It feels surreal, predestined, and quite fortuitous in many ways that on this long delayed trip back to England we had almost randomly decided to stay in Windsor, a place neither of us previously knew. After an arduous three day journey back to Japan, having left our hotel in Windsor at the break of dawn, with that particularly English beautiful cold damp smell in the air as the sun broke through the clouds, it was startling to wake up to the news that Queen Elizabeth had died. I had just, for some reason, in the grogginess of deep jet lag, been thinking about her, about her longevity, about what the world would say when she reached her hundredth birthday (I think most of us assumed she would go on forever), trying to imagine Charles as an eighty year old monarch, when I walked blearily into the kitchen and D, who had got up very early to go into work, and was looking at his phone, told me the sad news.
I am not a royalist; for me the royal family are just people, like us, with fallibilities and problems, at times even evil (just look at the disgrace that is Prince Andrew), but I do see the value in terms of tradition of the monarchy, and like many, had a great deal of respect for The Queen. She was dignified, hard-working, in many ways a deeply loyal and honourable servant of the country (I personally believe that she was stoically ‘holding on’ as long as she could for the people despite the grief she must have been suffering following the loss of Prince Philip and the exhaustion she was apparently feeling post-Covid infection, knowing that they needed the positivity of the Jubilee and the Commonwealth Games as a boost to the spirits after the misery of the pandemic): a living icon – at least while we were still there, just a few days ago now, her face everywhere in Windsor, probably the most royal family-centred town in the whole of the UK; souvenirs, posters, teatowels, mugs, portraits of her wherever you cared to look celebrating the Platinum Jubilee; we really enjoyed basking in the pub beer and fish-and-chip Britishness. The buildings were beautiful, the atmosphere benificent and calm, the fluttering bunting and flags everywhere very charming – there was a quietly celebratory feeling in the air as the long hot summer continued its dreamy late evening strolls; our hotel just five minutes from the castle, incantatory at dusk; romantic (we asked ourselves if the Queen was also up as we walked back to our room, assuming she was inside, not realizing she was ailing at Balmoral); soaking up what was actually to be the very end of her reign. The place where now the crowds are gathering and milling to see Harry and Meghan, William and Catherine was peaceful and quiet; we had a nice lunch with my parents there, who came down the day after we arrived, sitting together inside the beautiful flowering hanging basket covered pub that is nearest to the royal residence, The Two Brewers, right by the castle entrance; at that time, just the odd family standing happily taking photos in front of the gate; extraordinary to know now that this was the end of an era.