When A Queen Dies

When the statement was made that the Queen was under medical supervision, with doctors concerned for her health, the gravity of the situation was immediately acknowledged as the Palace don’t normally comment on, or share, private things like that.

And it spoke volumes when we learnt that her family members, independently of each other, were all heading up to Balmoral to be with her.

We knew that she had been working just two days before, appointing Liz Truss as our new Prime Minister. We had seen the photograph commemorating that moment, even though it illustrated as it did an increasingly looking fragility about her. Speculation had also been prompted by the fact that tradition had been broken: Truss travelled up to Balmoral, in Scotland, to be appointed instead of the Queen travelling down to Buckingham Palace where the previous fourteen appointments had been made.

This all pointed to something ominous happening. My wife was out shopping with her Mum, and I text her the news about the ‘medical supervision’. She didn’t have to fall back on her experience working in the funeral business to know what ‘all of her family are travelling to be with her in Scotland’ signified.

As the news rolled on it seemed that every news presenter had unobtrusively slipped into dark clothing.

I missed the announcement.

By this time my wife was back and we were getting ready to leave to take my son and a couple of his friends to their football training. While I was in the kitchen locking the back door I heard the National Anthem begin to be played in the lounge. I walked in to see the confirmation on the screen.

Queen Elizabeth II had passed away that afternoon. I went to the door and shouted to my wife who was stood by the car. “Jen, they’re playing the National Anthem now.”

“She’s died?”

Even though the woman was ninety-six and we always knew it was going to happen sometime, the question was still asked with an element of shock. She had been a constant figure throughout our lives, and quite irrationally we expected her to go on forever.

We drove to the football pitch, the kids asking questions from the back seat. Who will be in charge now? And then who? How will that happen? What will change?

My son mentioned the currency, which hadn’t crossed my mind. How strange it will be to see the image of Charles on our coins, notes and stamps instead of the ubiquitous Elizabeth.

King Charles, no less. The next time we hear the National Anthem, I thought,. every time it will be sang before our international matches , our cup finals. “God save our gracious King . . . Send him victorious . . .”

It will take some getting used to.

Smooth Radio was playing a solemn, classical track that I knew although I couldn’t remember its title. I had it on an old Melancholy CD somewhere.

“Dad, can you put Capital on?” my unappreciative son asked. Capital is the one I normally put on for him and his sister, conceding to their requests with the caveat “Any rapping comes on and it’s straight back over!”

I switched stations and the same music track was playing on that too. Smooth, Capital, BBC.

“It’s going to be this music on every station.”

“All night?”

All night.”

We arrived at the training pitch and parked up. Looking at my phone I saw I had a Facebook notification: a woman who, as a young girl, was my grandparents’ next door neighbour. She had tagged me in a photograph of herself stood with my brother and I, holding Union Jack flags while celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at our street party.

That was back in 1977 when I was six. Queen Elizabeth had reigned for another forty five years after that. That brought it home, the length of time she reigned. The length of time she served. Seventy years in total.

Of course, while the lads trained, the Queen’s death was the topic of all conversation among the adults. Afterwards we called at a local service station for a coffee on the way home. Immediately outside the doors, and inside too, there were reminders of this historic moment everywhere.

In the immediate aftermath there has been talk about sports events being cancelled, of previous funerals and coronations.

The second Elizabethan era is over. We are now in a new period of British history, a period of new beginnings but also, conversely, a period of continuity. For in the following proclamations and fanfares, we have been witnessing events that have never been witnessed before. Modern technology is enabling us to see what in the past has taken place in private.

And I am surprised at how I’ve been feeling.

When pressed I’ve always said that I’m neither a monarchist nor a republican. I didn’t feel a particular strong connection to either camp, not enough to sway me in any direction. Not exactly apathetic, just a casual acceptance of what has always been.

But I love history, I love these islands.

And what I’m now discovering, with the help of modernity, is a deepening love for our age-old traditions, traditions reinforced by a reminder of this woman’s seven decades-worth of selfless service, service to this land that is in my blood and my children’s blood. Service that began long before any of us were born.

The Queen is dead. Long live the King.

My Son Slowly Killing Me (Holiday Update #2)

My Fitness app blew up. We had been walking that much it stopped counting my steps and went into meltdown. Sun cream was running into my eyes, stinging as they were as I squinted against the sun.

I convinced him that it was time, after hours walking around Blackpool in the heat, to head back to the B&B for a shower.

