I Was in London When the Queen Died, and Now the Lights Are Out
September 14th, 2022
The body of Queen Elizabeth II has returned to London and the capital seems split in two tonight. The central tube stations — Kings Cross, Leicester Square — are as busy now as though it were 8am, with as just as many people heading into the city as there are heading home. The heat of the underground has become viscous, syrupy, gurgling onto the pavement like sea foam.
Yet around the primary seats of power within the capital, the streets are lined with policeman, steering pedestrians clear of empty roads guarded at either end by black BMWs, their blue-and-white lights silently flashing to announce nothing. Downing Street is barricaded by steel gates and machine gun-wielding security guards, twice as many as usual; Westminster Palace stands behind a human chain-link fence of policeman that extends across four lanes of traffic.
From every corner of London, and from elsewhere all over the country, people are flooding toward the city now. The usual haste with which Londoners stride through the tube is no longer motivated by the 9 am starting gun of Teams meetings and email relays, but a simple need to escape the human crush of too many fascinated feet.
In the tunnels emerging from the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines — at the best of times tightly compacted with bankers, baristas, account directors, aspiring models, snap-happy photographers, and many other variants of head-down, dyed-in-the-wool Londoners intermixed with the unsinkable verve of young outsiders newly arrived in the big city — there is room to do little else than hold position behind the three-person wall stumbling ahead as awkwardly as you.
The temptation to overtake is defused by the certainty of being shouldered by commuters barely a foot to your right, surging in the opposite direction and powered by a need to escape to street level as vehement as your own.
Right now, at 6:30 pm, there runs a reverse rush hour, infused with commuters steadfastly dashing home as tourists and curious locals alike venture into the centre. They are here to witness the peculiar disruption of a status quo that has for decades operated scarcely…