Every reign must submit to a greater reign.
September 26, 2022 – Seneca


When I was a teenager, I loved watching Tomorrow’s World; at that time a delightfully batty BBC series which featured futuristic technology we might expect to see as we gently aged. I think, even at the time, we knew that none of these things were ever going to happen (although they did hit the jackpot occasionally), but there was something compelling about the presenters’ enthusiasm. As always, the BBC found the perfect frontman in Raymond Baxter, who had a gravitas that made it all believable – even the automated house where the Teasmaid (now called a Teasmade by some manufacturers) fell onto the robot butler.

One thing we all did know, however, was that The Queen would pass away one day. We also know, that, in anyone’s book, 96 is a very great age. The sense of overwhelming national grief, however, was extraordinary. We all felt it at a visceral level: monarchists, republicans, old, young, from the political right to the radical left. We felt it in England, in Wales, in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. It was felt all over the world. There were a few who displayed other emotions, but I suspect that even they were feeling it.

Shakespeare liked to represent dramatic political moments with appropriate natural phenomena – who can forget the weather on the night Duncan is murdered in Macbeth – ‘some say the earth was feverous and did shake’? William would have noted with both pleasure and curiosity the rainbow over Windsor Castle and the double rainbow over Buckingham Palace at the time The Queen’s death was announced.

A group of us met together to watch The Queen’s funeral on the television. We gathered at Patricia McKenzie’s flat in leafy Richmond upon Thames. Patricia had been our Chambers’ secretary when I was a pupil and a junior, having been appointed in the late 1950s. She has a wonderful voice which could move from normal to cut-glass in a nano-second depending on her assessment of the person to whom she was speaking. She followed in the great theatrical tradition of Hylda Baker and Dame Thora Hird, DBE. When I was very green, I asked her what the difference was between a private conference and a legally aided one. ‘Biscuits,’ she replied, ‘the private ones get biscuits.’ I also learned never to use red ink in a note for typing. The day I did, Pat came storming into the basement where my desk was located and said ‘who the b****** hell put this in the tray.’ I confessed, but after a stern telling-off she made me a cup of tea. She had retired about 15 years ago and we had a Chambers’ party for her at a London club. Somehow, she managed to pour a flaming Sambuca onto her arm which was then encased in a blue light. Fortunately, the alcohol protected her skin and we all laughed until the tears ran.

We had never been to her flat before. It was very capacious and beautifully furnished, but within seconds we had all reverted to our historic relationship. ‘You drink too much, Mr Corkhill,’ she said, as he produced a bottle of Ardbeg. We were all still Mr or Miss. She never managed other titles, save for knighthoods and peerages. ‘I know Pat,’ said Paddy, ‘but today…’

I must say, that as we watched the service and the moving procession to Hyde Park Corner, we all took a tot of the whisky. Given there were six of us there, it was astonishing how little we spoke until The Queen’s final journey to Windsor began. Then, slowly, we first talked of what we had seen and then moved to loss in life that we had ourselves suffered. Historians will analyse what happened in years to come but I think we had somehow refused to face that she would ever really pass. Nearly all of us had lived only during her reign and we knew that an age, an era, a period in our history had ended. We were marking her passing, but also grieving for ourselves and our own mortality.

It is said that tragedy and comedy inhabit the same space, and so it was with us. Hetty Briar-Pitt had left her beloved horses and joined us. Her husband, a High Court Judge, had been invited (without Hetty) to the funeral in view of his charitable interests. We had never put Hetty down as a monarchist and Pat asked her what had affected her particularly. ‘She was Queen of all the animals,’ Hetty shouted, as Paddy discreetly moved the bottle of whisky.