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15 September 2022

For those of us who are neither monarchists nor republicans, this is the strangest time

We’re happy to watch the funeral and raise a glass to His Majesty, but mostly we want a return to normal telly, to watch the football.

By Marc Burrows

Over the weekend a photo purporting to be taken in a gents toilets in a Wetherspoons pub went viral. It featured a sign declaring that, as a mark of respect for the Queen’s death, “no sheaths will be dispensed until Wednesday, September 21st”. The story was debunked fairly quickly, and frankly, the Alan Partridge-esque “sheaths” should have given the game away. But such is the level of weirdness in this strange mourning-after period that the general feeling was, well, it could have been true. And there are those who would probably approve.

To put it mildly, this is an odd time to be British, living in the ubiquity of state-sanctioned grief on the one hand, and the anger of those who instinctively kick against it on the other. On one side there are the tributes, some heartfelt, some mawkish and some so weird it’s created a Twitter meme in which users have started sarcastically referring to the country as “Normal Island”. “Just another normal day here on Normal Island,” people observe, nodding at the respectful closure of Legoland or the mournfully closed cycle racks in Norwich. It’s understandable that the passing of such a solid constant – a figure so tied up in national identity and national pride, someone who, despite their lofty station, always felt rather more human than other royals – would be a sad event. Elizabeth was Queen for as long as most of us can remember. Now she isn’t. It’s strange and disconcerting. For many people, the grief is real and profound.

In the other corner are the fervent anti-monarchists, revolted by the continual deification of Her Maj, pointing out various flaws in the Queen herself, the institution of the monarchy in general and the latest filler of the land’s most expensive hat: King Charles III. The more mawkish the ITV documentary, the sadder the mid-tempo pop music pumped out by Capital FM, the more repetitious the BBC News stories, the worse it becomes. Even the merest glimpse of Nicholas Witchell can cause a sudden descent into a frothing, spitting apoplexy. And, of course, that anger has its place. Amid a cost-of-living crisis, rising energy bills, spiking rents and global uncertainty, you can see why there are those who baulk at being asked to care about an elderly woman who died peacefully and in great comfort when they’re preparing for a winter in which they and their elderly relations will be freezing because of an inability to afford heating.

Most, however, fall between those two stools. They’re happy to watch the funeral and raise a glass to His Majesty, but mainly they just want a return to normal telly, to watch the football or listen to some bangers in the taxi on the way to a club. Some merely want to know what to do now that they have a one-day hole in their Center Parcs holiday. And of course, there are many for whom the weirdness is actively damaging – people whose GP appointments have been cancelled for the new bank holiday, for example. Saddest of all are those who have found the funeral of a loved one called off with a week’s notice because it happens to fall on the same day as the Queen’s.

A certain amount of pomp and ceremony is expected. We do, after all, live in a kingdom, and one with a thousand years or so of traditions still built into its statutes. Even so, when the angry mourners and angry progressives have stopped yelling at one another and we all stop feeling weird about correcting ourselves when we accidentally say “Prince Charles”, many of us will look back on this period and, not for the first time this decade, ponder what a strange and alienating time it was to live here on this perfectly normal island.

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[See also: How to play the Queen]

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