The edge - Amanda Platell reprimands the Queen

The Queen has made the succession as impossible for Charles as Margaret Thatcher did for John Major

Watching the VJ Day ceremony at the Cenotaph on Sunday I, no doubt like every soldier there, was struck by what a second-rate affair it was. No Queen, no Prime Minister, no Defence Secretary, no respect for those old souls present and past who fought for our freedom.

The Queen had been banned, as her presence would have made it a state occasion requiring the PM's attendance, and nothing was going to interfere with his suntan. Just John Prescott and a pinched-looking Prince of Wales to head the line-up of C-list dignitaries come to pay their respects to the 30,000 British troops who died fighting Japan.

But the most startling aspect of all was how out of place Prince Charles looked, how diminished, how utterly not up to the job, weighed down as though by acute embarrassment by the magnificent display of medals on his chest.

These were the medals a brave soldier earns through sacrifice and courage, not token honours to a man who has never seen action nor raised a firearm in battle.

The disappointment of the old soldiers was palpable, but no more so than that of a watching nation, trying to imagine for a moment that this man would one day replace his mother, that he would not be C-list but head of state; that for great occasions we would have King Charles, the pretend soldier, presiding with his pretend Queen Camilla, dressed in another tent frock and looking down imperiously from the balcony. Inconceivable.

The Queen, loved and loyal, dutiful and dedicated, has created a model of monarchy that her self-indulgent, unlovable son cannot follow or fill. She has made the succession as impossible for Charles as Margaret Thatcher did for John Major and those who followed.

Perhaps he was finally taking the nation's collective advice and keeping his mouth shut, but John Prescott none the less disgraced himself at the VJ Day ceremony by not knowing a word of "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven", not even the first line (the clue was in the title, Prezza). No doubt he would be word-perfect with "The Red Flag".

Little wonder Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, was not around to trumpet the government's new literacy levels - 79 per cent of 11-year-olds can now read, which means that one in five of the kids you see on the street can't. And if readers were to stray into some of this country's most deprived areas, they would probably find only one in five able to read, judging by the results of poorer-performing schools. Not much to show for eight years of education, education, education, is it, Mr Blair?

Nancy Dell'Olio, the long-term, long-suffering partner of Sven-Goran Eriksson, has seen off fresh accusations of her lover's unfaithfulness by doing what Nancy does best, putting on a bravado show of Euro-trash vulgarity: dancing the night away, a la "I Will Survive" (and get all your money), at a beach party, in a beaded micro-mini and silver stiletto boots, and flirting with young men possessing both hair and good teeth - two qualities the England coach lacks in abundance, if you see what I mean.

Quite understandably, the NHS lambastes the six million people who missed hospital appointments last year, costing us all £575m that should have been spent treating patients, not trying the patience of doctors and nurses.

But there is another side to the story. I recently received a cross letter from a specialist claiming I had missed an appointment at the Royal Free, although I'd written to him cancelling it. Why did I write? Because I had spent literally hours on the phone, trying to get through on the Royal Free's cancellation line.

Now when I need to change an appointment, I go to the hospital and cancel it in person and hand-deliver a letter to the department concerned. If the NHS spent a little more money on its appointment lines and did not expect people to wait unrealistic lengths of time to get through, it would save us all millions.

This article first appeared in the 29 August 2005 issue of the New Statesman, President Hillary: can she do it?