The House was discussing energy, and our house-guests were impressed by the braininess of Keir Starmer (or so they told us later.) They were just wondering what to do next, when Parliament suddenly shut down. Just like that. They had to leave immediately. The Queen's death had been announced while they were right there.
Immediately I heard the news, the image above flashed into my mind. I saw it often in my childhood, spent in British enclaves in different parts of the world. A copy hung in a light oak frame in my dad's office at work, and her image was there in her blue sash and glittery diadem in the hall of every British school I attended abroad, too.
Her death shocked me more than I'd expected. She was 96 years old and had been in poor health for a while, but the thing was, she'd always been there, and suddenly she wasn't. Her profile had been on the coins I'd used to buy my comics with, her initials on the red pillar box as I stood on tiptoe to post my granny's letters. My parents and also my grandparents had all thought about her and talked about her and she was part of our lives. And now she was gone. Not only did I miss having her there, I also felt we had lost someone who lived a life of service and always put Britain and its people first.
Some folk do ask what this "service" consisted of. It is a fair question, since in some ways it seems that all she did was live in grand palaces, drive around waving at or shaking hands with people, opening concert halls or power stations or factories or schools, attending charity events, or carrying out elaborate ceremonial duties that entailed a great deal of pomp and flummery for everyone to look at. I knew she was actively interested in Parliament's doings, and read and commented on the state papers supplied to her, although she was not allowed to interfere in Parliament's running of the country. You could certainly say that Britain could have got on perfectly well without any of this. Many countries do.
But the difference between her job and everyone else's is that she was picked out when young to represent Britain non stop throughout the world for every single moment of her life, and she did this job to the best of her ability on our behalf for seventy years. The true nature of the service she gave, and what it meant to people, only dawned on me the following Wednesday. T and I happened to be in Piccadilly and we decided to go to nearby Green Park to see the area that has been temporarily fenced off to hold tributes left by members of the public.
We went, expecting something like Diana's tributes, perhaps. But it wasn't the same. It was even more overwhelming. Long before you even reached the garden, which is the middle of the park, you could see people had piled up flowers tributes and messages for the Queen all over the place. Each little pile had plenty to look at - pictures, small toys, letters, cards, and all kinds of beautiful flowers, as you see below.
These informal tributes became larger and more widespread as you approached the fenced area. Inside that, they all seemed to merge together, and flowers and messages and gifts stretched as far as the eye could see. It was crazy.
It felt to me as if everyone was responding to her as if she was their parent or grandparent, in some way personal to them. You know how a good parent is supposed to act. No matter how boring, tiring and limiting it is to work for your kids, good parents do it. Even when the kids don't appreciate it or are rude or reluctant, the parents carry on. The kids can be loving, fun and adorable too, and possibly this encourages the good parent to keep on getting up each morning to take them to school,working to give them what they need, showing them how to behave. But it doesn't make any difference to the basic thing that the good parent does, which is to keep sticking up for them through thick and thin.
And certainly it was a fact that no matter how she felt or what she would rather have done you knew the Queen would get up each day and do her duty, meeting and speaking and shaking hands, treating everyone with respect and courtesy and taking a humble interest in their lives, listening for hours to them while saying almost nothing about herself.
She travelled thousands of miles, whether she wanted to or not, because it was her job to represent our country all over the world. Who knows if she wanted to act as a figurehead and half-mythical figure for people to look at, talk about and have opinions about? They were not always the opinions she would necessarily have liked, I imagine. And she worked right up to a few days before her death.
And I like this photo of some people who had come with a beautiful floral crown one of them had made, they were wondering where to put it down.