The Queen's Funeral


Pomp meets circumstance

We're watching and making history all the time of course, in small ways, and sometimes bigger ones. These past six years we’ve been privy to rather more history than most people get what with Brexit, Covid and a seemingly endless cycle of recessions. So, the death of a Queen, however long lived, may appear to be a smaller affair. Not a bit of it. Even the television coverage of Covid did stop sometimes for other matters but ever since Queen Elizabeth the second passed away BBC and ITV have had virtually non stop Royal programming. If you really wanted to you could even watch a live stream of the lying in state of the coffin, surely of all things this is something that if you wanted to see it the preference would be to actually attend? The big day though was today. Why is it even in this blog, you're asking? Simply because it is the largest event any of us are likely to see this year.

I wasn’t going to watch it at all but then they gave us a day off, everywhere was closed and it was raining up here so options were limited and I do like to watch a bit of history. Its history in two senses really- obviously the passing of a record breaking monarch but also the pomp and finery belongs to centuries ago. Yet there it is in front of us. We’re watching the same stuff that people might have watched hundreds of years ago. Its vibrant and colourful- red, shiny metal, orange, gold. You imagine it can’t impress you but what other public event could muster so many onlookers as we saw lining the various routes? Not even The Beatles did that. So you have to be impressed. All the snarky journalism suggests how unpopular or anachronistic or old fashioned the Monarchy is yet look at all these people! A prime minster can only dream of such popularity and besides must everything be drab and dingey to be worthy?

The scale of the event is breathtaking at times. The progress of the funeral party to and later from Westminster Abbey is a spectacle that looks as if machines could be doing it but these are all people. The minutae is fascinating. The way the Naval personnel (98 of them apparently) all seem to be somehow attached to the gun  carriage upon which the coffin rests. Just imagine what would happen if one of them tripped or feinted? Maybe nothing would happen and they would be carried along by the white binding that seems to hold everything together. You can just see how they’ve attached the orb, sceptre and crown to the top of the coffin because at first I was thinking -when they go down the steps of the Abbey how are they going to stay in place?

The way the pall bearers- eight guardsman in the brightest red jackets you’ve ever seen - let go of the coffin and then shuffle in unison sideways like a crab. This after mastering those steps. The fact the Lord Chamberlain has to break a Wand at the end. Who knew anyone in real life had a Wand? I swear a tiny burst of static floated into the air the moment he did so. Then there’s the fact that the walk from the Abbey to Hyde Park corner took about an hour and a half and nobody was hurrying. Everyone from the armed forces personnel to the Royal Family were walking to a steady beat provided by booming drums. Its harder to walk like that than it is to stroll normally. Yet absolutely nobody looked tired. What about needing the toilet? Or a sandwich? The precision was exacting and perfectly performed- the procession was scheduled to move at 10.44. Why not 10.45? Big Ben’s tolls could be heard every minute for ninety six minutes – one for each year of the Queen’s reign. Hold on - did the procession actually last for ninety six minutes?  If it did they must have calculated the speed at which everyone has to walk? I don’t want to check that now because I really like the idea of such mathematical precision.

There were so many stylish touches and I’ve no idea if these were traditional of someone just added them but the most impressive was the lone piper and what he did. When he started it was as loud and echoey as bagpipes can be but then it started to fade away simply because he walked away into the distance and like a film changing scene it seemed like the deftest edit except he’d just gone into the distance. I did wonder if he actually stopped or whether he’s still playing and walking away! 

Amidst such impressive displays I wondered what it was like for the relatives themselves. Whatever your view on the Royals this was a funeral and they’re grim events. Imagine having a funeral with all that palaver going on around you and millions of people watching you. I suppose they’re used to living their lives in public but it would be strange. So in the end I was pleased to watch it and see history being made and reproduced. Where this battered country goes next is hard to say but if we can’t do much these days we can at least put on a spectacle.

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