The maxim of the British

One of many tourists who pose with the Queen's Guard. Windsor Castle, August 2005

One of many tourists who pose with the Queen’s Guard. Windsor Castle, August 2005

“The maxim of the British people is ‘Business as usual.'” — Winston Churchill

This quote, and the photo posted above, capture one reason why I love being in England.  I must not be the only one, because the now-ubiquitous, quintessentially British wartime quote “Keep Calm and Carry On” has been revived and printed on all sorts of items.  It’s now also cleverly parodied by more than one producer of novelties.  The legendary “stiff upper lip” is admirable to many of us, it seems.

Contrary to what some believe, the Queen’s Guard (one of whom is involuntarily posing with a tourist in the photo above) are not just a ceremonial detail, but are fully operational soldiers.  When I saw the tourists taking turns posing beside the guards, I thought it was funny and decided to give it a try.  I thought better when I got a bit closer and saw the razor edge of the bayonet and the barely noticeable tightening of the soldier’s hand on his rifle as I approached.  I felt a bit disrespectful, and more than a little edgy.  So the only photo we have of me with this same solder shows me standing a few feet off, looking ready to run, with a sheepishly undecided grin on my face.

Can you imagine what it must be like to stand silently and endure the constant stream of tourists for hours on end?  These men are fully armed and responsible for the safety of a castle full of people (to say nothing of being a potential target for some deranged attacker), yet they are expected never to move and supposedly never to crack a smile.  What if that huge hat gets unbearably itchy underneath?  What if he had too much tea and needs to go to the loo?  What if he has to sneeze?  Business as usual, which for the Queen’s Guard, means keeping a poker face and standing firm in all sorts of irritating circumstances.

I over-react far too often, so this trait is something I need to cultivate, and I have had a great example in the past year. It’s been amazing to see how Jeff has taken the “business as usual” maxim as his approach to life with stage IV cancer.  Almost every day that he has not been in the hospital or at a treatment appointment, he’s been busy working at the clinic by day and at home by night, going about his routines as if none of this nightmare had ever hit us.  He manages to restrict how much we discuss it or even mention it, far from the obsessive worrying that I tend to do.  It must be his British ancestry coming out.

In any case, the next time you are dealing with unforeseen and unpleasant surprises, or maybe just the annoying presence of distracting people, remember the stony endurance of the Queen’s Guard.  Business as usual.  Keep calm and carry on!

ADDENDUM 10-23-13:

OK, by popular demand (meaning at the requests of people who are popular with me), here is the photo of me with the sheepish grin.  In posting this photo I am breaking two blog standards: 1. use only photos that are focused and attractive; and 2. if I am in the photo, it has to make me look better than I actually look in real life.

Without further ado, see the following three photos:


Do I appear to be gritting my teeth here?  Well, this couple seemed to share my hesitation:

Wary Couple

But this guy in the yellow shirt seemed to have the best idea:

he's outta there


  1. I have a relative who lived in England. I’ll have to confirm this with him, but I believe the social strata that produce the Queen’s Guard would prefer the term W C to “loo”. Within about the next dozen years, the elite members of the United States 3rd Infantry will celebrate 100 years guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery. Similarly, I am suggesting they occasionally need a trip to the latrine, or even the men’s room, rather than to the crapper. Though Thomas Crapper was another famous Englishman, his name seems to have caught on more in the United States than in the country of his invention. (Crapper is to the toilet what Edison is to the electric light.)
    “Business as usual” is an illusion. Those who never exhibit an anxious exterior are admirable; but pay a price in stifled emotion, pain, and sorrow. They are a little like one of the Queen’s Guard, or the sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns saying that they never need a trip to the W C or latrine – just ‘taint so.

