She was there for more than 70 years. You assumed she was eternal and would forever be part of your life. And then, one day, pffft… gone. I am referring, of course to Bogue’s restaurant, my local greasy spoon American diner that’s been a fixture in Birmingham since the 1930s. It closed suddenly this past week. For years now, my routine was to have a big breakfast there on Saturday morning, any weekend I was in town to tank up for the chores of the weekend, be it shopping, laundry, yardwork, or wading through dozens of unfinished progress notes or other work projects. I guess I’ll have to find another Saturday morning bacon, egg and country gravy place to patronize.
Queen Elizabeth II also died this week. Having seen various news photos of her over the last year or so since the death of Prince Philip, her death did not come as a surprise to this geriatrician. I have no idea what her health conditions actually were but I could tell from posture, fit of clothes, skin tone, and other clues that she was not doing well. When I heard that her brief meetings with Boris Johnson and Liz Truss regarding the changing of the guard at 10 Downing Street had pretty much taken all of her strength, I figured the end was near. Her Majesty had been on the throne for a decade when I came along and I’m no spring chicken so there’s really no one under the age of about 76 with any sort of memories of George VI’s reign and to have even childhood memories of George V and the short reign of Edward VIII and the abdication would require you to be in your mid 90s or older.
There’s going to be a lot of reassessing of the monarchy and the direction of the UK in general with this particular passing of the torch. The Empire is no more. The Commonwealth is on somewhat shaky ground. Brexit has done a number of the economy and society. Will Charles III have the skills necessary to walk the tightrope between tradition and modern needs? It remains to be seen. He’s been preparing for the job for more than half a century. Let’s see if any of that training has paid off. As I read some of the social media kerfuffles regarding the Queen, it strikes me that there is a certain confusion between the Queen, the person, and the Queen, the symbol. By all accounts, the person was intelligent, perceptive, had a great sense of humor and dedicated her entire life to the well being of her country. The Queen the symbol is more difficult. With the various titles and roles and the concepts of being anointed by God and head of the Church of England, she got boxed into a corner numerous times between her duties as the monarch and her duties to her family as wife, mother, sister, aunt, and grandmother. This of course led to the rather disastrous marriage of her sister Margaret, the doomed story of Charles and Diana (I actually have a lot of sympathy for Camilla – she and Charles were perfect for each other even in youth but the Queen and court could not permit the marriage as she was not a virgin among other reasons), and some of the nastier exploits of Prince Andrew. She was not responsible for the depredations of the British Empire (it was pretty much dismantled by the time she took the throne). She had very little say in legislative affairs. And while the monarchy is an expensive institution, when you divide the amount of public funds appropriated to it over the population of the UK, it comes out to about $1.50 a person which isn’t a bad price for that much pomp, pageantry, tradition, and connection to the past.
My mother, although American, was basically raised in a British household. Her parents emigrated to the US just before she was born and never became US citizens. They always retained their British citizenship and passports. The books she grew up with, the cultural references around the dinner table, the way in which the household was run – very British upper middle class. A certain amount of that trickled down to me and my siblings a generation later. We read British children’s classics that aren’t as popular on this side of the pond and were steered towards Dickens and Austen and the Brontes by middle school. We watched the Britcoms on PBS and I soon realized that I got more of the jokes than most of my peers. I became fascinated by history relatively early on and my mother would read children’s histories of the world and of Britain to me and by the age of ten or so I was more certain about the names and historical importance of various British monarchs over the years than I was of American presidents.
My mother was the same generation as Queen Elizabeth II (the Queen was a few years older) and her mother, the Queen mother, was the same age as my beloved maternal grandmother. Watching those two royals function and age in the press over the course of my life has always reminded me of my mother and grandmother and of maternal love and maternal pride in my accomplishments so I have always viewed the Queen through a somewhat different and more personal lens than most. My grandfather, with his intense social climbing inherited from his people, also never let it be forgot that we were quasi-related. He and Anne Messel, Anthony Armstrong-Jones’ mother were second cousins and palled around together in the Bright Young Things society of between the wars London. Anthony, of course, married Princess Margaret becoming the Earl of Snowden and their children, the Queen’s nephew and niece, are therefore my fourth cousins. Never met them. Never will.
The Queen’s impending funeral is likely to keep Covid off the front pages for the next week ago so we should probably check the numbers to see how things are faring. Numbers are continuing to go down. The daily death toll has dropped under 400 a day for the first time in some weeks. That’s all well and good until you start to multiply it out and you start to realize that the weekly death toll all this past summer has been higher than the death toll of the 9/11 attacks. There hasn’t been much chatter about new variants. The new bivalent vaccine with additional omicron protection continues to come on line. If you’re more than about ten to twelve weeks out from a previous booster, it’s a good idea to go out and get one.
It is the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 attacks today. I haven’t forgotten. The news telecasts have been running news footage from that day all day. I don’t need to tune in. I lived through it and remember it all to well. I feel no need to relive that day visually or emotionally. I will quietly mourn for the victims, and more for the country that squandered the good will of the world in misguided military adventures in the years following.