I wasn’t going to let the death of Britain’s longest-serving monarch get away with only one mention on this page. We British (and I am still British, even though I no longer live there) haven’t had much to be proud of recently (MPs behaving and squabbling like children in a playground ffs) but organising the world’s (current) biggest event with ten days’ notice? A round of applause, please.
There are some things we are just inherently good at. If anyone was going to have the longest queue in the world, reportedly visible from space (although there was no photographic evidence attached to that report so forgive me if I’ve fallen for fake news) it would be the British. For a while it was the most famous queue in the world and I applaud those who stood in it. I couldn’t have done so – standing for more than half an hour makes my feet hurt and my back ache. Besides, I’m missing the British gene for queueing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t stand there tutting and moaning. I accept that there are certain things I’m always going to have to queue for, and I choose to do them anyway as the end result is worth the wait. Or I have no option, like queuing for airport security. I’ll queue for a pleasurable experience, waiting to get into a venue or such; I am never, ever going to queue to get into a ‘place to be seen’.
What would any of us ex-pats have done in the last couple of weeks without the BBC? On any normal day there is no greater champion of the BBC than someone who grew up with it but no longer has access to it in the country they live in. (I kid you not – everyone I know, even some Kiwis, would happily pay to be able to watch BBC iPlayer). An event like this is when the entire world recognises the true value of the much-criticised organisation. Their coverage of the funeral was outstanding, all cameras perfectly positioned, no inane babbling, any commentary muted and appropriate, thankfully all streamed worldwide. Is it a reflection of my age, or that I am boring, when the first time in years I stay up past midnight is to watch a funeral?
It was riveting viewing though. How long did those armed forces practice for? I know they did so, I saw the pictures of them in the dead of night marching under streetlights. I often can’t get my feet to move in coordination with each other, let alone throw my arms in too, so to see a mass of humans moving as though they are linked by invisible solid bars made me stare open-mouthed in awe. Did you notice that their arms all reached the exact same height before they swung back down again? That their feet moved the exact same distance as the feet of everyone around them? You could have laid a ruler along the lines of marchers and there would be no deviation from the straight. If you’d put a spirit level along the hats of the sailors pulling the gun carriage, the bubble would have been perfectly in the middle and perfectly still. I’ve seen clumsier ballet dancers. I’d be the one tripping on an invisible step (and, yes, I have done that) sending the whole row tumbling down like dominoes, arms and legs tangled on the road, those behind careening into the carnage.
Why is the Navy called the senior service? I’d never heard that term until now. To me the words meant cigarettes, the ones I used to fetch for Mum and Dad from the local shop, before it became politically incorrect, then illegal, to do so. It explains why there was a picture of a sailor on the packet. I asked Neil and he reckons it’s because the Navy is the oldest of the services. I Googled it and, damn, he’s right.
If the marchers were impressive they were nothing compared to the bearer party (and I can’t write those words without hearing them, followed by a command). There’s no way that coffin was anything other than bloody heavy, yet they handled it like it was an empty plywood box. When it was on their shoulders it moved as if it was still on wheels, gliding gracefully over all terrains. I think Stephen Fry, one of my favourite humans, spoke for everyone when he tweeted: Bearer Party, to the pub – quick march… you’ve earned it. Never would a pint have tasted so good.
You could be forgiven for thinking it was all a bit militaristic, a show of strength and nothing else. But, let’s face it, if anything it was a show of respect and love for an amazing woman, not to mention a show of colour and polished metal. The closest uniform to one that would get remotely near a modern battlefield was the one worn by the thousands of police personnel on duty. No, this was all for pageantry and tradition. The British are good at queueing, but when it comes to pomp and circumstance, we’re the best in the world.