Queen Elizabeth II died on Thursday, 8th September 2022. Whilst not exactly unexpected, she was an old lady of 96 after all, she had become such a fixture of our lives that we applied a sort of “not yet filter” to thinking about her, until time and tide stepped in and jerked us back into reality. We knew we would miss her at first, but those of us old enough to have been through this before also knew that with Queens and Kings it is “The Queen is dead, God save the King” and so it turned out. There was a great deal of official formality of course, which is a sort of Rite of Passage on these occasions and helps the adjustment process. It was also evident, though not to my knowledge stated in so many words, that a great deal of the contingency planning had been carried out long before, so that in the event things swung into action smoothly, and courtesy of some good TV filming we, the general public, were able to be present at many of them.
One of these was the Accession Council over which Mrs. Penny Mordaunt presided as Lord President of the Council. She was one of those who stood for election to be the new leader of the Conservative party but was passed over in favour of Mrs. Elizabeth Truss. I know little about her, other than that which Wikipedia tells me, but I thought she dressed very well for the occasion and conducted herself with maturity, modesty, dignity, self control and competence. The actual Prime Minister did her best, but did not seem at all at ease in her role and conveyed to me a sense of an immature schoolgirl walking through a part with “stage directions off” telling her what to do. Penny Mordaunt was in command of herself and the situation, The PM was not. I was left wondering, and am still wondering, whether had she been elected we might be better placed than we now are.*
However, this was not intended to be a political rant, so suffice it to say that the events of the ensuing ten days or so were very impressive, very well carried out by all concerned, and although pride is not perhaps what we want on such occasions it was reassuring to see that we still have the people, the brains, and the skills to carry them off. As a last remembrance of that time I include below a pdf of the Order of Service for Her Majesty’s funeral at Westminster Abbey. You can download it and pursue it at your leisure if you so desire.
Having given us blood curdling warnings of price increases for gas and electricity, prices which promise to be unsustainable for many, the Government have now moved on to telling us that the supply situation is so bad that we might have to have power cuts this winter – but that they will only be three hours long at a time. Thus we are back to the early days of our married life when we used paraffin convector heaters very successfully. As time has gone by and things have improved we have disposed of these things, and paraffin is not widely sold as once it was. The Beatrice stove above is what my parents used before, during and after the war mainly as a bathroom heater, in which role it was a great success. In 1940, Beckton gas works was bombed by the Luftwaffe and we were without gas for a fortnight. My Mother turned to, and cooked on the Beatrice for that time and – after all these years I don’t remember that I was particularly put out by this. But what I do remember was the notice going up outside the Warden’s Post to say that the gas supply would be recommenced on a certain date and we were to turn the gas on on the cooker, let it run for some time and then attempt to light it. This my Mother did. The familiar noise commenced as she turned on the tap and experimentally tried a lighted match in the flow. Initially it simply blew the match out as presumably it was air being displaced from the pipes, but after a time there were intermittent flashes or explosions in the flow util at last – success ! – the gas ring lit as normal and our blue flame returned. I am glad to say that the gas and electricity stayed on for the rest of the war, and it was only in the early days of peace that our systems succumbed to war time wear and tear and we got used to living with power cuts. But, of course, our heating came from coal so lack of electricity was not a great problem. Only in the inter of 1947 when the railways were put out of action by ice and snow so that coal could not get through did we lose heating.
One sign of the change from Queen to King was the issue of the new Royal Ciphers which will appear here and there and for most of us that means wherever a new post box is installed. That is not a very common thing these days except possibly on new housing estates so for most of us it will seldom be seen.
Another sore point is the poor performance of the National Health Service in certain areas. The difficulties seem to boil down to lack of staff in most cases, and the staff we have got are poorly paid. The Government seem reluctant to either acknowledge these failings or to do anything to solve them, and from the Government benches there are calls to put our medical care back into private hands which will, undoubtedly, mean for some, no medical care ( except possibly of the most basic sort) at all. The great vision of Lord Beveridge, Aneurin Bevan and the post war Labour Government, and of almost all the population of the time, of a universal health service free at the point of delivery, seems now to be out of favour to be replaced by a sort of “pay for it or die” attitude. The people of 1945, such as my parents and grandparents who knew the old system thought that the NHS was heaven come down to earth, but that generation has long since passed away and future generations have to learn the unpleasant truths all over again and campaign for something better in their turn.
Footnote : * Since writing that Penny Mordaunt has come out with some very silly, juvenile, ideological remarks about the merits of the Conservative Party, so my idol turns out to have feet of clay after all. I should have known better.