Her Majesty still not well enough; Ukraine, oil bills trouble one & all

She is 95 and has just completed 70 years on the throne which is a record for Great Britain

Spring is definitely around the corner if you are convinced by the sunshine this weekend.

But that apart we have gloom and doom. We are worried about things abroad — Ukraine, about the Queen and then about the cash in our pockets. And not to speak of the fresh round of refugees which may enter this island from Ukraine.
It is not difficult to say what worries us most. It is the Queen and her health. This was supposed to be a year to celebrate. She is 95 and has just completed 70 years on the throne which is a record for Great Britain. The party for the Platinum Jubilee begins in early June, and we should be dusting out our gowns and polishing our tiaras. The succession of Prince Charles is confirmed and his (second) wife Camilla will be Queen when Charles succeeds as King by the decision of the Monarch. Even the unmentionable scandal of Prince Andrew has not been allowed to spoil the occasion.

But then Covid struck. The Queen has had to isolate herself, cancel her (usually multiple) engagements. Even travelling the one hour between Windsor and London is too much for her. She had begun using a stick to walk while reassuring visitors that she is otherwise well. Now we learn that she has dropped out of a big event which she never misses — the Commonwealth Day Service. As she is more or less the first Monarch who has presided over the modern Commonwealth (created after India’s Independence), this is a major shock.

There is yet to come: a memorial service for her husband the Duke of Edinburgh at the end of this month. If she misses that, it would have been six months since she was last seen in public. But then we cheer up thinking that her mother Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lived to be 101: we hope that she can break that record.

The other worry is Ukraine. Our TV screens and our daily newspapers are filled with horrific scenes of death and destruction, of refugees streaming out of Ukraine towards neighbouring countries reminding some of us of the tragedy of the Partition of India. There are scenes of crowded trains and three generations of families walking miles to reach the border while bombs are falling. There is a sense of helplessness. A war of this intensity has not occurred in Europe for nearly eighty years. Worse is feared if Putin uses chemical or nuclear weapons. Radioactivity from a bomb in Ukraine can pollute water, milk and animal products as far away as London.

Suddenly Russians, especially very rich ones — oligarchs as they are called — are being sanctioned, their property confiscated, visas cancelled. Not so long ago, they were lauded for their hospitality on the yachts they had parked here. The Chelsea football club, the world champion this year, is owned by Roman Abramovich who has to sell the club (for just £2 billion!) immediately. He has managed to sail away his yacht before the UK government confiscates it.

Another oligarch, Lebedev, owns the Evening Standard, London’s only evening newspaper which is sold free. He is also a Lord — appointed by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister. Now he is in trouble as well. He strongly denies being Putin’s henchman but while once they hung on every word he said, nobody is listening now.

Now there is a new proposal to use some of the mansions left behind by oligarchs who are abandoning the UK as refugee shelters. This might not have been a bad idea — but some are concerned about the legality of it all. The home minister, Priti Patel, certainly has her hands full.

If, till some time back she was battling the problem of illegal migrants, now a flood of refugees from the war torn zone might overwhelm her plans. These are difficult days as no one really knows how long this war will last, and what will be the long term consequences.

Unlike in India where Russia remains a partner — the days of the cold war are returning here, as speculation about Putin’s mental health begins to grab headlines.

Finally there are our domestic energy bills. Even before the Ukraine invasion, energy prices had quadrupled. Energy companies are asking us if we can afford the bills. If not, we can spread out the payment over several years. Inflation is back after decades. If the war gets worse, prices will go higher. Of course, once the energy price rises, so does every other price. So it is the time for counting pennies and wearing woolies indoors as well as outdoors.

May summer come soon and be really hot — so we can switch the radiators off.
But meanwhile, nothing out here is bringing good cheer… And April may still be a cruel month.

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