There was a hesitant knock at the door, and when she called 'come in', the Prime Minister stuck his head around the door.
"HELLO COZ," he said. "HOW'S THE TUM-TUM?"
The Queen sighed. "It's purely a precautionary measure, Mr Cameron, and as I've told you before I am not deaf. Seeing as you're here, make yourself useful and pass me one of those pear drops, would you? Philip left the bag on that chest of drawers on his way out."
The Prime Minister moved into the room, located the paper bag of sweets, and passed them to Her Majesty while offering her a deep bow.
"Oh snap out of it man, there's no need for that. Pull up a pew."
The Prime Minister moved a chair alongside the monarch's bed, and sat in it. He fiddled with his cuffs and the Queen looked at him over the top of her spectacles.
She said: "What's occurring? Have you fixed my bloody country yet?"
The PM looked at his loafers, and shuffled them under the chair. "We're on track," he mumbled. "I'm sticking to my plan. I'm not lurching to the right. Employment is up and the deficit is down."
"Hmm," said Queenie, sucking on her sweet. "Heard that a few times now, haven't we? Second place in a by-election mid-term is to be expected but third is a bit slack. Never mind. Maybe you'll actually manage to win an election one of these days."
"Sorry," mumbled the PM.
"It's no good being sorry," she snapped. "We didn't put you into this job for the laughs, you know. We wanted a member of the family running things after that awful Mr Blair and the People's bloody Princess.
"And what happens? You promise to revamp the NHS, I visit the Royal London and a few days later I'm spewing like Camilla halfway through a gin bender."
"The doctors have assured me it is very unlikely that..."
"Don't give me your likelies, Mr Cameron. I'm in a hospital for poor people one minute and sick as a parrot the next. Even Andrew could do the maths on that one. I don't mind you cutting the NHS because I don't use it, but I do have to visit it and it would be nice if it was something other than a charnel house when I do so."
"Make sure it's clean, please."
"Although I must say private is so much better, you can get admitted with possible norovirus when the NHS would tell you to stay at home and stop infecting people. I can infect anyone I like when someone else is paying for the privilege, and as a bonus Charlie can't get at my food.
"Now, what else is going on in the world? There must be something, even though I'm all over the first five pages of all the papers today."
"Well, there's good news from America where they've managed to cure a baby born with HIV."
"Really? How marvellous. Still, billions of dollars a year for 30 years was always going to get there eventually, for countries that could afford it. Shame about Africa, of course. It's days like this one almost misses Diana, she'd have loved it. Mind you, she'd be clutching the poor brat to her bosom in the company of a dodgy Arab in time for the evening news, too, and that got a bit wearing after a while. Perhaps we could send Kate?"
"She is quite pregnant now, Your Majesty."
"Oh yes. And I suppose all that airport security they have in America might interfere with the circuitry. Best not. Maybe Harry then, he could do with a distraction from that latest blonde bit of stuff. What else?"
"Well you know Cardinal Keith O'Brien took early retirement while denying any sexual impropriety?"
"Yes. He was taking legal advice, wasn't he?"
"That's right. Well he's admitted inappropriate behaviour and is going to be probed by the new Pope when they pick one."
"Well, at least he'll enjoy it. And why do people keep saying inappropriate when they mean harassment? It's an inappropriate use of the word. It makes it sound like an error of manners when it's anything but. Make a note, Mr Cameron, and get that oik Gove to add its proper usage to the National Curriculum.
"And honestly, when is the Catholic Church going to get its head around the idea that denying sexual contact might have made sense in the fourth century but hardly applies in the 21st? That it is more likely to make its priests obsessive and furtive, to promote sexual ill-health of all sorts, and even attract sexual predators who see a vow of celibacy as the perfect cover?
"And never mind the fact that denying your basic human drives moves you further away from your god, not closer to him. We don't have nearly so many of these problems in my church."
The PM chipped in: "But then nor do nuns."
"So far as we know, Mr Cameron. All I know is it's a damn shame we won't have anyone at conclave, I was hoping for some good info so I could bung a monkey on the right cardinal with my bookie. Ho hum. Any news from our friend in Syria?"
"Assad is still insisting he's winning, despite the fact he's blown up half his country and introduced sectarian schism throughout a formerly happy society. Billy Hague has said we will not sit on the sidelines."
The Queen raised an eyebrow. "We've managed so far, Mr Cameron, despite half a million refugees, four million displaced internally and numerous reports of war crimes against civilians, women and children. What's changed?"
"Well, we're more likely to win now," said the Prime Minister. "Might be time to hand out a few guns and claim victory."
"Hmm. How are things in Libya?"
"Not great. Fundamentalists are taking over, but on the plus side we might sell them some weapons."
"Well, I suppose it will give us someone to fight in ten years' time. Anything else going on?"
"Yes, we're thinking of repealing the Human Rights Act."
