Magazine article The Spectator

Englishmen Rule

Magazine article The Spectator

Englishmen Rule

Article excerpt

I discovered I was pregnant the same day I met the Queen.

It was one of those lightless December afternoons when the sky clamps down on London like the lid on a cast iron pot. I went straight from my doctor's surgery in Shepherd's Bush to a media reception at Buckingham Palace where I was ushered up the stairs into a large drawing room hung with Old Masters and rammed with journalists sucking back free champagne, trying to look blase.

The courtiers gently herded us all into a queue, prised flute glasses from sticky fingers and prodded us one by one into the adjoining room.

And suddenly there she was:

Elizabeth II, tiny and smiling beatifically in a mint-green skirt suit and gloves. She was paler and prettier than I'd expected, gave off a whiff of perfumed powder and had an extraterrestrial glow I have only ever seen in one other mortal up close: the teenaged Scarlett Johansson. Prince Philip stood to her right and a bit behind, looking bald and bemused. 'Leah McLaren, the Globe and Mail !' a man in a footman's costume announced. The Queen clasped my right hand, looked me straight in the eye and said, 'How do you do?'

Now, I've lived in Britain the better part of the last decade - long enough to know that when an English person asks you this question they are not actually inquiring after your general wellbeing. In my first couple of years here I'd reply brightly, 'Fine thanks!

And yourself?' Only to watch the speaker recoil in a kind of genteel revulsion. So I knew the Queen wasn't actually interested in how my day was going. And yet, since she'd asked, the thought did cross my mind:

why not tell her?

So I stood for a moment, squeezing the monarch's hand and preparing my answer.

Well ma'am, I'm pregnant. The father is an Englishman. We've been going out for a while now and we're pretty crazy about each other. We both want children - more children in his case - but the problem is, and please don't take this the wrong way, I just can't imagine living in this country for the rest of my life. The weather's the pits and the economy sucks. I once swore off your male subjects and now I've fallen for one. What do you think I should do?

I opened my lips but before I could unburden myself, or even execute a halfdecent curtsey, the receiving line bumrushed me out the door and into another room furnished with gilt settees and crystal bowls of pick'n'mix.

After that I went to the Groucho to meet Rob, the English journalist who'd made me pregnant. I found him having drinks with a writer, and in the sort of good mood that only 1.5 gin martinis and six olives on an empty stomach can produce. 'Sit down, Macs, ' he said, giving me a squeeze. 'You must be exhausted by our lovely royals.' Rob works for a respected liberal newspaper, grew up in Liverpool and never says 'How do you do?'

I was in love with him but hadn't actually got around to mentioning it yet.

On the walk home from the tube I tried to tell him my news but dissolved into tears before I could get the words out. 'What's wrong - what is it?' he said, looking uncharacteristically alarmed. When I finally managed to explain, he stopped walking and fiddled with the cuff of his raincoat for few seconds while I continued to snuffle.

CLAREN 'Oh Macs, ' he eventually said, tucking my hair behind my ears.

'We'll think it through. It's not the worst thing in the world, is it?'

Of course it wasn't. But I wasn't crying because of the baby - in fact I was delighted to be pregnant - I was crying because I was having a child with a Englishman who was firmly committed to England. And that meant I could never go home.

Almost exactly ten years ago I wrote a cover story for this magazine about dating English men in London. I was 26 at the time, and disappointed to have spent a whole six months abroad without having a single plummy-accented gent confess his undying love, or at least try to unhook my bra. …

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