    • As usual, much food for discussion here, but briefly: Re: W/C versus loo: I was using the term myself, not placing it into the jargon of the queen’s guard, but if it is an issue, see the discussion on toilets at Wikipedia, from which I quote briefly here: “The origin of the (chiefly British) term loo is unknown. According to the OED, the etymology is obscure, but it might derive from the word Waterloo…The WC refers to the initial letters of Water Closet, which, despite being an English language abbreviation, is not in common use in English-speaking countries – but is widely used internationally…” re: Thomas Crapper, I’ve read several sources such as this, which take issue with the common assumption, so inevitable based on his surname, that he invented the toilet, or that the slang term came from his name. I have no personal expertise to say who is correct, but can easily imagine many stories that are suggested by such an evocative surname. Re: “Business as usual” being an illusion — I could make the humorous observation that trips to the loo are in themselves perfect examples of “business as usual,” especially given the common use of the word “business” as euphemism for such. However illusory a stiff upper lip may be, I often wonder whether the price paid for rampant (even histrionic) emotions, so common in our present culture, is not greater than the price paid by people such as my husband, who is at work “as usual” even as I write this. His having just this morning received some relatively good news about his prognosis while at work, I am guessing his workplace demeanor is not much different from what it has been on the many days over the past year when he has received bad or even devastating news while at work. I myself am fighting the urge to dance around with joy (just as I have literally screamed in agony at the devastating news) but I too must attend to my own “business as usual.” I thank God daily for Jeff’s amazing discipline and strength that has allowed him to “Keep Calm and Carry On” with “Business as Usual” for the past year!

  2. HarryS

    This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
    “Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
    In quietness and confidence is your strength.
    But you would have none of it.– Isaiah 30:15

    In loving my neighbor as myself I am fulfilling all the laws and commandments.

    How do I love?

    As God loves: to desire the highest and the best for everyone. 🙂

    This monumental attitude adjustment brings abiding Peace.
    Wherever God is, so is his kingdom.
    My friend Leo says, “Harry, wherever you are, God is!

    • Harry, thanks for quoting that beautiful verse, which I have loved for many years. “In quietness and confidence is your strength” is a truth I would do well to manifest more often! I appreciate your visits here, and your comments! And yes, we can never be anywhere that God is not!

  3. Thanks for the lesson! All this time I’ve been seeing the ” keep calm and carry on” maxim I haven’t known its source. How appropriate! Now I can appreciate its value all the more.

    • You just gotta love those Brits! You know me well enough to know how MUCH I need that little phrase on a daily basis! 🙂

  4. Lynn

    Oh Julia… You know we all want to see the sheepish grin photo!!

    • Hee-hee! When I have time, I’ll try to post it here. It’s blurry, but you can clearly tell I’m about as close to that soldier as I intend to get!

      • MaryAnn

        I agree w/ Lynn! heehee…

        • OK OK, check back later. If I forget, jog my memory with a quick note!

      • OK Lynn and Mary Ann, the photos are up – located at the end of the blog post.

  5. Carolyn

    A very happy Monday morning to you. Enjoyed your last few blogs. the other day you were talking about love. I love the song we sing in church call The Greatest Commandment, I think that is what it is called. Love one another for love is of God. Julia, Jeff and Matt have a great week and hugs and love to you, now keep calm and carry on.

    • Yes Carolyn, I love that song too! Somewhere in the comments I posted a link to a lovely video someone made to go with it. Good news today, Jeff has shown some improvement to the metastatic lesions, despite the discontinuation of chemo due to toxicity. Now it’s up to the tumor board to determine what comes next. We’ll keep you posted! Meanwhile, I am keeping (reasonably) calm and carrying on (sort of). 🙂 Mostly celebrating!

  6. MaryAnn

    AH! Over-reacting: another common bond we share. In many ways, it has caused problems for me. I, too, want “to stay calm”. I agree w/ Eric that stifled emotion is NOT healthy; so I am very glad you & I “carry on” w/ our exuberance for life intact!
    Love to “my” Dentons!

    • MaryAnn

      Your comments to Eric just showed up, so I am “dancing around with joy ” for Jeff’s good news! (figuratively)

      • Yes, I am praising God for this answer to prayers!

    • Thanks Mary Ann, no one could ever accuse either of us of being too poker-faced! (or speaking too softly to be heard :-)). But I am SO thankful that Jeff is able to stay calm when I get hysterical, especially when someone is bleeding or some other true emergency comes up!

  7. Sheila

    Julia, and so I thank the Lord! I am just so happy to read the recent news regarding the scans! I, too, am easily excitable, and cry easily! Have a very wonderful evening and rest well, my friend! Love, Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila, I predict I will sleep better tonight than I did last night. 🙂 Thanks for caring!

  8. merry

    I’m afraid I fall apart way too often. l’m a chicken with a yellow streak. I admire the stiff upper lip…just can’t do it. 🙂

    • Awww, Merry, I bet you don’t have a yellow streak at all. You have the courage to post comments online, something a lot of people would not do. I think falling apart is more related to being emotional than being “chicken.” Like you, I admire the discipline of those who can keep cool under stress. But I identify more with those who have trouble doing it– and aren’t afraid to admit it!

