Her Majesty the Queen's great age and recent infirmities and the likelihood that Heaven is now making sure it has her room (perhaps even her wing) ready, has lots of thinkers thinking of what it is about her we so have so admired.
What is it about her act that Charles III is going to find so hard, perhaps impossible, to follow?
In the latest of these HM-appreciating pieces, Alex von Tunzelmann's Prospect magazine piece How will the British Monarchy survive after the Queen? the author says that just as there are contrasting Good and Bad characters in fairytales, there are Bad Royals (he tells us who they are) and Good Royals.
Our present Queen is for most of us a very, very Good Royal. Von Tunzelmann fancies that Good Royals' appeal to us because "Their private lives conform (publicly at least) to middle-class values. They appear faithful, stable, dignified. They look nice. Fans love to see them smiling off-duty, but want them to take their duty seriously."
Alex von Tunzelmann thinks writer Julie Burchill described this balance perfectly in her 1998 book Diana, admiring in the Queen "That trick she has, when finally forced to wear the most fantastically elaborate jewels, of wearing them as though they are simply part of a uniform, part of her job, part of the entertainment - an act of drag that is indeed a very real drag for her. There is that inimitable there's-no-fun-in-this-for-me-you-know look which comes over the Queen's face when she is wearing her crown ..."
Burchill's insight helps explain why it is that the Queen has somehow never infuriated even those of us who have yearned for an Australian republic, for an end to the anachronistic institution of which she is the embodiment. Somehow it has been possible, irrationally, (and von Tunzelmann is very good on how all our feelings about the Royals tend to be loopy) for an Australian republican to despise monarchy but to not have his knickers knotted by this particular monarch.
It is a contradiction I notice in myself (and as reporter I have often been in the orbit of the Queen and her drooling subjects during Australian royal tours) and have been bewildered by. But Burchill's insight is a brilliant and bewilderment-clarifying one.
For those of us whose dislike of monarchism is bound up with hot socialist feelings about class, inequality, privilege and social justice, the Queen has had this disarming ability to go about her royal duties with never a hint of blue-blooded superior-to-ye-unwashed-commoners swagger about her.
Every public thing she ever did on her tours here really always did look, as Burchill diagnoses, like real work, even stoically-borne overwork for her.
However grand the glittering Rolls-Royce in which she rolled up for an occasion, she never seemed to radiate a look-at-me! smugness as she alighted from it and instead seemed just a worker arriving and bundying on.
And commoners, sensing how difficult and arduous her work must be (imagine having to feign rapt interest in everyone and everything however tedious, having to suffer all fools gladly, never giving in to the urge to express an opinion!) watched her in admiration, rather as we might watch any unusually accomplished woman (a trapeze artist, say, or an aviatrix, or an opera diva) doing superhuman-looking work that made us gasp "I don't know how she does that!"
For so long being angry and humourless on the matter of an Australian republic, I have gradually come to believe that the sheer quaintness of our being a constitutional monarchy is a harmlessly ridiculous thing. If the first duties of a system of government are to do no harm and to entertain then methinks Britain's Royal Family will always entertain us in funny, foreign, pommy, vaudevillian/fairytale ways our own dour, drearily efficient, dinky-di head of state never could.
Time-travelling to the year 2058 we find that fun-loving Australia, choosing to embrace this quaintness, has not become a republic! An aging King William (or perhaps a middle-aged King George) has come to Canberra on state business, perhaps the opening of Parliament.
We see the monarch arriving on the royal seaplane with a goodly percentage of Canberra's population of 700,000 (the official projection for 2058) gathered around Lake Queen Elizabeth II (for by now almost every public place in the city has been renamed after her).
We see the plane alight on the sparkling, platypus-infested waters and the monarch greeted by our scowling prime minister (for she is a republican at heart) Grace Tame.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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