George and I were browsing the tourist shops in Brixham when we heard the news that the end might be near. Brixham is a charming little seaside town along Devon’s southeast coast (also known as the English Riviera).
One of the shop owners in Brixham, having nothing better to do at the end of a sleepy midweek day with too few tourists for her cash register’s liking, told us sadly that even the prodigal Prince Harry had rushed to Balmoral to be with his grandmother. While the royal family gathered at her side, Her Majesty was apparently being “kept comfortable” by her doctors – a euphemism we all know a little too well.
By the time we got back to our hotel room in Exeter, she was gone. Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in England’s rich history, had passed away at the age of 96. Her son Charles, no spring chicken himself, was now King of the Brits – the oldest person ever to assume that throne.
We felt oddly privileged to be in England during such a poignant and breathtaking moment. Yet we also couldn’t help but wonder how it might affect our own little journey. Would the country shut down for several days of mourning? Would museums and historic buildings announce sudden closures, leaving us with nothing to do but wander empty streets lined with shuttered storefronts?
As it turned out, that wasn’t our experience at all. A couple of hours after the news of the Queen’s death broke, we were welcomed with smiling faces to a cozy basement wine bar where I’d reserved a dinner table several weeks earlier. The gregarious blond bartender who greeted us didn’t even wait for me to tell her what name the reservation was under.
“You’re the ones who emailed us from America,” she said with a grin. “I can tell by your accent.”
Inside the restaurant, a couple dozen 20- and 30-somethings were having a loud and happy time in an adjacent room. It appeared to be a planned gathering of some kind. Maybe a local club or business venture, or graduate students from the nearby college. We didn’t intend to eavesdrop, but their voices carried. Not once did we hear any mention of the Queen.
We spent the following day meandering around Exeter. Life in Devon’s second-largest city seemed to be proceeding as usual, with a few notable exceptions.
The muted responses we observed don’t necessarily mean that the people of England weren’t mourning in their own way. I’m sure they were. Seldom has the modern world seen such a durable and universally admired head of state. And though the people of Exeter seemed fairly unaffected, perhaps there were other locales where the grief was more palpable. In London, maybe, though by the time we arrived there, the funeral and related ceremonies were all over with. In any case, we got the sense that the Queen’s passing simply wasn’t having as much of an impact on the lives of everyday English people as we might have imagined.
There could be several reasons for this. One is that the Queen was, after all, pretty old. Her passing was sad, of course, but it wasn’t exactly tragic – not like the shocking death of her daughter-in-law Diana 25 years earlier. When people in their 90s die, we celebrate their abundant years as much as we mourn the end of those years. And the Queen, without question, led an incredibly interesting life as well as an exceptionally long one. So maybe the British people simply didn’t feel the need to mourn her in a particularly formal manner, the kind that would require a true pause from everyday life. Instead, they went out to their pubs and restaurants as usual, and perhaps raised a glass to their beloved, departed monarch.
Another thing is that Elizabeth, despite all her stature and accomplishments, was mainly a figurehead. Generations of Brits who grew up during her reign have come to view the royal family as pampered celebrities, not arbiters of their nation’s affairs. To them, Elizabeth was really the last of the old guard. Her life, and her death, matter to them a great deal – symbolically. But where real issues are concerned – for example the faltering British economy, Covid, the ramifications of Brexit, and Russia’s war on Ukraine – the Queen’s departure, and her son’s ascent, carry almost no weight at all.
Still, she was one hell of a woman, wasn’t she? A person of remarkable determination, capable of both great restraint and great empathy, and of enormous grace under pressure. So let’s raise a glass to her memory. Here’s to you, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. May generations to come know and appreciate your story. May you rest in peace. And may God save the King.
I can remember seeing the Queen’s Coronation on TV. I was in the 6th grade and the class marched some 10 blocks to the home of a fellow student whose family ran a furniture store that sold TVs. They were the only family in the class to have one as far as I know.The ceremony was filmed and a small fleet of RAF jets ferried the film to Montreal where it was transmitted to NYC and thence to US TV.
I spent a week or so in Devon and Cornwall many years ago. Walked the coastal footpath from Penzance (Pirates retired and selling crockery to tourists) to Lands End. Back in Exter, saw a quite good production of Shaw’s Arms and the Man.
Keep up the good work.
What awesome memories! Thanks so much for sharing them. We didn’t make it to Penzance this time but there is always next time!
How serendipitous that you two were in England at the time!
My first teen love attended boarding school in Devon! I took a pilgrimage there some years later and relished in the countryside. And discovered the “real” English farmhouse cheddar and crusty bread! Thank you for sharing your adventures with us.
Teen love in an English boarding school? Sounds like a romance novel waiting to be written! Thanks for reading the blog!
Nice to see you traveling and writing!
We would travel all the time if we could just figure a way to keep the money from running out!
So which version of fish & chips was your favorite? If you have a chance, try the Rattler cider and scones with clotted cream. It was divine!
Also, I happen to be in Sydney this week and find it to be the same. There is news coverage & her picture on the Opera House, but it is business as usual.
Which version of fish and chips? Yes. 🙂 And yes to scones and clotted cream too! We already indulged once on this trip. Man what a fat and calorie bomb. Even on vacation I gotta restrain myself a little!
Great to hear of your travels, Craig. And amazing timing of this trip. When you figure out how to travel all the time, be sure to post about it. I will be looking out for tips until then! Take care my old friend.
LOL if I figure out how to travel all the time, I’ll write a book about it!
So this is my third attempt at responding to your blog from the Baltic Sea, but so far none of my ‘brilliant’ missives 😉 have apparently been posted!
But may I just say that you have summed up her Majesty‘s passing brilliantly, and your final words had your two friends weeping over their drinks in Copenhagen. Her life was a testament to gracious service despite the nonsense that characterized a lot of her family. She was simply magnificent in her life of service during a period of enormous challenges and upheavals around the world!! Just imagine, she outlasted 7 US presidents!!
We apparently just missed you in the UK as we were there before heading up to Stockholm. But it sounds as if you are having a wonderful journey and we can’t wait to hopefully organize another trip together in the very near future.
As always, your blog posts are wonderfully entertaining and we just wish we were there to share your journey! Take care good friends and safe travels. Margie and Tim
Thanks so much for the kind words! I don’t think we’ll see another queen in our lifetime, and perhaps never another like Elizabeth II.
Sorry….got the number of presidents wrong!!! 😨. I meant to say 13!!! Too much wine!! 😄
14 if you count Biden. She didn’t outlast him, but in the long run she might! 😁
Thank you for sharing your adventures with us! It is so fascinating to “travel” along side you and George through your literary and photographic talents.
Missing you both and wishing you safe and happy travels!
We miss you all too!