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COLUMN: Much ado about the Queen

Tofino-Ucluelet reporter writes about a chance visit to London days after Her Majesty’s death
Nora O’Malley in front of Windsor Castle on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022. (Tristan McConnell photo)

On Saturday afternoon, two days after the Queen’s death, I landed in London and met a dear friend of the family at her flat.

We started our reunion off with a cup of black tea and shortbread biscuits and tried our best to remember the last time we saw each other. I told her it’s destiny that the full harvest moon has brought us together for this unique moment of history.

My friend, Rita Legros, is a retired training officer for the microbiology reference centre in England and Wales. She graduated from Port Alberni’s Smith Memorial School in 1962 and went on to complete a degree at the University of B.C. before moving permanently to London in the early ’70s. Her walls are draped top to bottom with items collected from world travels; at the centre of the living room hangs an original Roy Henry Vickers of Meares Island.

I asked her if she was a fan of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen was the ultimate diplomat,” she said. “In spite of her high position, she tried to make her guests feel at ease and never spoke out of turn. No matter who she was meeting or what country was represented, she always illustrated some of the best thing about the UK, like graciousness.

“Any diplomat should seek to never cause offence while not appearing to be a pushover and she did this in the most exemplary way. When you consider some of the people she had to host at state dinners or meet on tours, she never caused offence or let her feelings be known. And that must have been difficult at times.

“Truly diplomatic.”

We headed to her favourite South Indian restaurant and stuffed our bellies full of curry and Tiger White beer before taking the historic underground train from Queen’s Park Station to Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery, London’s art museum.

As we walked a cobblestone path beside Hyde Park towards Buckingham Palace, Rita pointed out there aren’t as many flowers as when Princess Diana died. Still, throngs upon throngs of mourners lined the gates of the palace, placing flowers and bidding farewell to a woman who lived a life of service.

The next morning, after coffee and croissants at a local bakery, I journeyed via rail to the royal town of Windsor to meet my Irish stepbrother Tristan McConnell, his girlfriend, and their new puppy Winnie.

They took me to a quintessential English pub for a drink. I ordered a dry cider and so did Tristan. His girlfriend took an Aperol Spritz, something I’ve never heard of, but apparently it’s always on the menu in the U.K. Winnie the dog is allowed in the pub.

Sadly, the kitchen at the English pub was closed unless you were “booked in. ” So, after draining our drinks we relocated to a princely burger joint directly in front of Windsor castle. We gawked at the crowds as they meandered the old royal road in front of the castle, eating ice cream and turning a visit to the Queen’s Windsor home into a convivial Sunday afternoon.

As an Irish citizen, Tristan can freely live, work, study, and vote in the U.K. without having to apply for a special visa. He told me he feels no discrimination working in the film industry around Windsor. We strolled the Long Walk in front of the castle as he brought up Bloody Sunday, one of the deadliest days of The Troubles, a violent conflict between Northern Ireland and England that lasted about 30 years. On Jan. 30, 1972, British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians, killing 14, during a protest march in Northern Ireland.

Tristan questioned whether the Queen ever apologized for the atrocities done to the Irish.

“It is my wish and my hope that moving forward into the 21st century, royal families across the world are consigned to the annals of history,” Tristan says.

A few days later back home in Canada, I find an 2011 article from the Guardian that includes a video of the Queen speaking about Britain’s “sad and regrettable history” and “of being able to bow to the past but not to be bound by it.”

“To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish be done differently or not at all. But it is also true that no one who looked to the future over the past centuries could have imagined the strength of the bonds that are now in place between the governments and the people of our two nations,” she said during a televised speech at Dublin Castle.

Ever the ultimate diplomat indeed.

I hope King Charles III is swift to captain the Commonwealth ship with the same acknowledgement and atonement towards the treatment of Indigenous people, Caribbean nations and all countries impacted by the bitter legacy of British colonization.

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PHOTOS: Queen Elizabeth II in Canada over the years