British troops fired on a peaceful demonstration and killed 379 people. It is not even, apparently, whether to mention the more recent killings there, when Indian army troops fought their way into the holiest shrine of Sikhism, killing a thousand people.  It is whether she should wear socks.

The Golden Temple, like all Sikh gurdwaras, may not be profaned with shoes. This is a general pattern in Eastern religions: you don't wear shoes in mosques or Hindu temples either. Everyone, whether monarch or Archbishop of Canterbury, takes off his shoes on entry. The trouble comes with socks: though it is religiously acceptable to wear them in a temple, can it ever be sartorially acceptable to wear them on a state visit?

If Her Majesty takes my advice, she will shun socks: there are recesses of my self-esteem still quivering from the  day 25 years ago when a friend was married in the Woking Mosque, and I realised as I took my shoes off that I had dressed in orange and green socks that morning; one bright orange and the other viridian. All through the ceremony I would look around to find people looking at me; and look downwards in embarrassment, only to find that where there should have been a pair of reassuring, non-judgemental shoes, there were these screaming colours accusing me of pretentiousness at the top of their voices.

There are entire Royal households arranged to prevent that sort of thing from happening to Queens, but you can never be quite certain. I imagine there is some noble, fitted by centuries of breeding to the post, who is keeper of the Queen's sock drawer. Perhaps the post is given to the youngest child of the Mistress of the Wardrobe it would be cheaper than a dukedom. But is the man ready for his task on October 15, when the Queen will visit the temple? Will he not be weakened by years of purely ceremonial duties, like the Welsh Guards on board Sir Galahad, and crumple when told to select the socks that all the world will see? The strain, the responsibility, are too much for anyone to bear. Besides, the Golden Temple is not designed for socks. The floors are marble, very cool and comfortable, I am assured by someone who has walked there; and there are ample foot-washing facilities.

Yet can Her Majesty appear without socks? The last time a member of the royal family had her toes photographed does not make an encouraging omen. Could the mystique of royalty survive the sight of a seventy-year-old pair of bare feet, even if no Sikh sucks them? Kitty Kelley may have made a fortune by inviting us into the confidences of the royal gynaecologist but I don't think that there will be much demand for the privileged viewpoint of the royal chiropodist. Socks are safer.

Pondering these matters, Her Majesty's advisers must surely have considered, and rejected, the option of tights. Even if she knows what they are and I find it difficult to imagine that the monarchy has modernised itself to such an extent that she does they are lethal on marble floors. One slip and you're sitting on your royal arse, surrounded by the ruins of a state visit.

The compromise apparently preferred is that Her Majesty should wear white socks, while no one else in the party does. These discussions are still shrouded in secrecy, as her socks will be. A forest of flunkey's toes will hedge about the divinity of the royal socks, and the best the watching world can hope to see is the Duke of Edinburgh's verrucas. It is all rather sad, especially when you consider what a simple solution was available to the foreign office in its difficult negotiations with the Indian government and the Temple authorities: we could simply have sent Tony Blair instead, and watched him dodge stuffy old protocol as he ran boyish and dryshod across the surrounding lake, and then walked through the temple, his shoes a reverent inch above the ground.

 
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