Changing of the Guard

The queen is dead. Long live the king. That about sums up this week in England. I happened to be in London at an Indian restaurant when the news of the Queen’s passing flashed on my phone. But life goes on. It’s been a trying week for the British. New prime minister, their Queen dying and a new King who has been waiting in the wings all his life. Flags are lowered in mourning, then raised in celebration during the proclamation, then lowered again. Churches and Cathedrals only open for mourners which is fine with me. I’m not a big fan of those massive monuments to celestial hubris, although their architecture and sheer size is impressive, considering they were built 800 to a thousand years ago with no machinery but thousands of labourers.

You would have thought that Charles would get some grief-time for his mom but no; there are procedures and protocols to be observed. The theater of royalty, preferably with as much pageantry and absurdity as possible. Brits like their history to come as costume drama.’ as John Crace from the Guardian dryly observed. Does anybody really want to see Charles’ face on a coin or a pound note or even on the Canadian currency? Hard to imagine. 

The new king is more than just a pretty face. He actually made a landmark speech on saving the environment in 1970, just 21 years old, in Cardiff. He also founded Duchy Originals, a natural food company in 1990, at the time thought to be a folly but today it’s the most popular organic food brand in England. Together with the fortune of his estimated royal inheritance of over 20 billion, King Charles III is instantly one of the richest men on earth. 

Yesterday’s meticulous choregraphed procession from Westminster Abbey to Windsor Castle was a performance only the British can put on. The ancient uniforms, the pipers, the furry hats and the lockstep soldiers made for grand TV and a million people lined the parade route. I’m glad we were in Cornwall, away from the somber spectacle. I think what people mourn more than the passing of their monarch is the end of an epoch, the closing of a window on the recent past that started in the fifties with rock’n’roll and spanned the whole life of Elizabeth II through the murder of the Kennedys, Vietnam, the sixties and the Beatles, the seventies and punk, the eighties and AIDS, the nineties with Columbine, Waco and the Balkan war and then the new millennial. From dial phones to smart phones, from Libraries to Siri, the Queen was always there. From Eisenhower to Biden, from Churchill to Boris. Always.

During her 70-year reign ordinary people lived like kings. We ate like dukes and lords, travelled the planet in luxury and lived in houses with plumbing and automated systems. We communicated across the globe in an instant and indulged in freedoms and excesses like no generation before us. We had it all, as the song goes but what comes now?

Since the Brits decided to go it alone thanks to a bunch of petty squabbling politicians who disregarded the consequences of an ignorant decision made by an uninformed electorate, the country has been under some duress and I don’t think Liz Truss is the answer. Cutting taxes for the rich and capping energy prices might endear her to the better offs’ but will do little to help the average family but she should do better than the clown she replaced. Liz’s timing is unfortunate since her first ten days as prime minister had to be spent in mourning. 

None of all this seemed to impact us visitors as we travelled from town to town, along narrow, tunnel like roads, from pub to restaurant, walking along the wind and rain beaten dramatic and treeless Cornish coast, populated by sheep and stony hamlets and tourist seaside towns. England was never known for its culinary excellence but they have come a long way since fish and chips, mushy peas and bangers and mash. You can still get a good pint of beer anywhere but trendy gourmet restaurants have replaced the fish and chips shops. 

Today’s denizens of these British Isles face old and new hardships. Life once again seems very tenuous, living from paycheck to paycheck, not knowing what the near future will bring, never mind the far future. Carry on, stiff upper lip, eyes on the horizon. There are heroic attempts to paint a better, sustainable future for humans like the Eden Project near St. Austell but much of it is wishful thinking and drops on the hot stone of planet earth. The pastoral landscapes and the quaint towns seem timeless and the rocky shores and cliffs falling into the Atlantic will surely endure another million years. Time, after all is infinite.

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