Queen Elizabeth's lying in state is a deeply moving showcase of the decency of life in Britain – Stephen Jardine
At the end of a week of grief and mourning, the saddest place in the world right now is the corner of your front room. Turn your television to channel 504 and step into a human river of sorrow.
BBC Parliament is rarely a barrel of laughs but this week it found a new purpose as the home of the live feed of the Queen’s lying in state.
If you believe social media, we are a nation divided between ghastly racists and woke weirdos. The truth is rather different and it is unfolding right now in Westminster Hall. These are the people who don’t make noise or demand attention and this is their time.
“Phones down please, just enjoy the moment” said a royal protection officer as the new King made his way along the crowds outside Buckingham Palace last weekend, shaking hands and accepting good wishes.
Nowadays we have a new salute. A century ago, hats would have been doffed as the monarch’s coffin passed by, now phones are raised even though TV cameras are covering every angle.
At St Giles and Westminster Hall, cameras and phones have been banned from proceedings. Is that why both occasions felt so intense? Would those paying their respects have felt the same solemnity if they has been trying to take a selfie or make an Instagram reel during their brief visit? I doubt it.
To watch the endless flow of people is to get a glimpse into the British soul. We’ve been queuing all our lives in preparation for this occasion. The line stretches for miles and takes hours but when people reach the top of the steps at Westminster Hall, the memory of waiting seems to evaporate. They are living in the moment.
If you thought respect for the Queen was confined to eccentric old ladies who collect teapots, think again. Every tickbox on a Scottish Government census is represented.
Most pause for a solemn moment and bow their heads. Some you don’t expect like the school girl who kneeled down for a brief prayer, the traffic warden who stopped to salute and the builder in overalls who blew a kiss to the catafalque.
In an age of endless chatter, the coverage is silent, except for the occasional sob or the clatter of the boots at the changing of the vigil guard. To watch it is to be washed downstream on a gentle tide of human emotion that is deeply moving and also life-affirming.
Then a little girl tries to curtsey or an old soldier, draped in medals, stands to attention as best he can, and suddenly, from the sofa, the TV picture looks misty.
This week the once-great New York Times ran a story dismissing Britain as a racist hellhole surviving on a diet of mutton and porridge. Generally speaking, when you live in a glass house and are best known for school shootings, McDonalds and the Kardashians, it’s probably best to avoid throwing stones.
We know our many faults. Thanks to Brexit and the independence debate, we’ve discussed them fully and openly.
But this week has been a showcase for the decency and respect that underpins life here. After so much division in recent years, the scenes in Westminster Hall are a timely reminder that love unites us all.
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