Cold shower done, it was bliss to lounge on the bed in the shade.

“Dad, can we go on the beach now with the football?”

I silently sighed in exasperation.

“Why don’t we take a break for a bit first? We don’t have to do everything at once. We’ve still got three days here.”

“Please. I want to go into the sea while you take shots at me.”

I mentioned the sun, how it might be cooler and safer in a few hours, but he broke down all my walls. So off we went, sun cream back on, into the oppressive heat. It was a million degrees.

There wasn’t much relief in the sea breeze, either, and as he waded in there a few feet I began launching the football at him beneath the sledgehammer sun.

The only thing off-putting to him were the jellyfish, they were washing up everywhere on the sand. It wasn’t enough for him to call it a day, though. Maybe he felt challenged by the two younger kids (they sounded Australian) who were scooping them up and throwing them back into the water.

And then came was Divine Intervention.

The next day was the first of the annual Blackpool Airshow, with the Red Arrows, Spitfires and all others expected to attract a further 100,000 people to the holiday resort. While we were stood there, he up to his waist in the sea, me wilting on the beach, two low-flying jets came screaming in above us. Maybe they were coming in early for tomorrow’s show, or the pilot’s were familiarising themselves with the route they were due to take.

“What are those?” he shouted in alarm, looking upwards.

“Quick!” I said, taking the opportunity, “we have to get back to the B&B. It’s the Russians!”

We returned later, just before sundown.

My Son Slowly Killing Me (Holiday Update #1)

It was the first day of five spent in Blackpool, and he was eager to try out the rides on the South Pier. So, after a Maccies breakfast, we had a walk over. The day was young but was already heating up, our stay coinciding with another August heatwave.

We purchased tickets from the booth – twenty five tickets for twenty five pounds – and he nudged me towards the first one that he wanted to go on. I can’t now recall its name, but that became the least of my worries.

We were locked in and the ride began as the music started to blare, the speed building as we began to spin in our seats as the mechanical arms holding us moved us in and out of the attraction’s outer edge.

In/out In/out.

Within minutes I thought I was going to throw up (did I mention that this was straight after a Maccies breakfast?).

How embarrassing would that be? Me, at fifty, by far the oldest person on it, surrounded by young children with my eleven-year-old son cheering alongside me. As the speed increased so did that feeling in my stomach. I painted on a smile for James every time he glanced at me in this, our great shared experience, and tried my best to contain myself.

The relief I felt when the ride began to slow. I’d managed to get through it without raising any suspicions of how I was feeling, thus maintaining an aura of heroic cool in his eyes.

But soon I discovered that the only reason we had stopped was because a kid, about seven years old, had banged his head and they were letting him off as he was upset.

And then, over the speakers: “BECAUSE WE STOPPED EARLY, WE’LL SEND ALL YOU ‘ROUND AGAAAAIIINNNN !”

Jesus.

“SCREAM IF YOU WANNA GO FASTER!!!”

Keep your fucking mouths shut I thought to myself.

I could hear them over the music.

In an effort to distract myself from what was building within, I began reciting a mantra: don’t think about food/don’t think about food/don’t think about food

But the only word my tormenting mind was focusing on was ‘food’.

It got worse. I kept my mouth closed and my eyes down to avoid the swirling, dizzying landscape around me. Somehow, I’m not sure how, I managed to contain myself until the ride’s end and clambered out of the carriage on shaky legs.

An oblivious and excited James was eager for more fast-thrill stuff, rhyming off a list of all of the rides that awaited us. I managed to convince him that if he went on the rides alone from now on his tickets would last longer and he’d get to go on even more rides. He appreciated this altruistic gesture as I waved him off on the Waltzers and then hurried forthwith to the toilets in the amusement arcade. I thought that if I could induce myself to vomit, getting the seeming inevitable out of the way, then I’d be okay after that.

There was no toilet roll. With there likely to be someone waiting outside to use the toilet after me I couldn’t afford to miss the target. I’m going to have to get this right. I lifted the seat to avoid any splashing, bent right over the pan and stuck my finger down my throat. Twice.

Nothing.

I abandoned my plan as my still unsuspecting son would be coming to the end of his ride. I went outside to be confronted by the sight of a boy being sick at the pier rail. He was about ten. A security guard was asking him if he was alright, speaking into a radio when the lad shook his sweaty head in response in-between heaves. I started in horror at the idea of him having to deal with middle-aged me if I followed suit. The current casualty list age being: seven, ten, fifty.

