Wall-to-Wall Mourning in Food Bank Britain

Photograph Source: Ross Dunn – Gate in front of the Queen’s Sandringham Residence in Norfolk, England – CC BY-SA 2.0

The 10 days between the queen’s death and her funeral, especially the blanket media coverage, were replete with almost surreal moments. An abbreviated collage of these:

+ Much in view: ceremonial batons, staffs, wands, maces, and rods of all sizes and colours; swords, daggers, and pikes, cannons and a gun carriage for the queen’s coffin (towed by 142 sailors from the Royal Navy); horse riders in shiny metal uniforms, heralds with bugles, gold tunics, ruffs, tassels, epaulettes, armbands, cloaks, and sashes of every colour, all manner of leather accessories on uniforms; a profusion of drag-queen-like individuals in tights, gaudy costumes fit for a fancy dress party with a 15th century theme.

+ Medals and gold braid, medals and gold braid, medals and gold braid, galore!

+ hats and helmets of all kinds— metallic, single-feathered, plumed, animal-skinned, velveteen, cockaded, varieties of floppy headwear, berets.

+ Titles: Yeomen of the Guard, Royal Company of Archers, Gentlemen at Arms, the Sovereign’s Body Guards, Pursuivants and Heralds of Arms, the Earl Marshal (responsible for planning royal funerals, this is a hereditary position!), Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord President of the Council, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, Norroy & Ulster King of Arms, Clarenceux King of Arms, Garter Principal King of Arms, Sovereign’s Serjeants-at-Arm, Serjeant of the Vestry, Lady Usher of the Black Rod, Lord High Steward, Lord High Chancellor, Lord High Treasurer, Lord High Constable, Lord High Almoner, Lord Privy Seal, the Dean of the Thistle, the Dean of His Majesty’s Chapels Royal, the Clerk of the Closet, Lord Steward, Master of the Household, the High Bailiff of Westminster, Master of the Horse, the Queen’s Bargemaster, Keeper of the Privy Purse, the Page of the Backstairs, the Queen’s Page Palace Steward, Service Equerries to the Queen, the Crown Jeweller, the Llywydd, the Master of the King’s Music (who happens to be a woman), the Sovereign’s Piper, the Royal Harpist, the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry, the Fanfare Team of the Household Division, to name but a few.

+ During the royal cortege’s procession down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile a man in the crowd was wrestled to the ground by police when he yelled “you’re a sick old man” at Prince Andrew. A woman who held an “abolish monarchy” sign at a proclamation ceremony for Charles in Edinburgh was charged with a criminal offence. A barrister was interrogated by a police officer after holding up a “blank piece of paper” in London’s Parliament Square. Police were seen taking away a woman holding a placard saying “Not my king” near the Houses of Parliament. Ukania, the supposed “cradle of free speech”?

+ A leading Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, had a section titled “60 great British recipes fit for a queen” within days of the queen’s death.

+ Ukanian businesses and organizations are offering grief counselling to their employees.

+ Print and social media are carrying articles on how to talk to your children about the queen’s death.

+ the queen did a skit on a children’s TV show where she interacted with a toy Paddington Bear, who displayed his fondness for marmalade sandwiches. The denouement showed the queen producing her own ziplocked marmalade sandwich from her handbag. Thousands of Paddington Bears with accompanying Ziploc sandwiches have been placed at various impromptu remembrance sites. Authorities had to plead for this to stop— a variety of feral animals were ripping into the Ziploc bags and feasting on their contents.

+ Cancelled/closed: funerals, doctors’ offices and hospital appointments (even for cancer scans), food banks, Under-13 soccer games, fairs and fetes that often are a small village’s primary source of revenue for its charitable causes. Norwich city even closed its bike racks.

+ Heathrow airport stopped all flights for 15 minutes before the 2-minute national silence on the day of the funeral and 15 minutes afterwards as a “mark of respect” to the royal family. 15% of Heathrow’s schedule was disrupted.

+ Financial beneficiaries of the royal mourning: florists everywhere in the UK, sellers of royal memorabilia, newspapers which published special commemorative issues, food outlets adjacent to the queue to view the royal coffin, and mourners selling their (used) Queen’s laying in state queue wristbands for more than £10,000/$11,400 on eBay— the wristbands, issued during visits to the late monarch’s laying in state, were posted speedily on eBay by some mourners, with bids reaching 5 figures.

+ The funeral in London involved a 4,500-strong military parade, and 10,000 police officers on duty. The streets around Westminster were blocked-off the week before the funeral to allow for non-stop rehearsals.

+ The government created a “queue tracker” to inform people planning to get into the venue for the lying-in-state how far the queue stretched. The length of the queue was capped at 5 miles. An estimated 300,000 people queued, with the wait time reaching an estimated 17 hours.

+ People were not allowed to take food or drink inside the area where the queen lay in state. The Felix Project, a charity, said it expected to collect over 2 tonnes of food that was left behind, mostly snacks including crisps, chocolate and biscuits, and was also accepting unwanted blankets.

+ Charles will move to Buckingham Palace from his London residence, Clarence House. In a crass timing misjudgment, up to 100 Clarence House staff received redundancy notices during the thanksgiving service for the Queen at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

+ Viral clips showed Charles, renowned for his peevishness, chastising a servant for not clearing his desk fast enough when he signed his accession proclamation.

+ Charles will not have to pay inheritance tax on his mother’s estate.

+ As Tory Britain embraced austerity, Charles expanded his riches, using tax loopholes and offshore bank accounts.

+ Charles has transferred the Duchy of Cornwall and its revenues–apparently worth £1bn/$1.17bn– to his son William.

+ The Crown jeweller had to resize the crowns which were worn by Charles, who has a larger head than his late mother.

+ Simon Armitage, for decades Britain’s best poet (in my opinion) and who as Poet Laureate is required by that somewhat dread position to produce on order verse for notable public events. His effort for this occasion is none too shabby (only the last of two stanzas is provided below):

Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.
Lily of the Valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower
Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained
Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence
A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day
Breaks uncrowned on remote peaks and public parks, and
Everything turns on these luminous petals and deep roots,
This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness
Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.

+ Exactitude in terminology mattered on this occasion: the queen “lay in state” only when her coffin was in Westminster. Doing the same for a briefer period in Edinburgh shortly before, she “lay in rest”. Signalling therefore that the UK was “the state”, as opposed to the mere colony Scotland?

+ Sky News (a Murdoch outfit) had to issue an apology after one of its presenters mistook a demonstration following the police killing of a 24-year-old unarmed black man, Chris Kaba, for a gathering of mourners for the deceased queen. Clearly seen on Sky’s footage were numerous protesters carrying Black Lives Matter signs and wearing t-shirts with the Kaba’s name on them. Some on social media noted that this kind of gaffe is not unusual for a Murdoch news outlet.

+ I lost track of the number of times fawning commentators purported to speak on behalf of “the Nation” when referring to the dead monarch and the royal family.

+ CNN’s Erin Burnett to British royal hagiographer Mark Saunders: “What are you looking for these next couple of days from these two crucial brothers?”. [in reality, the 2 brothers avoided speaking to each other in public, and didn’t even make eye contact.]

+ Never mentioned at all: Charles’s relationship with Diana, his friendship with the notorious paedophile “Sir” Jimmy Savile, the continuing police investigation into the “cash for honours” scheme associated with his charitable foundation, which featured several large suitcases stuffed with banknotes.

+ Coming in early 2023: Charles’s coronation, when of course yet more solemn banalities will be voiced.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.