Farewell Cheerless Marshes

On September 8th I was working at home and was ignoring the internet as it was dominated by reactions to Liz Truss becoming PM. So I was surprised when m’darling told me that the news was coming in of an event at Balmoral.

I went out to the supermarket, which seemed a little emptier than usual. I got back home in time for us to switch on the 6.30 news and saw Huw Edwards in a black tie make what I think was the first definite announcement after hours of speculation whilst various figures arrived in place.

Next day I went in to my firm’s office near Tower Bridge. Already, images of Elizabeth II (1926-2022) were appearing on electronic boards at bus stops, on information points in the street, and in shop windows. I was one of only two people in the office, but I did try to follow a minutes silence at 11am, in a big room that was already silent. In team meetings at work I heard positive views about the Queen and her role from many different people, including ones with families from the Commonwealth.

Already on Saturday 10th trains on the Victoria Line were not stopping at Green Park as it was crowded with people trying to get in the vicinity of the Palace.

On Saturday 17th I went in to London Bridge and could see the end of The Queue as it was forming at that point.

It ran along the river side, under the bridge itself, crossing over at I think the Albert Bridge in Chelsea. On the District Line I saw a man wearing some medals, heading westwards so perhaps he’d already paid his respects early in the morning.

Later I tried to get nearer to the Palace from Victoria Station. I see the anti-terrorism messaging has been updated for the special occasion:

I crossed Victoria Road and saw a group of young soldiers in khaki heading in the opposite direction.

This Banksy knock-off seems to have been hanging around since the Platinum Jubilee:

In the streets on the way to the Palace, something like the air of a pilgrimage:

It would all end in a big crowd so I turned back.

All parts of British society paid respects in their own way:

On Sunday my brother told me he had come down to London and stood in The Queue (that’s how it will be referred to, forever after) on Friday, for about 12 hours, finally getting a train back up to the Midlands at 7am the next morning. I think it’s great that people living outside London made the effort to do this sort of thing, and we thought about it, but didn’t.

Instead, me and m’darling watched the ceremony on the BBC this morning.

Every time I see a Royal occasion I remember the 1981 Wedding of Charles and Diana and the scene of the happy couple travelling the streets in a carriage, or whatever they did… I don’t remember the image as much as the sound of my gran saying “The Yanks must be green with envy at all this!”. All American journalism and political commentary I’ve seen in the decades since then has led me to take this as a very insightful comment: Americans, at least in the media class, seem to have an excessive respect for pageantry and traditions and heritage when they actually see them close up (rather than theorising in a politics seminar). Queen Elizabeth will always seem more graceful and substantial than any US President, even the warrior-kings like Lincoln and Eisenhower. We know too much about them and the decisions they made, and the long election campaigns for all the other candidate-monarchs reveal too much of what petty and small men they are. This is the sacred mystery of the modern royalty: a very special ideal figure, a role invented for them when all their other ones were taken away or rendered powerless. It will carry on as long as anyone wants it, and it can’t survive too much knowledge of what really goes on in the Palace.

The death of the Queen was of course expected for a long time (the idea she might abdicate in favour of Charles & Diana was around in the 80s but didn’t last long). The Queen Is Dead was briefly notorious in 1986 (a Tory MP wanted it banned), but it lasted long enough to be canonized as a “classic album” (a Tory PM said he liked it), but then again it is now rather in the shade as one of its creators is “problematic”. I wonder if the Queen herself kept track of the long-running saga. The opening line, according to the official lyrics sheet is “Farewell to this land’s cheerless marshes” but in the studio version he delivers it as “Farewell/ To this land’s cheerless marshes” because he can’t fit all those syllables in one line, and in every live performance it got cut back to “Farewell cheerless marshes”. That’s a good opening line, even if the rest of it doesn’t hold up. The picture at the top is from Askew Road Methodist Church in Shepherds Bush, I am not sure if it was put up after the death or was a feature already.

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