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For Queen and Country by Sherri Matthews

On a warm July day in 1977, the Queen came to Ipswich for her Silver Jubilee. My friend, Helen, and I, had left school the year before in that long, hot summer of ’76. Now we were stuffed like sardines on Ipswich High Street, waiting hours for a glimpse of her.

The Royal Cavalcade arrived at last. Prince Philip, hands clasped behind his back, came over first. Then came the Queen, resplendent in yellow and her sunshine smile. My Kodak Instamatic at my eye, finger hovering above the button… Snap. The woman in front of me leapt up to wave, giving me a wonderful close-up of her pink, feathery hat, the Queen’s a flash of yellow in the background.

Though one among several warm memories I share with Helen – bonded since flute recital at middle school in Stowmarket at thirteen – I admit I found the Royal Family a bit stuffy, uninspiring. Yes, it was exciting to see the Queen so close, and as close as I ever would again, but I took her for granted. She was always there, all my life.

Up until then, my brief and passing interest in the Royals came by way of an assigned school project for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in Wales. It was 1969, he was twenty-one. I was ten. Beneath various cut-out newspaper and magazine photos which I pasted into a scrapbook, I wrote my summary in blue, felt-tip pen. Like a news reporter. Pens and paper and glue and scrapbooks were some of my favourite things. I look back now to 1969. It was also the year my parents split up, when we left our home in Surrey for Suffolk, a million miles away. Another planet. Yet I vividly recall the sense of empowerment and achievement that project gave me, immersing myself into something creative.

But The Royals? Back then? Not so much.

And then came Princess Diana and everything changed.

Through the divorces and the scandals, and accusations and tragedy to follow, the Queen was a constant presence through seventy years of reign, when bunting and street parties decorated the land for her glorious Platinum jubilee. After two years and counting of a global pandemic, 2022 has not seen the end of it. But it’s also a year to get back out there and live. Though life, as we know, is never without its triumphs and disasters. In early July, the Foo Fighters concert my wonderful family had surprised me with was cancelled. Tragedy struck with the shock death of their drummer, Taylor Hawkins.

We kept our Airbnb reservation in London as planned, not wanting to miss a chance to spend time together. And as it turned out, I ended up going to a Guns ‘n’ Roses gig with my sons, but that’s another story for another time. On Saturday, we took a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. Random, but it’s something we’d always wanted to do.

Almost 1,000 years of that history is retained within the walls and ancient flagstones of Westminster Hall. Plaques inscribed with dates of trials of the likes of Guy Fawkes and Thomas Moore (executed by King Henry VIII) mark the very spot where they took place.

And where, centuries later, the Queen’s father, King George VI, lay in state after his death in 1952.

The tour took us through the House of Commons and House of Lords and back outside, a stunning view of Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben. In the summer sun, it gleamed as clean as I’ve ever seen it and no scaffolding. After what felt like a long time away, this iconic London sighting imbued a measure of hope for recovery for my country.

We returned home on Sunday. On Monday, our government collapsed. Boris was fired. But more importantly to me, The Foo Fighters had announced a tribute concert for Taylor Hawkins. And there I was in London again with my family on September 2nd, watching Dave Grohl play at Wembley to a crowd of 80,000 fans and counting.

On September 5th, we got our new Prime Minister. Two days later, she had her first audience with the Queen in Balmoral. On September 8th, our beloved Queen died.

Our nation entered a period of mourning. I, along with millions, watched as processions and vigils and honour guards marched to our collective, final goodbye to our Dear Lady. There she rested, Lying in State, in Westminster Hall, just as her father and mother had done before her. And for four days and nights, thousands upon thousands filed past, paying their respects.

Thank you for your service, Ma’am.

Our country remains in political and economic crisis, and since starting this article, we have yet another new Prime Minister. But God Bless the Queen, I say. And God Save the King.

My mother remembers watching the Queen’s coronation in 1953. My grandfather purchased the family’s first television set to watch it, inviting all the neighbours. Mum was sixteen. But for everyone younger than 70, we’ve never witnessed such a momentous and historical time such as this.

