The next Government House investiture risks morphing into one of those Moonie mass-marriage ceremonies as about 80 unrequited old politicians and judges and businessmen and women kneel before the Governor-General to get their belated tap on the shoulder and hear the magic words, "Arise Sir/Dame XYZ ..."

With the National Government's decision to restore ye olde royal titles, the Queen's deputy sword waver, poor old Anand Satyanand, is going to have to install a home-exercise machine to build up his arm for the big day. Otherwise those at the back of the alphabetical queue, such as Henry van der Heyden and Ranginui Walker could risk losing more than just their commoner status.

Still there is a bonus of sorts in it for the GG. He'll get a junket to Buckingham Palace to be knighted himself as Principal Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. After all, he can hardly start elevating people to a level more exalted than the cloud he himself floats on.

As you may have guessed, to me this whole malarkey is something of a sad joke. How the Prime Minister can restore this relic of our colonial past and yet announce in the same breath that in his view "it is inevitable that one day New Zealand will become a republic" is hard to fathom.

Republics are based on the belief in the equality of all citizens.

Re-instituting a ridiculous regime of titles dating back to feudal times is a lurch backwards to a time when lords and ladies ran the show, and the rest of us were supposed to bow and scrape and doff our caps.

Already this classist nonsense has begun. Attached to John Key's statement were pages of sycophantic forelock-pulling penned by the New Zealand Herald of Arms Extraordinary - now there's a job Gerry Brownlee's bureaucracy razor gang could slash - about how we're to address knights and dames.

There's even discussion about the hard luck of partners of dames, who miss out on a title, though knights' missuses get one they can keep, even if hubby dies, or runs off with the secretary and divorces her.

We're told this has been "the subject of lengthy debate in the United Kingdom and elsewhere" and that "no satisfactory solution to this anomaly has been found".

It's hard to imagine where else, other than in the class-riddled UK, such an esoteric debate could really have occurred.

After all, the only other places that still give out silly old titles are the ancient colonies of Barbados and Antigua - and, if we're looking for a more local example, Samoa, where everyone seems to either have one or be chasing one.

The Herald of Arms' guide to titular etiquette also gives a few pointers to confused honorees.

It's not done to hand write the prefix Sir or Dame when you sign a letter, but you can type Sir Big Nationalpartydonor KNZM, QSO, straight underneath. In conversation, "it is not improper" to introduce yourself as Sir Humphrey Roadbuilder, because "the person will then know to address you by the title and not as "Mr" or "Mrs", thereby avoiding embarrassment".

Some of our nouveau exalted take this sort of stuff - to say nothing of themselves - very seriously. Only yesterday, I was told of one local knight who was addressed at a meeting by his first name and later rang the offending commoner to point out the error of his ways.

How little deep thought was given to this strange leap backwards can be seen by the way the 20 or so holders of our highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, will remain untitled.

I guess we should be grateful Key didn't turn them into belted earls or some such. Then again, maybe that's stage two of the Prime Minister's return to the Colony of New Zealand project.

My congratulations go to writer Patricia Grace and to veteran Catholic educator Sister Pauline O'Regan who didn't dither in turning down their chances to become a Dame.

Sister Pauline says she's "perfectly comfortable" as a Distinguished Companion of the NZ Order of Merit and "can't believe the Government is tinkering around with this kind of thing when the world's teetering on the edge of economic collapse".

Among the other 78 eligible potential knights and dames, there was a lot of embarrassed shoe shuffling, many of the men employing the typical Kiwi male stalling tactic of having to ask the wife.

Their obvious lusting to be raised above the hoi polloi shows how deep the colonial legacy still lurks. Even in the 21st century, in this, one of the world's oldest democracies, there lingers these vestigial longings for the class system our forbears fled Europe to escape.

Particularly so in those who, by luck or wealth or even merit, find themselves top of the heap. The Irish in Pauline O'Regan clearly appreciates the ridiculousness of it. It's depressing so many others don't see the joke.