No, I’m not in line for a gong: the OBE in my case stands for ‘Opposed to the British Empire’. I mean, eh? Empire? What British Empire? Perhaps the Queen misunderstood today when she said they can remove the ‘E’ from OBE and CBE ‘when I am no longer monarch’. Perhaps she thought they were talking about cricket and threatening to remove the British Umpire? Mm. Perhaps not. But seriously, what Empire? What is left of it? Er – Gibraltar? Some tiny island in the Atlantic? Oh, wait – no: that’s part of Argentina now (no thanks to Thatcher). There’s probably a tiny principality or two which still insists on being part of Britain, but not much else. Paul Theroux (I think it was he) reported in one of his travel books that going to Gibraltar was like going back in time, with aspects of Britishness absurdly exaggerated: for example, he was asked whether he’d like Tetley or PG tea bags. This is not a choice that any of us on the mainland (or anywhere else) would consider important. *
I went through a phase of reading a lot of travel writing and enjoyed Paul Theroux a lot, particularly his account of us – ‘The Kingdom by the Sea.’
But to return for a moment to the question of awards and what they should be called: what would replace the ‘E’ in ‘OBE’? Or should it just be an OB? Doesn’t that sound rather like an obituary? Perhaps we should just make up our own definitions like they do in ‘Yes Prime Minister’:
OBE: Organises Brilliant Events
CBE: Creations of Blinding Excellence
Hmm. Not as witty as the original:
I can’t find the clip but Bernard Woolley explains the meaning of the acronyms of Civil Service Awards:
CMG – Call Me God
KCMG – Kindly Call Me God
and the best one of all, GCMG which means – wait for it – God Calls Me God.
If anyone finds a clip of this moment, please let me know.
* My grandfather, when presented with some exotic kind of tea such as Earl Grey, was fond of commenting that he liked ‘English tea’. Grown on the foothills of the Cotswolds, perhaps? We generally refrained from pointing out that all of his tea was likely to be Indian. ( ‘Indian!’ as they would say on ‘Goodness Gracious Me.’)