End of an Era

The Queen died on September 8th. I was five years old at the Coronation in 1953.  I wore my party dress and my school blazer and spent the day with the family at my grandparents’ house.  They had a television set with a tiny grey and white screen in a big shiny wooden cupboard with doors.  It was a sunny day and I kept running in and out of the garden asking if the Queen was on yet.  I remember pushing my miniature golden coach around on the carpet. I vividly recall my mother waking me around 11pm that night to walk to the park to see a firework display culminating in a giant ER  surmounted by a crown. It was very special. We rarely did anything alone together and it was thrilling to be out in the dark.  I wore my pixie hood. At school we were given tins of toffees with the Queen’s picture on them.  I ate the toffees but kept the tin for decades.

Coronation toffee tin

On the day of the funeral, I treated it as a holiday but felt that I should watch some of it and perhaps listen to some of the music. I was underwhelmed by the military uniforms and the processing but rather enjoyed the spectacle of the service in Westminster Abbey. The later service at Windsor seemed more personal and I sang along with the hymn The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended because my mother loved it and we sang it at her funeral..

The Day Thou Gavest, Lord is Ended

The whole day was strangely quiet with virtually no traffic in our normally busy street. It was like an old-fashioned Sunday with shops closed and everyone in their houses. Having a new Prime Minister is another slightly unreal situation as well as the feeling that, not only have we lost our Queen, but there is a void where our government should be.

Tarot Reading: The Empress

Expecting a more doom-laden Tarot card like Death or The Falling Tower, my instant reaction to unconsciously choosing this card was to think of the Queen. She was the Empress, the Great Mother. Her rule was more about the power of love than the love of power.  This image also fits my celebration of two women writers, Empresses in the literary world.

Hilary Mantel’s death was a real shock.  This was my comment on the Guardian website:

I’m devastated. Loved all her work. Can’t believe there will be no more books.  Goodbye to a wonderful writer.

I wonder if she has discovered the afterlife she half-believed in.  The other is Maggie O’Farrell, still very much with us, although like Mantel, she has written about her own  ill-health.  I remember at school studying Robert Browning’s poem  My Last Duchess.  I always wanted to know the story behind it.  O’Farrell has used it as the starting point for her new novel The Marriage Portrait. Told from the point of view of the young bride, the duchess, the story draws you into a world of intrigue and power.  The young woman escapes into her own miniature paintings, while her portrait is painted as the image her husband requires.  I devoured it in two days, but didn’t want it to end. A wonderful book.

However, I have a couple of very special books which I have had since I was about five. Read and reread, handled many times over, they had reached a point where pages were falling out and temporary repairs with Sellotape no longer worked I found Riley, Dunn and Wilson Ltd in Falkirk who have been book restorers for many years. I met with Colin McArthur, General Manager, a craftsman and enthusiast who showed me examples of their work and discussed how the books might be mended.

When they were delivered I was excited to open my parcel. I remember sitting behind the sofa in my grandparents’ house looking at the strange Pre-Raphaelite pictures in Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales. Once I could read, I started on the first story, The Rose Elf , in which the head of a murdered man is buried in a flower pot. I went on to read about a girl who has her feet cut off in The Red Shoes and The Little Match Girl who dies from the cold. When I wanted to take the book home my mother said that it was too scary for me but I took it anyway. It was the stuff of nightmares.

I remember my Grandpa taking me to the big bookshop in Paisley to choose any book I wanted as my fifth birthday present. I chose a big hardback book of Nursery Rhymes with a shiny paper cover and colour illustrations on every page. I loved looking at Little Miss Muffet as I played her in the school concert. As well as learning every rhyme by heart, it became the book in which I kept my ‘scraps’ coloured paper pictures – collected, hoarded and exchanged in the playground.

When I was ten my father bought me a subscription to the Elizabethan magazine as more suitable than the comics I liked to read. It embodied the moral values of the Brownie promise but also had some good stories and illustrations by artists like Gerald Scarfe. The idea of being a Young Elizabethan was actually quite appealing.

Problems with my right hand have made drawing and painting difficult but I’m trying different techniques.  Collage is possible.  This one started with a very wobbly left hand drawing.  And I’m managing to knit in short bursts.  Son’s rainbow stripe jumper may take a while.

Returning to Pilates after months away,  my body immediately responded to familiar movements. Teacher J’s description of Pilates as gruelling calm was exactly right.  I’ve been to the indoor pool twice, just floating and watching Wee Boy demonstrate his crawl and mushroom float.

Self-portrait on a spaghetti squash. It’s been a strange and stressful month. Apologies to friends I still haven’t been able to catch up with. Still helping Son get settled in. A, our brilliant joiner is here making my Wash House studio damp proof and putting in a new stair window. Usual book reviews, film and television next time. Keep in touch in all the usual ways. Let me know how things are for you in these challenging times. Stay well, keep warm, take care. Love, Elinor xx