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.

Coronation Streets

As I write this, there is a service taking place at Westminster Cathedral to mark the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

I would not consider myself a Royalist, or a Monarchist, or any other such ist that you may attempt to attribute to me (careful) but I can appreciate the sense of history and the sense of occasion. I know people of other nationalities who tell me that they envy the history and tradition that we have with our monarchy.

Marrying a post on national history with a little family history, I share with you this photograph from the 1953 coronation taken on Birtles Street in Collyhurst, Manchester. In that sea of young faces, among that wild throng, my Dad stares out. Also present are his two brothers, along also with two of his cousins.

As well as being a visual document of a historic occasion, I treasure this for being one of only a handful of photographs that exist of my Dad’s younger brother Frank, who was to die just twelve months after this was taken aged not quite four years old. That is him dead center, wearing the coat, his head turned to his right.

present are Dad,Brian,Frank,Richard Hamnett,Pat Curran

Another photograph being shared by Manchester Down Memory Lane today is this one capturing the women of Walter Street, Manchester, getting ready for their street party.

Look at that for elbow grease! How times have changed.

photo (21)

I have photographs from the Silver Jubilee party I was at in 1977, but I decline to include them  here as I do not want to inflict upon you the unsightly vision of my young, knobbly knees, laid bare in shorts.

Back then nearly every street held a celebratory party, with everyone contributing to the decorations, food and drink. I can recall one of the neighbours rolling out an out of tune piano to add to the caterwauling.

Come the Diamond Celebrations of 2012, and only a handful of the streets in my local area bothered to hold such parties. The national flags and bunting were as sparse then as they were this year for St.George’s Day. But when we have a World Cup or European Championship year, or for events such as the recent London-held Olympics, you can see them in abundance.

It seems that up here, in the north of England at least, there is a dearth of national pride until a sporting event awakens that slumbering sense of patriotism and brings the people together in a mutual air of hope.

But that hope inevitably disappoints, and the mood of the nation takes yet another dip.

Or, as of recent days, the death of a local serviceman calls the community to come together in a mutual need for solace, and comfort, and hope.

But parties? Royal celebrations? The jury is out.