Not surprising, but a shock all the same. You know what I’m talking about. I’ll spare you yet another panegyric on the life of the Queen. I’m also not going to argue the case of the Queen’s role in the last decades of empire or what type of monarch King Charles III is likely to be. Saturated by these stories, I can only offer my account of these last few days from smalltown England.
Early Thursday evening while the news of the death of the monarch was being announced, I was in a video call with a language partner talking about the Queen’s failing health and the news that royals were heading to Balmoral. The end was soon for the tiny frail queen – or was it really? We speculated. At the end of the call, I returned to an article – deadline looming. A couple of hours had passed before I sat at the dining table with the television on. There was only one story, and unusually no one to talk to about it. My David was in France painting window frames in our apartment, leaving me in England by myself with the BBC broadcasters dressed in black. I was taking it in as if I were in a dream, where I’m usually by myself, uncertain about what will happen next.
Friday morning. The newspapers all flogged their special issues on the Queen, full of articles written months, if not years, earlier. I noticed that children were still going to school, the little ones skipping and talking as they walked past our house. The clocks had not stopped, and the world had not gone silent (to paraphrase Auden). I checked my emails as a local councillor and realized that I had been sent a message the day before saying that Operation London Bridge was in effect (code for the Queen has died). The email was sent at 16.09, and according to the media, the Prime Minister was notified at 16.30 by the Chancellor, a quick whisper as they sat in Parliament. Why would I – someone who deals with ward residents’ complaints about rubbish collection and potholes – be given this news before the PM? This cannot be real.
Saturday is market day in Ely. The high street and Market Square are bustling as per usual. But not usual – a strange heaviness fills the air. People are conversing in pairs and small groups, but I’m not hearing any light-hearted intonations or laughs. Others like me walk in silence from shop to shop, noticing the occasional placard or window display about the Queen. My internal dialogue is in the present tense. I want to be in the moments that I know are historical, memorable.
Sunday, and the dream continued as I seemed to be rousing, thinking less about what had happened and more about what is to come. I had been summoned to a ceremony outside of Ely Cathedral. The Proclamation of the Accession of His Majesty King Charles III took place in cities across the country. I was there as an ‘official guest.’ As required, I wore black (even black bra and panties) and donned a black rosette that I had been allocated. In my official role, I said, ‘God save the King’ and three ‘hoorays’ on cue. That woke me up. What followed was more real than dream. I sang the national anthem of God and gracious King, recalling my American childhood where the same tune was sung to ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee.’ Life moves on.