It is 6am on the day of the late Queen’s funeral. The bells of St Pauls ring above me as I think about the day ahead. Around parliament the tail of the queue wags towards Westminster’s St Stephen’s Hall, stragglers hoping to make the 6.30 am cut-out.
The Embankment is closed to traffic , so is most of central Westminster. The A4 and A30 are now closed east of Windsor in readiness for the Royal Hearse to take the Queen’s coffin to Windsor. Dawn is breaking cold and sharp. Only the river Thames seems moving through the Cities
Heads of State will be waking in readiness for the service at Westminster Abbey at 11 am, they will be deciding on their clothes and making the little decisions on their demeanour which will be noticed by the people back home. Everything today will assume a preternatural significance because of history.
This is not the time for protest. This is a time when London is still and expectant. It is a time of wonder, of expectation and of memory. To use the words of TS Eliot , a poet who professed royalism as his rock.
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
London this dawning is …
At the still point of the turning world. …
though my thoughts are set on the enormity of the moment, this is only a moment in time. As Eliot warns us, this is neither the end or the beginning.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered
A few hundred yards from Westminster Abbey is the Banqueting House where Charles I met his end, Charles II kept his court at St James, Pall Mall has blue plaques reminding us of the frolics of the merry monarch. History now turns the leaf on a third Caroline age, where Charles Windsor is now our king.
The great structure of St Pauls that I can see above me as I type, was part of London’s “building back better” after a far greater pestilence than Sars II and a greater conflagration than any seen for the next 400 years.
This great City of London and our next door City of Westminster have been places where the pageantry of history has continued despite the disruption of local circumstance. Bombs, beheadings and Brexit, the process of death and rebirth, of funeral and coronation, go on like the tide going in and out on the Thames. To adapt Spencer’s Prothalamion
Upon the funeral day, which is not long:
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.