"The same Human Rights Act which stopped Gary McKinnon being extradited?"
"The same Human Rights Act my lawyers have repeatedly used to stop journalists putting my family in the newspapers?"
"The same Human Rights Act used to protect people fleeing the Taliban?"
"Yes, yes, all right, coz, point taken. It's not human rights we have a problem with, it's human rights for people we don't like."
"Well, I've told you what to do about that, haven't I? It's very simple you know."
"We can't let you be an absolute monarch again. It would cause a stink."
"I'd have it all sorted out in a jiffy. Burn a few priests, just like the last Elizabeth. Soon put them back in their box."
"I don't think it would be good PR, ma'am."
"Oh well, you know best on that score. Is that it, can I go back to the Racing Post now?"
"Um. Well. Yes. There's just one more thing. It's been a bit of a worry behind the scenes and we've tried to find a way around it, but I'm afraid we're a bit stuck. Um."
"What is it?"
The Prime Minister was silent, shuffling his feet again.
"It's the bedroom tax, Your Majesty."
"Well, what about it? It only affects the disabled, widows, divorced and separated parents, Army families, foster parents and people on housing benefit who can't find anywhere smaller to live. What's it got to do with me?"
"Well, it has nothing to do with Balmoral or Sandringham because you own those."
"Yes." Silence. "And?"
"There's also Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, St. James’s Palace, Kensington Palace, Clarence House, and unoccupied Royal Palaces including Hampton Court, the Tower of London, the State Apartments at Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House at Whitehall, and Kew Palace with Queen Charlotte’s Cottage."
The Queen gave her Prime Minister, and fifth cousin, her chilliest stare. He looked apologetic.
"Buckingham Palace alone has 240 bedrooms, ma'am."
"Some are for staff."
"Yes, but you've got 52 for the family and guests. Windsor Castle has 1,000 rooms and more than 100 bedrooms, and with all the other palaces as well... we reckon you've got use of more than 1,000 bedrooms when your children all have houses elsewhere and the household, technically, is just you and Uncle Philip."
"This is ridiculous, Mr Cameron."
"Well, I feel awful about it, really I do. But you see they're state-owned buildings. We looked into the law and it seems you're our tenant. Sort of. And servant quarters don't count, you see. Um. So you see, it's £15 a week for each room your family isn't sleeping in, and we do expect people to double up."
"Our sort of people maintain separate bedrooms for couples, Mr Cameron."
"Yes. Um. You're not allowed to. Under the rules. We're all in this together, d'you see?"
He wriggled unhappily in his seat while his Queen glared at him.
"You could downsize," he suggested, meekly. "You do get quite a sizeable subsidy and, well, we haven't got any money left."
The Queen sighed, took off her glasses, and straightened her bed jacket. She pursed her lips and looked at her Prime Minister sternly.
"All right, Mr Cameron. The Sovereign changes, and the palaces aren't mine. So I'm a tenant, and as such I shall pay £15 a week for each unoccupied bedroom."
The PM could barely believe his good luck. "Really? Brilliant! That'll mean the plebs have to do the same! Well done, Your Majesty!"
"I haven't finished yet. I also own the freehold of all the land those palaces are on. So you might be the landlord, but you owe me a sizeable service charge. Added to which I've been working for 61 years now, receiving benefits in kind in lieu of a formal salary. We can change that if you like, and I'll invoice you for every red box I have to read, every letter I write, each charity unveiling and every poxy tree planting. I'll file expenses for the hats, too, and I'll work until I die. You will have to pay my health insurance."
"Gets tricky, doesn't it? On the plus side I suppose you could sack me whenever you wanted, and appoint whoever you like to take my place. It needn't be Charlie, if you're abandoning the concept of inherited monarchy. In fact you could appoint Kate, or Vanessa Feltz, or Ed Miliband."
"The thing with royalty, Mr Cameron, is that once you start unpicking the bits of it you don't like the whole bloody thing unravels and you wind up with President Blair. You don't want me to be in charge, and so we have come to an uneasy negotiated truce in which I'm allowed to have the palaces and a nicer class of hospital in return for paying for my own hats and putting up with the flipping French president when he visits. If you want to switch that round, you can have all that and welcome. I'll go and sit in Balmoral and tell everyone to f*** orf quite happily, if you let me."
"I don't think that would work."
"No, probably not. It's a right bloody mess and no mistake, but then so's everything in Britain. Everything's been here so long it's got all twisty, and if it still works you should be grateful and not go fiddling with it. The general rule of thumb is, if it ain't broke stop buggering around with it.
"Now, go and make sure the NHS is clean so I can visit it, sort out the bloody shambles which is the bedroom tax, sell some guns to Syria if you must and leave the Pope to me."
"OK coz. What shall I say if Gideon asks about the bedroom tax?"
"Tell him it was inappropriate. And explain that the word means 'unsuitable'.
"Now goodbye, Mr Cameron. Don't let me keep you."