We heard about the death of the queen a few weeks ago from an Edinburgh taxi driver who did little to hide his indifference to the news. It came on a wet and cold Scottish evening and we were travelling from a trendy neighborhood called Leith back to the city center. It was expected of course, she was 96, and perhaps the only real surprise was the extent and numbing repetition of the national media coverage in England when we arrived back south in England a few days later and its overwhelming positivity toward the Royal family and Charles in particular. I come from a generation where “God save the Queen” could only be rhymed with “the fascist regime” and better still “she ain’t no human being” thanks to the Sex Pistols.
What kind of human being she was is any ones guess. About five years after that song I found myself in a small village in mid Wales where unexpectedly I saw school children were holding national flags so I followed them to the high street where minutes later I came face to face with the Queen. A truly diminutive figure, projecting the very absence of power, tiny in highly polished shoes and lambs wool coat she briefly frowned on me, a scruffy twenty something and then she was gone.
Five years later I was living in Windsor, close to the airport. I was now working in a job taking me around the world on business and I had begun to understand the claustrophobic nature of this line of work; breakfasts, lunches, dinners all became “meetings”. So when I was back home I found refuge in the wide open spaces of Windsor Great Park and would hike there despite of the sometimes wild nature of the winter weather. Frequently I would notice some of the royals driving past in Range Rovers or Bentleys and would give a casual wave happily, and almost certainly, breaking every protocol. They travelled in entourages with stern and capable looking men following close behind in modest, nondescript cars ready to handle any trouble that may arise.
One particularly ferocious Sunday found me deep inside the grounds happily soaked to my skin, I couldn’t have been wetter if I had stood fully dressed under a shower for half an hour, even my socks and underwear were completely wet but I didn’t care. There was something cinematic about the day as the black clouds sped across the sky, it felt as if the film I was in was skipping forward too quickly while birds were drifting sideways across it shrieking in alarm. All around the haunting rising and falling hum of the shaking tree’s which were struggling to hold their ground, occasionally loosing limbs with a sudden snap.
I watched a single Land Rover approach from a distance as it drew closer I saw the unmistakable cliché of that small lady with a headscarf, no secret service car following, the certainty that there wasn’t another human being for miles around. And then it happened; a wide, genuine grin from the Queen which I returned with a grateful laugh and a nod, the exchange was probably less than 5 seconds. No she didn’t offer me a ride, we didn’t become friends. I’m just sure she was just amused by my pitiful weather blown state but I would also like to think we were both escaping from responsibilities and colluding in a brief moment of elation while the wind was up, the earth was alive and most sensible humans were at home in front of the television.
It was a sweet moment but it never warmed me to her or her family, in this case my heart wasn’t overruled by my head. I think it is partially the vastness of her privilege, the absurd amount of wealth, the land and influence inherited, not earned, simply “past down”. Apparently she went to great lengths to hide this from the English people giving clues to her guilt. There is also the matter of her children, one by one their marriages celebrated lavishly only to collapse under the weight of public expectations.
We are over familiar with all the arguments to support the Royal Family; continuity, stability, tradition, tourism even but it’s time to break free from these. The piety I witness in the English, starting with the media is the real tragedy and think that perhaps in the future the public should agree to choose heroes with more care. Let’s place those on pedestals those whose achievements advanced our society and seek ordinary citizens that achieved extraordinary things. In sorry, but I’m with Johnny Lydon – or at least the person he was in the 1970’s, I turned my back a long time ago on the idea of being some else’s “subject”.