Paying our Respects to the Queen
I think everyone here in the UK got calls last Thursday, September 8th, 2022 from our family and friends that the Queen had died. All other news was suddenly rendered irrelevant – the nation’s symbolic Mother, and Grandmother, was gone. How surreal it is to wake up and think that. I’ve never met her, she’s a total stranger, but she was a constant that is no longer there. It just feels unsettling, and strange.
In the rain and cold of last Friday morning, with heavy gray skies lowered over Edinburgh we went to the local grocery and bought a little flower bouquet to show our respect. The Palace at Holyrood House, the Queen’s official Scottish residence is only four miles from where we live in Edinburgh. The atmosphere around the palace gates was somber. Instead of regular visitors, it had become a sudden, impromptu family of strangers coming together with their flowers and cards. There were locals with their dogs, and tourists with their national flags tucked in to their bouquets. Some had fastened photos from when they, or perhaps their Granny, had met the Queen in person. In the days since, those first hundreds of flower bouquets have become thousands. Paddington Bear stuffed animals, and little handmade drawings of the Queen walking into the heavens with her beloved dogs have appeared. Overnight, our busy suburban roads have become festooned with traffic cones, the city center full of audience control barriers, the buzz of aircraft engines in the skies all night. The Queen’s funeral procession was coming here.
Though it’s the capital of Scotland, and its medieval beauty as a UNESCO World Heritage site is tourist-famous, the city of Edinburgh is a small place. It’s the kind of place where residents recognize each other. Standing on the corner by the steel police barricades waiting in the wind and cold for hours yesterday, strangers become acquaintances. Alliances were formed to help each other keep our carefully staked-out viewing spots. Our landlord, who is a farmer, called to ask about something domestic. We told him we were at the funeral procession. He told us, in a modest but still rather excited fashion, to keep an eye out for him there. We had no idea he was a member of the Royal Company of Archers – the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland. We felt obscurely proud to know him as he walked by in his striking forest green uniform with eagle feather in his bonnet. Across the cobblestones we waved at the café owner from down the street. Next to us was a nice family who had driven up from England, wanting to pay their respects in this intimate city that has suddenly found itself on the world’s stage.
Police vehicles swept by, then a brown Rolls Royce carrying the new King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla down from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace at the other end of the Royal Mile to begin their wake. The figures in the car were calmly waving, just 10 or so feet from our position on the cobblestones. Having only seen the Queen on television, this was a moment one is unlikely to forget. Just a flash in the crowd, but a few seconds of seeing figures one has also lived with (distantly) for years. Another hour passed, then bagpipes in the distance sounded their eerie, atmospheric call, and the thump of a funeral drum drifted into range. Thousands of people standing on the street became silent, except for the ring of boots on the ancient cobblestones. The sound of horse’s hooves - surely a sound the famously animal-loving queen would have enjoyed - echoed. A hearse, with the flash of red and gold – the Scottish Royal Standard flag – came into view.
We'd like to tell you we saw the King walking right behind the coffin, but he and the other Royals were small figures from where we stood. A hat with black feathers blowing by the cathedral door – Queen Consort Camilla as it turned out. The figures vanished into the great stone Gothic arches of the thousand-year old cathedral of St. Giles for the service, and the Vigil of the Princes held overnight. At 11 p.m. a friend who has never been particularly fussed about royalty, called us to say he was in line to pay his respects. The queue stretched over a mile and a half from the cathedral door, and went all night. People waited up to six hours in the chilly night air to have their moment to say goodbye.
A day later we ran to the end of our suburban street where our neighbors stood in the warm afternoon sunshine of this beautiful early autumn day. The black Mercedes limo with a large glass dome over the draped casket - the one the world has now seen - passed by. People brought their dogs again, and their kids in school uniform out to see it, because that’s what Scottish people do. Princess Anne, the Princess Royal looking weary but entirely recognizable in the following car. ‘She’s been doing an amazing job, she must be so tired..’ notes the crowd, as she’s been accompanying her mother’s casket for days now.
Ten minutes later, the hearse was at Edinburgh Airport, and we watched simultaneously on our t.v. and from our balcony. The heavy military aircraft thundered up into the skies, leaving the lush green grass of Scotland behind, bound for London. The giant plane, call sign Kitty Hawk, soared over the nearby Pentland Hills, still draped in their late season heather. The Queen’s last journey from her beloved Scotland has come to a close. In a nearby field, visible from our t.v. screen, I could see the dust rising from a farmer’s plough, life going on. I think the Queen would have liked that very much.