The other day our grandfather clock stopped, because the works had to be taken away for repair. It feels strange staring at the dark, glass-fronted hollow, where a familiar face should be, and there’s no reassuring tick-tock and hourly chime, marking the passage of our days.
That very same day we lost a Queen – and gained a King. An event which should really have little or no impact on ordinary people like us. No earth-shattering changes for the vast majority after all. The Queen was as far away as a fairy-tale, locked in her castle in the clouds, or at least the drizzle which I’m sure is fairly standard at Balmoral. Officially, she had no control over our government, no real power to change our lives (but who knows what was said in those audiences with her fifteen Prime Ministers?). She certainly couldn’t express her own opinions in public for fear of upsetting the politicians, or the people. She didn’t send armies away to fight off usurpers to the throne, like the first Elizabeth did. She didn’t marry six times and lose (or get rid of) all but one spouse, like Henry VIII. Our Queen was just a figurehead, like a carved statue on the bow of an old sailing ship, only rather more modestly dressed.
The announcement of her death came as a shock, although she was 96 and looked increasingly frail. We recently watched her participate in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, and admired her bravery in facing the nation at an age when most of us expect to be in our dotage, or not here at all. She even agreed to be filmed taking tea with Paddington Bear, a lovely comic touch on a par with her faked descent from a helicopter at the 2012 Olympics. Somehow I can’t imagine her not being around anymore. Like a guardian angel, or a kindly aunt you haven’t seen since you were a small child.
The airwaves have been sodden with maudlin music, the telly weighed down with documentaries dug up from the archives – the life of the Queen and all who sailed with her. The royal correspondents look like cats that have got the cream. There are umpteen accounts of people who met her that one time and will never forget it. Funny stories too, like how she and her sister bred a Royal Corgi with a Royal Dachshund to get a Royal Dorgi. Some of this I find tedious and sycophantic, but I do believe that she had a rich sense of humour and she was dedicated to her duty as a national icon. I was impressed by the claim that she chose to wear bright colours so that people would remember her better, after that one precious meeting, or distant view. This was her chance to make a statement about who she was I suppose, especially when she was so much shorter than all the male dignitaries around her – was that why she favoured large hats?
King Charles takes over, but what does he take over? Lots of red boxes and documents to sign, speeches, perpetual hand-shaking, polite conversation and professional smiling, some of it on horseback. He must entertain foreign leaders and domestic politicians, people he would happily consign to the castle dungeon if he could. Will he wear gloves to protect himself from the sweaty palms of the hoi-polloi and the rest? How will people remember him if he’s in a grey suit and plain tie? Perhaps he should take a few wardrobe tips from Elton John – glittery spectacles, sequins and platform boots? Maybe pull out the flashier uniforms with the shiny rows of medals for campaigns he wasn’t allowed to fight in? He’s got a lot to catch up with, and probably not much time to do it. At least he has Camilla at his side and I hope that she is fully respected as Queen. She’s waited a very long time and it seems to me that she’s had to make a lot of sacrifices on the way.
And yes, I too nearly met the Queen, at a Buckingham Palace garden party – where me and Him Outdoors stood at the back, behind the Great and Good. [See ‘Fit to Drop’, April 20 2017, forgive the repetition]. She processed through with the equally diminutive Duke, both supported strategically by folded umbrellas. Later, we watched her in the company of somebody very important (not Paddington Bear) holding a tea-party in a well roped-off marquee. And afterwards, like many other over-dressed ladies, I threw off my uncomfortable shoes to walk barefoot on the grass in the Palace Rose Garden. And we peered into the royal summerhouse, and saw the doggie bowls for the Royal Corgis (or even Dorgis). I don’t recall what the Queen was wearing (except that she had a large hat) but she did smile a lot. I suppose it’s a relief of sorts to hear that the short-legged canines are being farmed out to the Family – but how will they cope with the change (the dogs especially)?
There were loads of gilded portraits at Buckingham Palace, but I don’t remember any grandfather clocks. I’m sure there will be several there however, and more at Balmoral and Windsor. I wonder if they’ve all stopped?