I looked out over the seafront and took deep breaths, hoping the sea air would help but the sight of the rolling waves made me worse.

That was great!” James said when he found me, his hand finding my sleeve to tug me towards the next ride in his sights.

And again. And again. Literally: ad nauseam.

Eventually he ran out of tickets and we ran out of morning.

Which meant only one thing: lunch time.

Although feeling a little better, I was still slightly queasy, and everything he suggested sounded greasy. Chips; burgers; hotdogs.

I tried to play it cool. “How about a nice salad bar?”

“What’s one of those?!” he asked with barely disguised disgust. “A salad bar? On Blackpool front?” While pointing out a stall nearby that had onions frying at eye-level. I needed to avert those eyes.

There’s four days to go.

It’s a thousand degrees.

Traumatic Scene

The Seventies Slip Further Away

I was intending to do a post tonight about the death that I heard about yesterday, of a musical figure from my childhood, when suddenly news broke of yet another such figure.

The first one was Judith Durham. One of my first musical memories is of my Mum singing the song Morningtown Ride by her group (The Seekers) to us when we were children. I’d be coming up to four then, so it would be around 1975.

Decades later I could recall some lines of the song but not its title or its singer, so with the help of Google one day when on a nostalgia trip (I take these trips often, I’m that kinda guy) I typed up the words and was immediately transported back to the house that we lived in until 1977. And that song led to others, each anchoring me further for a while in a place and time now gone.

Isn’t it wonderful how music can do that to you?

R.I.P Judith Durham, 79.

And now there’s more breaking news, but my memories are much clearer this time and so the sadness more acute.

R.I.P Olivia Newton-John, 73.

Olivia Newton-John had passed away this morning. I guess she finally succumbed to her decades-long fight against cancer. I love her Jeff Lynne-penned hit Xanadu but my favourite of hers is Magic. And of course there was Grease when we were kids.

I don’t watch a lot of musicals but I’ve always had time to watch that one during the holidays.

You’re The One That I Want. What a finale.

‘Finale: the close or termination of something.’

That’s what the dictionary tells me. The close or termination of something. Some things survive, though. Somethings can be relived. Music and memories.

Rest easy, Sandy.

Newton-John and Travolta reuniting as Sandy and Danny in 2019, and the original Sandy in 1978.

Any Clown Can Win

I decided to tip the barista off. “There’s some right clowns in here today.”

Passing me my coffee in a takeaway cup, she looked puzzled, and so I inclined my head towards the entrance to this Costa coffee shop.

Her face dropped. “Oh no. Clowns! That’s my biggest fear in the whole world. Then, tentatively: “Maybe they won’t come in.”

They came in.

She stood there as they began to approach, preparing herself, stealing herself, to serve with a smile.

“They’re gonna be squirting water in your face from flowers in their lapels and everything,” I helpfully said. “Then stomping out in their size fifteen feet.”

“Don’t. I won’t be able to cope.”

“You’re going to go viral. Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, the works.”

I wished her good luck and found myself a table. (Yes, I know I had a takeaway cup but it’s a peculiarity I’ve inherited from my wife.)

Later, as the barista was cleaning a table, I asked her what the score was with the three clowns and I learned that they weren’t actually clowns.

“What, so they weren’t on their way to a clown convention then?” I asked.

“No, I’m not sure what they said now, they were either out last night or they’re on their way out from here today.”

“What, around town you mean? Like that?”

“Yes,” she laughed.

I stroked my chin, taking one of them off. “‘Out with the lads tonight. Hmm . . . what shall I wear?” Then: “NOT THAT!”

You’ve got to love Manchester, haven’t you? You see it all. Hen parties, stag dos, clowns, the lot.

Before I left I showed her a photograph that I’d just saved onto my phone from Facebook. “Is this what you in the business call a drive through?”

Later that day it was my son’s football team’s end of season presentation. Along with his regular team member trophy he also won Most Improved Player Of The Season. Then it was my turn!

I contribute to the club by taking action photographs of the players along with submitting match reports, recording Man of the Match awards etc.

Imagine my surprise when I was awarded ‘Reporter of the Year.’

To be honest, I don’t think there was anyone else in the running but it was nice to be recognised. On the way out of the building, James and I compared trophies.

“Is Reporter of the Year even a thing?” he asked me.

