A Long, Long Line

Something pretty extraordinary–by modern standards, at least–is happening in the U.K. Thousands of Brits, from sports stars like David Beckham to the common folk, are lining up to wait for hours to file past the casket of Queen Elizabeth as she lies in state.

The lines are so tremendous that the BBC is writing articles about them, and the British government has established a live “queue tracker” on YouTube so that people can keep tabs on the line as it snakes past landmarks like the Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament to Westminster Hall. The maximum length of the line is 10 miles, and the government is warning people who would join the line that they will have to wait, and stand, for hours, without a chance to sit down. People are flocking to join the line, anyway.

We’re used to seeing people leave flowers and notes at places when a well-known person dies, but this situation is different. The people waiting in this colossal line are spending their precious time and voluntarily inconveniencing themselves to pay their personal respects to the Queen. Those of us who don’t quite get the British monarchy have to admit that, in the modern era of frequent self-absorption, this demonstration of devotion sends a powerful message. The British people are voting with their feet, with their hearts, and with their time. It’s an impressive testament to their love for someone who sat on the throne for 70 years.

It makes you wonder: would the death of any American figure provoke this kind of showing? I can’t think of one, can you?

A Royal Loss

I was saddened to read of the death of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. A young woman when she ascended the throne in 1952, she reigned for 70 years, presiding over her country from the dawn of the Cold War, in the aftermath of World War II, to the internet age. Her astonishing longevity was historic and is best reflected (for Americans, at least) in the realization that Harry Truman was President when Queen Elizabeth took the throne–one of 14 Presidents who served during her reign. As Queen, she worked with countless British Prime Ministers, including notable historical figures like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. And along the way, the Beatles wrote and performed a catchy little song about her. Obviously, Elizabeth was a monarch who left her mark.

I’m no fan of the British royal family, and I don’t understand why some Americans are fixated on their weddings, christenings, dalliances, and disputes. Nevertheless, I admired Queen Elizabeth. She did her job diligently, with class and attention to her duties as queen. I always thought her stiff-upper-lip, do-your-duty, get-the-job-done attitude aptly reflected the character of her country. She accepted her role and honored it with her efforts, her discretion, and her innate understanding of what it meant to be queen.

You never had to worry about Queen Elizabeth writing a tell-all book, engaging in public shenanigans, or doing anything remotely disreputable–but unfortunately for her, you couldn’t say the same thing about her family. In addition to her royal duties, she had to deal with an often fractious clan and tried to keep some of its members from embarrassing themselves and the country. It had to create more than its share of heartache and personal pain for her, but I’m quite sure that many Britons applauded her efforts in that regard.

Monarchies are an anachronism in this day and age, and it must have been difficult and exhausting to keep that anachronism afloat during ever-changing, turbulent times. Elizabeth II was a steady hand at the helm and piloted the institution well. It will be interesting to see whether King Charles, who ascends the throne at the ripe age of 73, will exhibit the same kind of tact and sensitivity.

Her Majesty (A Pretty Nice Girl)

I’m sorry to hear that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is in the hospital.  The queen, 86, was admitted with gastroenteritis, a condition that causes inflammation of the stomach lining and intestines and can be caused by eating contaminated food or contact with an infected person.

I don’t quite get how there can still be a hereditary monarchy, of sorts, in Great Britain, but the British people seem to like it and therefore it’s really none of my business.  I’m not one of those Americans who finds the British royalty endlessly fascinating, either.  I paid no attention to the Princess Diana controversies and don’t care about royal weddings or the other events that command media attention.  Still, I commend Queen Elizabeth.  She’s reigned since before I was born — which seems hard to believe — and during that time she has done her job, presided over the openings of Parliament, awarded medals, and performed the other tasks required of a modern-day monarch.  She’s done it all without scandal and, apparently, with an appreciation for her role and the need to comport herself with dignity and discretion.  And, of course, she’s been the subject of a Beatles song.  It’s a pretty good record for a queen.

Of course, by reigning for as long as she has, Queen Elizabeth has kept Prince Charles, who seems a bit batty even by British standards, off the throne and free to tilt at global warming, modern architecture, and other windmills that attract his attention.  That may turn out to be one of her greatest achievements.  I hope she feels better soon and continues her long reign.

The Queen, The Hog, And The Coin

When Kish and I were in Bermuda we bought a soda, paid cash, and received some Bermuda coinage as change.  I took a look at the coins and was surprised to find that the bright copper Bermuda penny has the familiar likeness of Queen Elizabeth sporting a crown on one side and a hog on the other.

What’s up with that?  Why would a tony island like Bermuda, with its lovely “pink sand” beaches, iconic Bermuda shorts and knee socks, ubiquitous scooters, and proud British colonial heritage, feature a pig so prominently on its legal tender?

It turns out that hogs have a long and distinguished connection with Bermuda.  A sea voyager who was an early visitor to the Bermuda Triangle was shipwrecked with some live hogs in the hold.  The hogs made it to shore and, in a few years, their grunting, squealing descendants had spread throughout the island.  The hogs were so prolific that some who visited Bermuda came to know it as “Hogge Island.”  (Changing that name undoubtedly helped spur Bermuda’s tourism industry, by the way.)  Naturally, then, the first coins minted on Bermuda featured a hog on one side.  The current penny is a tribute to that initial coinage.

The eagle is our natural bird, of course, and it looks noble on our currency.  Canada’s coins properly feature the likes of the beaver and the maple leaf.  Given its important role in Bermuda’s history, the humble hog therefore is properly honored with a prominent place on the Bermuda one-cent piece.  You have to give the Queen credit for being willing to share a coin with a curly-tailed swine of the four-legged variety.  The people of Bermuda also seem proud of their hog penny.  Indeed, one of the most popular pubs in Hamilton is the Hog Penny Pub.