Against my better judgement , I went to the UK pensions awards with a party of guests, the feeble reason being that Pension PlayPen were up for an award. It was a nice evening spent with friends and clients , but it took place in the most bizarre context.
Only yards from the hermetically sealed ballroom of the Hilton Hotel, the Queen’s coffin was driven down Park Lane , around the south east corner of Hyde Park and down Constitution Hill on its way to it lying in state for the rest of the week.
Prior to our meal we had a minute’s silence and had God Save the King played to us (no-one sang), during the meal we were asked to stand while the unseen, unheard , cortege passed the hotel. We stood again in silence- I wondered why.
Then we spent four hours getting drunk and congratulating each other on our services to each other. It was an evening that made no sense in a capital that is making no sense.
Locking down the two cities
To get to the Hilton, I took a Santander cycle and was diverted, like all traffic along Piccadilly to the Hyde Park roundabout where – in the rain – were gathered a multitude of people keen to see at first hand the motorcade. I can only imagine the numbers lining the road down to Buckingham Palace.
When I emerged (still in the rain) onto Park Lane at close to midnight, I had to make my way back to the City past roads now closed to traffic by massive steel gates Everywhere there were police vans, lorries loaded with pedestrian barriers. Several times I was asked to ride my bike along the pavement. As I passed Trafalgar Square and cycled down the closed Embankment, I was the only person going anywhere!
London was being locked down. The boss of the Metropolitan Police sees the Queen’s lying in state as a ‘massive challenge’ for police. 750,000 people are predicted to enter into London by public transport.
The BBC are now advising the million or so mourners on where to join the queue to get to see the coffin.
The walk is about 4 miles, but the total length of the queue is expected to extend to 10 miles (with all diversion) At average pace that might be achieved in 90 minutes, but at the pace of the queue, it will take up to 30 hours. The BBC website is explicit
People are being warned they will need to stand for many hours – possibly overnight – with little opportunity to sit down, as the queue will be constantly moving.
There will be mobile toilets along the route. There are special facilities for the disabled.
— Indy Scott (@IndyScott9) September 14, 2022
What is the meaning of this?
This morning , as the rain fell, people were already in the queue.
It’s cold, it’s wet and there are already 266 people queueing before sunrise on the Embankment to see the Queen lying in state in Westminster later on pic.twitter.com/ihiUvS0cX1
— Harry Low (@HarryLow49) September 14, 2022
Why are people putting themselves through penance? I guess medieval peasants tilling their fields alongside the Camino Santiago asked the same question. People join pilgrimages for grace and to demonstrate their devotion to some greater good. Sometimes they just get swept along in a tide of emotion, that’s not necessarily good.
Reading the reports of people who have already queued in Edinburgh, I recognise I am more like one of the plowmen tilling than a pilgrim. I guess I have crops to sow and a harvest to reap. So what of the crowds, estimated to be bigger than those that came to London for the Olympics that will be in the queue and out?
Those crash barriers are apparently there to protect them against “international terrorism” and the public are being warned to guard against being fleeced by petty criminals (another echo of pilgrimages in the past).
Clearly people feel impelled to “pay their respects” but to be herded , to be frightened, to be rained on , to suffer all these discomforts to be part of history?
There is a designated day for the funeral, it is a day we will turn our minds to the Queen, but between now and then, for a nation to cease tilling and sowing and reaping so that they can gawp at each other and at the cameras of their phones strikes me as a self-indulgence we cannot afford.
We have had all summer off, now it is September and we are back at school. We can mourn in our hearts but we must work too. Some of what I saw last night looked more like gawping than mourning.
Whether you come to gawp or mourn here is the guidance
UPDATE: Her Majesty The Queen’s Lying-in-State guidance has been updated with further details, including the queue route
— Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (@DCMS) September 13, 2022