I gave him a bit of advice. “When you get home from here, Google ‘Watergate’.”

Milestone Mystery Tours

It’s happened – after looming large on the horizon for so long I have finally reached the milestone of fifty years on this planet. Millstone, milestone, I guess it’s all about perspective. Half a century and I’m still here.

My original plan to mark it was to take a trip over to Paris to visit the grave of one Jim Morrison (for what’s a Happy Birthday without a cemetery?) 😂

But, with all of the shifting sands of Covid requirements, I decided to postpone that for now to remain on this side of the Channel. And so my next couple of posts will be about what I did instead, including a few nights spent in the breezy Scottish capital of Edinburgh.

The first, though, will be about a tour I took my fourteen-year-old daughter on. A hopefully inspirational tour of a certain neighbouring northern city, centred upon a certain neighbouring northern pop group . . .

To Conker Her Fears

It was maybe an hour from dusk. A little girl was running ahead of her mother, kicking all of the yellow and brown leaves out of her way as she came.

“Where are all the conkers?” she asked me.

“Conkers?

“Yeah, there’s all these leaves but no conkers!” Her cheeks were red with either all of the running she’d been doing or the cold air. Maybe a combination of the two.

I gestured towards the bottom of the hill. “There’s a conker tree down there, on Wood Street. Right to the bottom then turn left.

She whirled around. “MUMMY!” She didn’t have to shout as her mother wasn’t really that far behind. “THERE’S A CONKER TREE DOWN THERE!”

Maybe her mother didn’t really need to hear that. I shrugged apologetically. “It’s about ten minutes away.”

She nodded her thanks and they went on their way. Or rather the girl did, speedily, and her mother followed the trail she left through the foliaged pathway.

That was one thing I missed. When my kids were primary age we used to pass the horse chestnut tree that I’d referred to on the school run, and at this time of year we’d forage for any fallen conkers along the way. Especially after a previous night’s storm.

But the kids are older now. High school age. When I was in high school conkers were still a thing. The playground was the battleground, and the more fair-minded (or more likely the naive) among us would come up against the devious cheats who had strengthened their conkers by baking them in the oven or coating them in nail varnish. Ways and means, with the assistance of conspiring adults.

That was in the days before the schools went on a health and safety overdrive and either banned them outright or insisted safety goggles had to be worn when playing.

So now they’re not a thing.

The last time any interest was shown in conkers in my house was when my daughter had come across the claim that spiders were scared of them. Before you could say show me the scientific proof there was a defensive line of them along her window ledge and more strategically placed upon her bedside cabinet.

They lasted until the night she encountered a spider that was big enough to juggle them.

Rosemary’s Bay Bees

What a beautiful day it was today.

In fact, do you know what kind of day it was today? It was a Rosemary’s Baby and Fosters kind of day today.

So much so that I felt that I had to share with everyone on Facebook just how I’d passed the afternoon.

Why have you poured Fosters into a glass?! my daughter Courtney commented.

Because the glass wouldn’t fit into the can, I replied.

Obvious, isn’t it?

One pay-off to be made for the good weather at this time of year is that we have to share it with others. Other creatures, that is. A few days ago I noticed some bees flying around the end of the guttering at the front of our house, guttering that is close to both Courtney’s bedroom window and also her sister Millie’s bedroom window. Courtney and Millie are not the most bug-friendly girls you’re ever likely to meet.

When one of the bees turned up in our living room today I thought, while catching it to release outside, I’d take the opportunity to photograph it in an effort to identify the species. As it dropped onto the window ledge, I placed a glass over it (yes, the Fosters glass) and took a snap of it.

That’s right-the bee was doing what bees do and wouldn’t keep still, flying to the top of the glass. Eventually though, I got a close up.

From this, and from what I’d read when scientifically googling bee nests in gutters I deduced that the bees were most likely to be Tree Bumblebees. Eat your heart out Attenborough.

(Though don’t ask where the tree comes into play.)

And from what I’ve learnt I’ve decided not to take any action and leave them bee (😀) as it’s likely that they will leave the nest by the end of July anyway.

That’s only two months away. Eight weeks. Ish.

You can imagine how thrilled my daughters are by this decision.

Just wait until that sun is out again tomorrow, and the temperature rises, and how those windows should be opened to admit some fresh air.

I’m thinking now that tomorrow could be a Cool Hand Luke in the sweatbox kind of day.