All those decades ago when I did my school project, the very idea of Mum and I watching the Queen’s state funeral together in 2022 was so far from our thoughts to be impossible to contemplate. It gave me pause when Charles was proclaimed King Charles III on my birthday. He had a long wait.

Today, Mum struggles with cognitive impairment, but she remembers that scrap book of my school-girl write-ups of a young Prince of Wales. She still has it, she’s sure, somewhere in her loft. Apparently, I got a gold star.

Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.


21 Comments

  1. I enjoyed this Sherri. For me, as a kid, the queen was the lady on the Canadian coins, caribou, beaver and such on the other side. You’re right, it seems it’s always been Queen Elizabeth and always would be, even as we all got older. Even as we all saw so much change. I was surprised how surprised I was at her passing, given her age. Her death (and her life!) are a marker for us all, and your essay highlights that very well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading, Dee. Just my reflections on this summer swirling around my head at the time of writing. I think a great many of us were surprised at how sudden it all was with the Queen’s passing. End of an era, truly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. suespitulnik says:

    Sherri,
    Thank you for sharing and putting the 70 years in perspective. The Queen was an amazing lady.
    I hope your new Prime Minister can hold things together and improve your economy.
    I’m waiting for your memoir.
    Sue

    Like

  3. restlessjo says:

    So lovely to catch up with you again, Sherri! What a roller coaster is life! Sending hugs to you and Mum.

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  4. Hi Sheree, an interesting walk through your memories. The UK has some problems, but so does everywhere else. Many countries have far worse issues but the UK’s get more media attention and coverage for various reasons. Keep your chin up, the UK has always been there and it always will be there.

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    • Thanks, Robbie. I wonder what media attention is given abroad to the true nature of the UK’s problems? I can only comment from my own perspective and experience here. But having once lived in another country for 20 years, I do know that those perspectives can differ wildly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, perspectives can differ with media coverage. What I have read and heard mainly revolves around the increasing cost of living, energy crisis, and the fact that the UK is officially in a recession. The USA and Europe are having similar problems with high costs of food and energy. Here in South Africa, millions of people live in shacks made of corrugated iron with only one room. They use communal chemical toilets provided by government if they are lucky, some only have long drop toilets. These squatter camps also have communal taps for water. South Africa is also having continuous power outages called load shedding. Wealthier people have generators and battery systems, but the poor just go without power for hours, sometimes days. That being said, life is a lot worse for people living in neighbouring Zimbabwe or in war-torn countries. The world is a difficult place at the moment.

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  5. We took that same Houses of Parliament tour a few years ago. I so wanted to join the queue that snaked along Westminster Hall, but alas knew I could not stand for all those hours.

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  6. A wonderful read Sherri.
    You know perspectives like this are a mystery to us here in the US, so I really enjoyed seeing this through your eyes.
    I sorta understood the value of the recently passed queen, but of her first born, him I don’t get and hope he steps up to deserve the title somehow.

    Like

    • Thank you for reading, Gary. I know exactly what you mean, having once lived in the US for 20 years. I do think it’s so valuable sharing our different perspectives, so often, I find, they come with surprises. And we learn a lot that way. I hope the same for our new King. Strange times in more ways than one.

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  7. Norah says:

    It’s lovely to see you here, Sherri, and read this tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and your new monarch King Charles III. As for you, the Queen was a constant in my life. It was difficult to imagine life without her, and it seem to have come so quickly at the end. Her reign will remain the longest for decades, maybe centuries to come. Her son’s reign must be brief in comparison, and his son’s too. What an amazing era in which we live.

    Like

  8. A fascinating tour isn’t it? Same here, family logistics made it impossible for me at the time to get up to London. So moving, nothing like it in our lifetime. Thank you for reading, Stevie.

    Like

  9. Hi Charli, many thanks for hosting me again, it’s been wonderful to be back at the Ranch after too long. But often or little, so long as we keep riding then we’re in okay shape, right? Lovely to chat with old friends here, done me good.

    Like

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