  9. Business as usual can sometimes be a good way to approach things.

    • I think so, too. One thing I enjoy about your blog is that it gives us a picture of “business as usual” a hundred years ago, something the history books don’t always do. BTW I need to get over there more often. I really enjoy reading the diary entries and I’m glad you are blogging them.

  10. Interesting! Reminded me of the game (statue) we used to play in which we should freeze when the opponent says ‘statue’ and should remain inexpressive even when the opponent tries to make us laugh or smile.
    I would love to see your photo “standing a few feet off, … on my face.” 🙂
    Trying hard to keep calm and carry on.

    • Thanks Bindu – I’ll try to dig that photo up and paste it here sometime today. We used to play a game called “sling a statue” where we would twirl each other around and then let go – you were supposed to “freeze” in whatever position you were in when you were let go. It’s funny how similar the children’s games are all over the world. We also played similar things such as a game called “1-2-3 Redlight” where you had to freeze when the person who was “it” would call “redlight” and if they saw you move even a fraction after calling the word, you were “out.” Thanks for bringing back some memories this morning! If I was ever placed in a job that required me to keep a “poker face” I would be fired within days!! Hope you are able to “keep calm and carry on” until things lighten up – let’s pray that will be SOON! Thanks for being here!

  11. Thank you Julia, for sharing those pictures. I find them funnier and more interesting than the first one. 🙂
    At times it’s worth breaking standards, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Bindu, I think you are right – and yes, it is sometimes fun to step outside the self-imposed boundaries! Together, the several photos tell a story that is not obvious from looking at each one of them individually. I will always wonder what that soldier was thinking. Probably something along the lines of “these tourists are quite a bore.” 🙂 Thanks for visiting, and for your comment!

  12. You’re too cute! I can totally tell you’re apprehensive in your photo 😀 and I assure you, EVERYONE edits their blog photo’s, GUILTY! I have far more photo’s I’d never want to post than the odd one that’s acceptable LOL.

    We were in London for only 3 short days, 1 of which we were trying to get over the jet lag. Our tour guide the last day, was a local guy who miscalculated our arrival at changing of the guard and so, all I got was the back end of a couple of horses 😦 HA

    If we had been alone, we could have seen a lot more I think, but the thing about traveling on tours is you are stuck with some slow pokes. I’m a fast walker and it was hard to slow down, ha. I had to constantly remind myself that it was a holiday and to be considerate of others need to be more casual. I’m am the opposite of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, LOL

    • You have described perfectly why Jeff and I take group tours only very rarely, and then only when there are no better ways to travel. Even on cruises when we have just a day to visit a place, we much prefer to hire a cab for the day and let the driver (usually a local who has lived there many years if not from birth) give us the scoop on things the tour buses often miss. We sometimes share a tour bus or van with another couple or family, and that’s even more fun. You won’t be surprised to learn that what I most love to do when I travel is walk, walk, walk. There’s really no better way to come to know a place. I admire and envy the author — I’ve forgotten his name — who walked across American years ago, and wrote a book about it.

      • No kidding? What an amazing ‘walk’ that would be. There’s been a number of Canadians do similar things to raise money for medical research. I admire their commitment and the commitment of the team that drives 5 miles an hour along them. We did enjoy almost all our tour mates and had a ball on the bus, so the good out-weighed the bad….”cup of tea 1/2 full, loads of sugar” (say it with an english accent, HA.

        • Sounds like my favorite kind of tea. Here’s the info on that book. I need to read it someday. Of course, very few of us would have the time and means, let alone the energy, to walk across a continent – but it’s a nice thought!

  13. Thank you for the link Julia, I wonder if they took a bit of this story in the movie Forest Gump….he walks across America too. One Canadian, ‘Terry Fox’ was the first one I remember every doing it. He had survived cancer but had a prosthetic leg. Unfortunately he passed away from Cancer while chasing his dream. Across Canada, there is still an annual Terry Fox Run in most major cities. He was a real special boy.

    • I had not heard of Terry Fox, but looked him up after I got your comment. What an inspiring story! Sheila will probably connect with it since her husband is a prosthetist. We see a lot of soldiers with prosthetic limbs when we go to Bethesda. Their physical grace and agility amaze me. I know we have come a long ways with prosthetics, but I also think it takes a special kind of resilience and strength to adapt to life after loss of a limb, especially when one is fighting cancer in the process, as Terry Fox was. Thanks for sharing his story!


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