Life is full of surprises! by Jon Magee



A few years back a British singer was known for singing a song “Life is full of surprises”. The reality is that life is not always as it seems.

My grandmother would often recall stories of her youth, as I am sure is the case with a lot of elderly people. Her maiden name was Gunn, and as her father worked for the royal family at the time  in the late 19th century she could remember the walks she would take with him through the Queens estate. It was always with great excitement that she would  get herself ready for these outings as her dad would show her around the estate that he was so familiar with. On one such occasion she even recalled meeting the Queen, who was also out on her estate. Queen Victoria looked my Great Grand father in the eye and addressed him by name as she said “Good Morning Mr Gunn”. She then turned to the wee girl, my Grand Mother, and said “Good morning little Miss Pistol”. Could that really be true? The one who has been remembered in history by the quote “we are not amused”? Could the reputation the monarch had of being very serious have been hiding a measure of humour?

It is just a few years back that the UK national newspapers featured an item concerning an art exhibition at Buckingham Palace. The main feature was a rarely displayed painting known as “the secret picture” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise present for Prince Albert’s 24th birthday, to hang in his writing room at Windsor. The painting, which now hangs in private rooms at Buckingham Palace, shows the Queen in an intimate, alluring pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair unraveled from its usual tight bun. On Victorian standards it would be seen as being very risqué, and was intended to be for Prince Albert’s eyes only. So, was their more to this lady than just the usual pictures we are familiar with, the lady  dressed in black with her hair tied in a bun?

A school I attended as a teenager was moving premises and I was assigned the task of clearing out a cupboard in preparation for the move. I was amazed as I stumbled across an extremely old newspaper dated January 1901. The front page headline was simple, yet dramatic, “QUEEN IS DEAD!” As one would expect, much of the paper related to the official public life of the Queen. However, they seemed to have a regular children’s column, and as such gave the children an insight into the childhood experience of Victoria. Here is a story from a young Victoria that I found to be of interest.

victorian doll

Victoria was walking through the streets of London one day when she saw the most beautiful doll that she had ever seen. One look and she knew she needed to have it as her own. Imagine her disappointment when her mother refused to buy it for her. There is no doubt that her mother could have afforded it, but she knew that Victoria needed to learn the value of money and insisted that she must save up her weekly pocket money if she really wanted the doll.

Eventually she had saved enough and excitedly went  for her purchase. The doll was still there, but so was a poor man sitting in the door way. He had little money, looked poorly fed, and was wearing torn clothing. She felt sorry for him, but at that moment she was on a mission for a doll. She squeezed past him looking in the opposite direction and made her purchase. Success! The problem was leaving without feeling guilty that she had spent money on a doll when a man before her had no money for food. After a short hesitation, she asked the shop keeper if he would buy the doll back, and her money was handed from the future Queen into the hands of a poor man in need.

I am conscious that each of these stories reveal something that does not fit with the image many would have of the life of the Queen. Yet, is it not true that for many of us there is a public image we portray for professional purposes, yet our private life may be completely different. We all like to keep some aspect of our life locked away, separated from the rest of our life. Perhaps this is equally true for those in public leadership today. We feel we know them, they come into our living rooms each day through the the television, but do we really know them as they really are?

Author of “From Barren Rocks to Living Stones” & “Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey”


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2 thoughts on “Life is full of surprises! by Jon Magee

  1. James L. Secor

    This reminds me of the Heisei Emperor, the present Japanese Emperor, that somehow got into the press early in his tenure. The Emperor and family are socially isolated, so there is great distance between him and the rest of the country. As per history. But…a picture came to light of Heisei walking hand in hand with his much taller wife along the waterside on the royal grounds. A very, very different look-see at a very private ruler (actually even more symbolic that Elizabeth) living an unknown kind life. Despite the Emperor’s being brought down to earth, he is still seen as divine. Do the divine have a human, emotional side? Most definitely far beyond anything we could imagine, no? No. Very normal, you might say. It is said that the Emperor and Empress’s marriage is a love match. I guess the picture of them walking hand in hand supports this?

  2. John B. Rosenman

    Yes, life is filled with surprises. I love your stories of Victoria’s little joke and the doll. Your post reminds us to be careful in judging books by their covers and people by their appearance or reputation.


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