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Arts & entertainment

Jubilee Years – A short story

03 Jun 2022 | Written by By Jane Ricôt

“The King is dead!” the radio announced again.

My mother is sitting in our kitchen red-eyed, with her rapidly emptying box of tissues.  To be honest, I just don’t get it.  For sure Elvis was a bit of a looker in the day, but now ugh.  Dad is sitting in his floral armchair, part of a suite mum insisted on buying last year.  He hates it and so do I.  It really doesn’t sit right on our very patterned carpet.  He’s doing his crossword.  It’s what he does all day, every day, since he took early retirement a few months back.  I don’t think he knows what else to do with his time, he didn’t really think it through.  He really doesn’t like Elvis though, maybe he’s a bit jealous.  I can’t see mum making this much fuss if he popped his clogs.  

I wanted to tell them I was getting married.  But in between the endless rounds of Jailhouse Rock and Love Me Tender, mum just shushed me so she could listen to yet another news report.  I was getting a bit hacked off, so I decided to just come out with it.

“Tony and I are getting married.” 

“Hold on a sec,” dad said, filling in an answer to a clue.

“Now’s not the time, love. Tell us about it tomorrow, I’ll feel better by then,” was my mum’s lovely response.

I slammed the Silver Jubilee mug on the table.  I don’t think HRH was that impressed.  She was looking quite sternly out at me.

But it made my folks sit up and look.

“I’m also pregnant,” I added quickly “and we don’t want a fuss, we can use the bunting you had for the Jubilee and put up a few trellis tables in the garden.”  There, I’d said it all now.

“But it’s Union Jack bunting love, you can’t use that.”  Had she even registered that I was pregnant?

“Look after yourself girl,” my dad said quietly.

“Thanks dad!”

******

Mum’s in tears. I haven’t seen her cry since 1977 when Elvis died.  Well, that’s not quite true.  She’d shed a few for Margaret.  

“She was so beautiful,” she’d said as she dabbed the corners of her eyes. 

As if that made a difference, I thought, beautiful people die too don’t they, or do they have some special dispensation? I mean in TV dramas that might be true, but not in real life.

Personally, I prefer Elizabeth. Sure Margaret was beautiful, but she’d had nothing much else to do all day, except make herself look the part.

But this, oh my goodness, had surpassed both Elvis and Margaret.  Mum had asked me to come down and watch the Queen Mother’s funeral with her.

Dad’s not bothered.  He’d taken up gardening in the end and has an allotment with a shed.  Every day he’s down there.  I don’t know if he’s growing hops, but he often smells of beer when he gets back.  But today he’s stayed home out of respect to the QM, but, probably more likely, my mother.  But he’s in the other room now doing his crossword.  He just does the one a week now.

“I’ll just switch on the VHS,” mum said.  “Just in case he wants to watch it later.  How do I do it again?”

I think that mum’s more sad for Elizabeth, she keeps going on about how she’s an orphan now.  Well at 75 it’s hardly a big surprise.  Mind you, watching her standing there, all in black with her string of pearls, she really does look heartbroken but, to be honest, not half as heartbroken as my mum.  

She said she liked the verse about crying or not crying and told me to use it at her funeral. I liked it too, especially the bit about smiling and carrying on. I just hope mum remembers that after today.  

Tony said I could come this one last time, but if another member of the royal family popped their clogs, then she’d have to manage on her own.  We live in Yorkshire now and, as it’s a long way to come, I’ll be here for a good few days.  Tony doesn’t like to be left to do the cooking.  I don’t think the kids are too keen on it either.  Mind you, they are perfectly old enough to do their own, but they don’t.

“How’s she going to manage?” my mum said as the Royals were all walking out of the Abbey, their heads slightly bowed.

“What do you mean, she has all her servants?”

“But it’s her Golden Jubilee celebrations in June.  She’s going to have to get over all this before then. You will come and stay won’t you, I don’t think dad’s very interested.”

******

I moved back home a few years ago to live with mum and dad.  Tony and I divorced in 2002.  He said he’d warned me. He’d decided not to take the risk of waiting for another royal to die. He filed the papers as soon as I got back from the Golden Jubilee celebrations, said it was all the same thing really.  I looked after the children till they finally left home.  Tony very quickly found another chef.

Well, we’ve certainly had a year of it.  Mum comforted me when Whitney died. I just loved her songs. I had them blaring out all day when the kids were young. They reminded me of when I thought Tony and I had The Greatest Love of All.

But we had a fine old knees up for the Diamond Jubilee. We’d clubbed together to buy a new flat-screen TV. Mum thought that the occasion merited it. We watched the carriages, soldiers, flypasts and concerts and drank plenty of Prosecco to toast the Queen.

Mum wasn’t so impressed with ‘that man on the roof’, but I’d always thought Brian May was really cool. I’d have given anything to have been up there with him.

And now it’s the Olympics. We’re all settled in front of the TV, still sitting on the floral suite. It’s seen better days. Maybe I’ll suggest a trip out to buy a new one after the excitement has worn down. They do have a plain carpet nowadays though. We’re going to watch the Opening Ceremony.  Even dad’s watching, but he does think it’s 1977 and that Elvis has just died.  

Mum’s getting excited, the Queen’s due to arrive soon.

“Goodness me she’s parachuting in,” mum screamed.  I think my mother may well explode.  

“She really needs to look after herself,” she said, when she finally caught her breath.

That was truly wonderful.

******

I’m in the lounge of my mother’s care home.  She’s sitting with her head slightly bowed.  It was her decision to come and live here after Dad died. It’s where he spent the last 6 months of his life, when we were no longer able to cope with his Alzheimer’s at home. So I think she feels that, in some way, she’s with him again.

They’ve started putting up the bunting. There’s definitely a celebration on the way. Pictures of HRH, at every age, festoon each wall. There are some singers coming in today, Retro Ravers they are called.  

“I do hope it won’t be too much White Cliffs of Dover,” she told me just a little too loudly. 

“I’d rather like a bit of Elvis instead,” she carried on not heeding the finger in front of my lips. She told me she thought The Wonder of You would be very apt for the Queen.       

I agree, I think she’s amazing. I mean how can one woman be so loved? And how does she do it, 96 and still at work? I gave up last year and I was already knackered, but she’s got decades on me. She pulled a sickie the other day. How much fuss did that cause? A bit of a mistake turning up at the horses so soon after, but what the hell.

Mum taps my hand and brings me back to the present.

“How’s she going to manage?” she asked.  

“What do you mean?” 

“She’s not got Philip, she’s always had Philip.”

I smiled, cupping her hand in mine.

“She’ll do just fine Mum, just like you did.”


Above is a photograph I took of The Queen at the Derby, not in a Jubilee year, but in 2017. I went to the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I had just finished my final exams at Poly and we all decided to go. My daughter and I spent four days in London over the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and had a fantastic time. We also went to the Derby and saw the Queen very close up. Although we didn’t get tickets for the Picnic in the Palace, we enjoyed ourselves that night listening to it all in the Mall, and the Palace being lit up in different colours when they sang ‘Our House’ was really memorable. 


 

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