Tuesday 13 September 2022

The Curtsy

Last night Benedict Ambrose and I dressed in tweed and wool and went out after 8 PM to join the queue to see Her Majesty's coffin in St. Giles's Cathedral. B.A. wore a black tie, and I had on a warm purple shawl. We got on a bus near our home, and I periodically checked social media on my phone for updates.

I had had the presence of mind to text a patriotic friend, and he said that he and his wife had waited for 2.5 hours from Summerhall, were now in George Square, and expected to wait another 90 minutes. B.A. and I decided that we were up to waiting for four hours--five, in a pinch. We were amused rather than  discouraged when, as I had been warned, we saw the slowly moving queue inching around every path in the 58+ acre Meadows towards the wristband station. 

It was dark now--getting on for 9 PM--and at a far corner of the Meadows, acrobats were juggling with fire. There was no rain, and it wasn't very cold. The atmosphere was patient and expectant, determined and almost cheerful. We followed the crowd--which included all ages and races but seemed predominantly adult and Scottish-- backward almost to its beginning, when something happened.

The something was a short, retired academic who made a bee-line for my husband, presumably because birds of a feather flock together and B.A. was wearing not only a tweed suit but a watch chain. The  man informed us that he was off, for the security women had told him that the wait would be 12 hours, and that this was too long for him. 

"But what a slap in the eye for the SNP, eh?" he demanded jovially, and we agreed that the 12-hour queue of patriots was a glorious sight and that the separatists, republicans, and other enemies of the Realm must be entirely downcast. Our interlocutor then gave us his opinion of the First Minister of Scotland, the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and His Majesty the King, and we felt a bit embarrassed. His "partner," still in Greece, to which he has retired and where he normally lives, had told him that--given this trio--Britain is doomed, etc. 

As he continued on, I excused myself to ask the security women how long the wait would be, and they told me, too, that the wait would be 12 hours. After five years in news journalism, I don't trust anyone, so I asked another security guard farther along, who said 13. And the police officer I quizzed at the beginning (that is, where we would have taken our places) of the queue said 13 or 13 and a half. 

By this time, Benedict Ambrose had escaped our imperfectly monarchist new pal, and we agreed with relief and sorrow that we would have a drink and go home, as B.A. had to start work in 12 hours. And, bizarrely, I felt furious because I didn't really believe the wait would be 12 hours and I hate quitting.

I really hate quitting. Quitting is my pet peeve. I get annoyed when other people quit. I even get annoyed when B.A. says, in a cheerful and completely inoffensive tone, that he doesn't understand the point to space exploration. When he says things like that, my American ancestry comes to the fore and says things like "The problem with you British these days is that you don't hustle," like a cartoon Yank in an Agatha Christie novel. And I hate quitting so much because  I quit my Ph.D, and although I was literally mentally ill at the time, I still think that I shouldn't have quit. 

That said, I thought when I was on the bus this morning, instead of entirely quitting, I retreated from the horrors of contemporary academic theology until I started working for LSN, and now I give comfort and support to traditional theologians like Peter Kwasniewski and edit reportage on the machinations of the German Synodal Way. Being a believing John Paul II Catholic (with strong traditional tendencies that flowered later), there is no way I could have flourished in the Americanist Catholic theological establishment. However, I lived to fight another day. 

I got on the bus at about 7:30 AM, bound once again for George Square. To my infinite relief, there was no queue at all in the Meadows. I went straight to George Square and followed the queue there backwards to the edge of the Meadows, where there were security guards handing out wristbands. I got a blue wristband (green wristbands were fast tracked, interesting) and hurried with the scattered crowd down Potter Row past the Edinburgh University Chaplaincy building and then down West College Street where the queue firmed up. Before long, I was on Chambers Street, silently praying my Rosary outside the National Museum of Scotland.

It was (and is) very sunny, and it was certainly cold enough then for me to be glad of all the tweed and wool I was wearing, not to mention my purple shawl. Two young police officers, cheerful and going off shift, joked that the wait from there was 12 hours. One of them asked the queue how we were feeling, and a woman said "Jolly!"

"Oh, the poor wee sweetheart," said the young police officer, presumably meaning the late Queen. But it is true that the queue, though relatively quiet, was not particularly sad. I wondered to what extent social media and FOMO (fear of missing out) had brought the crowds out, especially when I heard American accents on George IV Bridge. 

I also heard Italian and beheld a very tanned young man with a video camera. There were a number of journalists and camera people on George IV Bridge, and I studiously ignored them. My hair was (and is) a total mess, and I arguably have a tourist accent myself. At any rate, I escaped journalistic notice and placed the contents of my pockets (rosary, wallet, passport, paperback, phone) into a plastic box. A burly security guard waved a wand over me, I collected my things and turned a corner, and St. Giles's appeared before me. It came as a complete surprise. Despite living here for 13 years, I had forgotten it was so close to George IV Bridge. 

So the moment came. I pulled my shawl over my sadly messy bun, about which I can do nothing until I have two free hours, bid good morning to a uniformed man on duty at the door, and went in. The old Cathedral, which began Catholic (of course) and has ended up Church of Scotland, looked better than usual. Indeed, with flowers and the standard-covered coffin, it looked majestic. I slowed my pace so I didn't just trot past the Queen like an automaton, took in the ambo--at which my own Archbishop read the Epistle at yesterday's Service--and the Crown of Scotland, and curtsied before the coffin.

Benedict Ambrose saw me. Amazingly, he had the live-feed on and looked up just as my face appeared on the television screen. He saw me bob up and down and then walk on with a sorrowful face, purse-lipped.  Somehow, he stopped the transmission (I haven't worked this out) and rewound. 

Thus, when I telephoned to say I had been successful, he explained why he knew. I looked at the time: it was 10 AM. 

So I must conclude that our anti-SNP interlocutor, the security guards, and the police all did B.A. and I a favour by telling us the wait would be 12 or 13 hours. My wait today was probably no more than an hour and half. Having never met the Queen or seen her in person, I was at least able to pay my respects to her coffin, and thanks to the miracle of technology--and Providence--Benedict Ambrose was there with me, too.