Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Into The Past

20th September 2022

At some point, no doubt someone famous made a pithy comment about years of history happening in a matter of days. The last few weeks have had an air about them that tells me they will go on to fill the conclusion of one history book and the introduction of another. First, Gorbachev shuffled off the mortal coil, lowering the cold war into the grave, and once Kissinger meets him in death's cold embrace, it'll feel like the first fistfuls of dirt on a period of history that I feel proxy to but am in no way part of.

A few days afterward, Liz Truss sent Boris Johnson not to the grave but back to being the MP for South Ruislip. Having been to Ruislip, I promise he'll have a hard time telling the difference. He was the last great panel-show politician, one of a generation expected to go toe-to-toe with hostile comedians for our entertainment. I mourn his political passing as we may now never see a politician with anything approaching personality ever again, and I tremble in fear that we will be led by empty suits for the rest of my days.

Some would accurately describe these previous two monumentous events as being somewhat overshadowed when on day two of Liz Truss's premiership, the living embodiment of our nation opted to no longer live.

It's hard to convey my feelings on the Queen's passing in a way that is easily digestible, it's one of those things you have never thought about because you never expected to. She was the only Queen I ever knew, the only Queen my parents ever knew, and my Grandparents were teenagers when she came to the throne. When I went to the Cathedral for the first memorial ceremony, after a long time waiting in the queue to sign the memorial book, no words came to me because I hadn't considered her death an option or real until that point.

It sounds strange because you know she's not immortal. In the truest sense, she was one of those great granite monoliths that stood far out from the current shore, a rock of the old sort that stood still where others had crumbled into shoals. The waves of the new world broke around her feet and continued on their journey to the present shore. We saw that force of nature every day dutifully going about its business for the last 70 years as if nothing had or would change until one day, in one go, it crumbled quickly at once, that sole solemn survivor sunk beneath the waves.

For many years it's been uttered as a whispered hope that the monarchy will crumble with her, but everyone who has had their eyes open the last few weeks can tell you the opposite has occurred. A fresh spring of support bubbling below the ground overflowed into a torrent of support not just for the idea of the monarchy but also for King Charles himself.

I first saw this when I went to St Alban's to watch the Royal proclamation. I found the entire market square filled with a crowd listening to the mayor, dressed in red ceremonial dress, announcing that Charles would become king as Charles III. A chorus erupted of God Save The King, but this is only the preamble to the surprise of the last few weeks - The Queue.

The proclomation at St Alban's town hall.

The proclomation at St Alban's town hall.

If you told me two weeks ago that people would queue for anywhere between 6 and 24 hours to see the Queen's coffin lying in state I would not have believed you. Having waited 12 hours to see it, I can tell you it was a fantastic experience. In many ways, it was like a rollercoaster in so far as once you've been on it once you want to join the queue again for another go.

However, the queue was a horrific slog, a 3 am start, a 4:00 am train, and a 5:45 am entry. Then twelve hours were spent winding around London seeing every sight, surrounded by sun, sound, and the heaving mass of periodical synchronised movement. I finally made my way past the elaborate gothic detailing of the grand entrance to be greeted by utter silence. I stood at the top of the steps, gazing down on what was once the highest person in the land, the crown, sceptre, and orb laid out on the flag atop the coffin glittering vividly. In contrast to the jewels, the guards were silent and still, almost like they were wooden children's toys left at their post. It felt daunting in an indescribable way, part religious experience, part ritual. A historical and spiritual experience tied together, you are alone with her in silence despite being surrounded by others.

Houses of Parliment © Christopher Akroyd

Houses of Parliment © Christopher Akroyd

As I turned away from the coffin, I felt that I was leaving something behind, the journalists were quick to call it the end of the Elizabethan age but it goes deeper than that. Things haven't been feeling all the great in England for a while. At times it's like a menacing art-house film shot in such a way that everything feels very off-balance and carries the faint stench of unavoidable decay. In others, it feels like how my mother describes the 70s, nothing works, and nothing looks cared for. With the current energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, and resultant suffering, we were all glad to have a 10-day government-enforced break from crescendo news.

With her passing, it is as if we were saying goodbye to the good times and the stability all in one go, it's fitting that she went in Autumn. The warm glow of the superheated summer is gone. Now we are braced to face the chill of the coming winter, and with the current price of energy, it'll be quite chilly indeed. Here's to the Queen, certainly won't be another like her.

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