I had no hesitation in setting out on Wednesday evening to say thank you to a woman who had courage and generosity of spirit to promote peace in a clear and obvious way.
Joining the queue at London Bridge at 8pm I met a woman from Bexhill who had jumped on a train after organising tea for teenagers and husband, aiming to be back on the last train. She caught the 5.35am the following morning and over the intervening hours we formed a group with two other people, work colleagues who bumped into each other in the lobby at the end of the working day, realised they were both going to join the queue to say farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, and decided to join up, and another woman, who travelled in from West Ham aiming to be home in the early hours to prepare for her graduation the following afternoon.
Across nine hours we had conversations we would likely never experience if we hadn’t joined this queue, aka ‘The Elizabeth Line’. You heard about people’s lives from many walks of society. Many were there on behalf of grandparents and family members to pay respects. Others, because this was a woman who at 25 had entered the world stage with great courage and stamina; a blast of colour in the grey slate of world leaders.
Perhaps it was just the people in this and nearby groups but many were there to celebrate the women, the person and less so the institution. What struck me was how swiftly we moved to support each other over the night, sharing stories, jokes, sadness, jumpers and scarves, food, and warm drinks. And of course, the chats about portaloos! Less said the better.
When we made it to Westminster Hall at 4am the power of the moment struck me as a strange mix of the medieval with the everyday; here we were in our everyday clothes, of all ages, cultures, freezing, talked out and then suddenly energised by the beauty and warmth of the colours and sense of history in the making. The emotions were palpable with people deep breathing to stifle tears and some just breaking down. For many it was a quiet thanks.
After leaving Westminster Hall, we accompanied one another to respective stations as these opened from 5am onwards.
Regardless of what any of us think of monarchy and the horrors of empire, this was a woman who softened as she aged to become a beacon of hope. In recent years she also offered a standard for behaviour many in her own government could not aspire too, let alone achieve.
Having the chance to be part of those why paid their respects in this way was an incredible experience with shades of the pandemic in March 2020 in terms of generosity of spirit. One person brought us out to share our worlds and reflect: thank you Elizabeth R.