Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The knight stuff

PhotobucketYou don't have to bow to me, but I am now a son-in-law of a knight.

My father-in-law Peter Siddell is, it's fair to say, one of New Zealand's most acclaimed living painters, and a while back he was given New Zealand's highest accolade from our Honours System for it. But now he gets another bell to add -- NZ has recently reinstated knighthoods and dameships (dameries? dameness?) after a 10-year hiatus when they were replaced by the equally honorable but perhaps less cool-sounding Distinguished Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit. So instead of being a DCNZM, he will become "Sir" Peter -- a little spiffier, I think. There will be a special ceremony down in Wellington later this month for the 70 or so New Zealanders being named Sirs and Dames.

There's been an ongoing debate as to whether or not knighthoods are somewhat outmoded in modern New Zealand. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark abolished them back in 2000 before the new Prime Minister John Key brought them back. It's a valid question as to whether calling folks "Sir" is really appropriate in the year 2009, or a rather outmoded reminder of class elitism. New Zealand has come a long way from the "mother country" and while the Queen is still our head of state, monarchism is definitely on the wane. Few imagine we or Australia will still be part of the British empire in another 50 years. Knighthoods are admittedly a link to the past and do put some off; kiwi actor Sam Neill turned it down, saying it was "too grand by far."

But speaking personally, for our family, it's been very rewarding to have Sir Peter honoured with a knighthood at this time -- as I've been blogging about sporadically the past year, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer last year. He has been doing very well with treatment and is hanging in there, but a knighthood is a very nice boost for all of us right now. It may not mean one gets to order about the serfs or anything but it's just a kind of cool recognition to have. There's certainly a bit of a global cachet to saying "Sir" that doesn't come with "DCNZM" at the end of your name. In the end, I have to guess my opinion on to knight or not knight is, what does it hurt?

Being a knight in 2009 isn't much like it was in the old days; nobody gets a horse or a castle anymore and the sword is only ceremonial - but, whatever you want to call it, the notion of people being honoured for their service to the country is a good one, whether it be in art or law or Maori culture or sport. After all, the US has its own Presidential Medals of Freedom.

Apparently, though, according to the byzantine code that governs the use of titles and their honorifics, as the son-in-law of a knight I still cannot call myself Lord Nik, or even Squire Nik. I feel this should be changed.

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