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The Brits bid goodbye to far more than Her Majesty last night


My eyes last night were keeping a watch on the A4 and A30 roads out of London. After the pomp, pageantry and circumstance of Westminster, Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade, things took a prosaic turn for 40 minutes, prior to the poetic taking over again at Windsor.

It was the evening-turned-night here in Sydney. In London, the morning of mourning had passed and given way to the early afternoon of suburban delights as the state hearse – replete with bobbies on blue-blinking bikes – weaved its way on much the same trajectory that inward-bound planes take on heading into Heathrow. Usually, a royal occasion of such scale involves a fly over from the RAF Red Arrows. On this day, it was a spectacle much-less stratospheric that craved our attention, a very shiny car motoring across the Hammersmith flyover.

The Queen’s hearse covered in flowers as it arrives in Windsor.

The Queen’s hearse covered in flowers as it arrives in Windsor.Credit:AP

Over the past few days, from time to time, I watched the queue, since live broadcasts first began on the BBC News homepage. I was watching to watch what individuals did when they reached the appointed spot and turned to face and confront the catafalque, coffin, cross and crown. I saw all manner of bows, blessings and blown kisses. I was spellbound watching the rank and file of the British Isles troop by in their colourless garb, clutching shopping bags as though they’d just dropped in to say cheerio on their way back from the shops. ‘It’s only me. Thought I’d just drop in and say ta-da before you toddle off’.

“I was spellbound watching the rank and file of the British Isles troop by.”

“I was spellbound watching the rank and file of the British Isles troop by.”Credit:Getty

I am a dual citizen of Australia and the UK. I have lived here for 35 years and if I were back there I too would probably have queued for the same amount of hours on the South Bank of the Thames, along with David Beckham, Tilda Swinton and what looked to me like the same public that regularly appear as a backdrop to the Antiques Roadshow. The demographic looks identical. It’s a sample population of the middle England I am familiar with: the people I grew up with, went to school with, worked with, watched the tele with; the tele that they’re now on…

And now here they are again as Her Majesty’s hearse rolls by, clambering over median strips for an en plein air farewell and thank-you. I was silenced for the sombre part of the occasion – a ceremonial gun carriage hauled by 140 stout English hearts of oak will do that to you – but then I was watching the rank-and file of the British Isles cheer, in their colourful late summer outfits as the cortege clipped along past a Marks and Spencers and BP service station.

Any vantage point would do for a photo and fond farewell.

Any vantage point would do for a photo and fond farewell. Credit:Getty

I have a suspicion that they were doing more than saying goodbye and thank-you to a much-loved monarch, whose reign and years have spanned many of theirs. I think this was also a fond, last farewell to the England many hoped would return when the nation voted to leave Europe; an England of whistling postmen, Spitfires cutting across the blue skies of the South Downs, a Jerusalem builded there where cyclists flood out the factory and dockyard gates at teatime.

It is impossible to hold on to that fading way of life, in the same way that the hearse could not be stopped from moving inexorably along the dual carriageways towards Hounslow, Heathrow and the hinterland running between the M4 corridor and the River Thames. Flowers were strewn in the path of this modern-day Passion as the parade passed by on its way to a green hill far away in that green and pleasant land. People cried out “three cheers” and held their mobile phones aloft to salute a woman who was their once and future Queen, to capture a picture of car and coffin for all time, presumably to show each other in years to come, to say, “I was there”.



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