Back to Blighty in early September, after a long, sunny and thoroughly enjoyable holiday in France. For six weeks we saw almost no rain. Then, on our last day, we were nearly caught out in two violent rainstorms; one on the island of Noirmoutier, and the other in Saint-Malo just before boarding the ferry for Portsmouth.
It was “drought over” in London too: it rained non-stop for two days. Rather inconvenient, when you have five loads of washing to do, but very welcome after the roasting hot summer we’ve had. It seemed, as so often, that the seasons were changing on cue. Parched grass turned green almost overnight.
I was wondering what I would be writing about this time but, to some extent, that decision was made for me. The day after we got home it was announced that the Queen had died.
My father was born three months before Elizabeth Windsor
It is hard to believe he would have outlived her if he’d had to endure the work schedule she put up with for 70 years. I’m no fan of the aristocracy, whose principal interests appear to be dressing up, killing things and screwing each other. Few people are these days. But I recognise that the Queen did her job as well as it could be done, putting the interests of the country before everything else. That could not be said of many in the past, and even less so today, when self-expression is encouraged as the expense of self-control. (Am I showing my age?)
I am not one of those who ask, rather irritatingly, when people talk enthusiastically about republicanism, “Well, what would you rather have? A President? What if we ended up with someone like Trump?” The propensity of the public to vote for a buffoon or a crook is all too apparent, but of course it need not be so.
I may live to see this country a republic, but I doubt it
We took the train up to Blackfriars last Saturday and strolled past the 16-hour queue to see the coffin in Westminster Hall, but had already decided not to join it. The queue became a tourist attraction in itself.
As a mark of respect we had a couple of pints
Whether a monarchist or a republican, it was impossible not to be impressed with the extraordinary precision of the funeral arrangements, as planned and get into practice over the last few days. The music, the uniforms, the marching, the splendour of Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel; as well as the impeccable television coverage from the dear old BBC.
Huw Edwards should receive a medal for waffling above and beyond the call of duty. A bloody good send-off, one might say, and a massive advertisement for London and the UK in general. Look what we can do! Who could match it? (Only France, possibly.) How fortunate that Her Majesty did not die in the middle of winter or, even worse, at the height of the summer when temperatures were nudging 40c. There would have been guardsmen fainting right, left and centre.
I’d already planned a short trip north to see Mum and Dad in Upton Manor, and I managed to do so between the announcement of the Queen’s death and the funeral itself.
Here they are: 92 and 96 years old, respectively. They have always “taken a good picture” but this does not mean that all is well. Dad tires very easily now and does next to nothing in the afternoon. Mum seems to have forgotten how to eat; she is slowly starving herself. But how many people are able to “celebrate” their 70th wedding anniversary? They are only five weeks away from doing just that. One of the saddest things about getting old is that nearly all your friends and neighbours will have passed on before you, so that there are fewer and fewer people to invite. But they are well liked by their younger ex-neighbours, and I will arrange a little get-together, if Mum and Dad feel up to it. We shall see.
In other news, another death, sad to relate. Spain’s most celebrated contemporary novelist, Javier Marías, has died at just 70. Smoking is bad for your health, and he was a heavy smoker, although officially he died of pneumonia and COVID-19.
I was fortunate to meet him over 40 years ago, both before and during his time in Oxford, and even more fortunate to become his first English translator. He courteously replied in fluent English to my first draft that he “felt really moved when… reading my prose in your beautiful, admired language”.
Marías was polite and good company, as well as talented
I have a number of letters from him. They will go to the library of The Queen’s College where they may be of interest to researchers.