Kilometers of queues that unite a country in mourning | International
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London woke up on Wednesday strewn with billboards, police, soldiers and workers dressed in reflective vests. Access to Buckingham Palace, where the coffin with the body of Elizabeth II had arrived the night before, and its surroundings was almost an obstacle course. Little seemed to matter to the thousands of people who came from all over the country to say goodbye to the queen for the last time. They said goodbye to the figure that has accompanied them throughout their lives and whom they consider almost another member of their family. They also came in search of consolation, willing to share that farewell with others, in the kind of national communion that London experienced yesterday.
Rivers of people tried to make their way throughout the day through the center of the capital. Green Park, Saint James, Westminster, Lambeth Bridge… Others patiently awaited the start of the funeral procession that left the palace on time for Westminster after 2:22 p.m. local time. Those who wanted to enter the funeral chapel in Westminster Hall formed an endless queue along the south bank of the Thames. In the sky, which yesterday gave a truce and the sun shone, the transfer of helicopters was continuous.
Not far from the start of the queue, draped in a British flag, Kelley Craig sat on the ground. “It’s about being with others, about showing our national pride,” reflected the 51-year-old former pub manager. She had arrived at nine in the morning and it would not be until five o’clock that access to the chapel would open and the queue would begin to move. Craig figured it wouldn’t be his turn until late at night. She trusts that the new king will do a good job, because after all “he is the apprentice who has had the most years to learn from the world,” she says, referring to the 73 years of the new monarch. A few meters beyond her, Catherine Esparon reports that she has come “to thank him”. She can’t keep talking because the lump in her throat won’t let her. “It’s starting now,” says her friend announcing a new cry.
Authorities had warned that hundreds of thousands of people were expected to try to gain access to the funeral chapel in Westminster Hall. That there could be queues of more than 35 hours and that they bring water, food and shelter because they might have to spend the night on their feet. And so they did. People of all ages arrived with their folding chairs, with blankets to sit on the damp ground from the night before, and with plenty of food in their backpacks just in case. There were those who had arrived the day before and had gotten a hotel room. Others had hit the big early morning to get on the train.
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Like Martin Ogborle, a former racing motorcycle mechanic whose backpack sticks out of a British flag, who got up at three in the morning to come from the south of the country. He was born in 1952, the year that Elizabeth II ascended the throne and that, according to him, made him participate in a lottery in which he won a small replica of the royal carriage in silver. Since then, he explains that he has a strong feeling with the late Queen and in general with the British Royal House. Beside her, a child sleeps lying on a blanket hugging a Paddington bear, the same one the Queen played tea with at her 70th jubilee.
A mother was stationed with her two children early in the morning coming from Oxford, an hour by train. It was the little boy, 10 years old, who wanted to come at all costs. “To pay my respects,” she would say. They are sitting on the floor on a blanket and have been waiting for hours. “I think it’s our duty to come here,” says Alison Reay, the mother. Suddenly, the king passed by in the official vehicle on his way to the palace and the people applauded half incredulously, without quite believing that they had just seen Carlos III pass by. That feeling of unreality was felt by many tourists, whose trip to London had coincided with the death of Elizabeth II and now they were witnessing a historic moment in front of Buckingham Palace.
Whoever wanted to access the chapel had to queue along the south bank of the Thames, which by mid-afternoon was already over four and a half kilometers long. Going through that endless human snake by bicycle – access to cars was closed in a good part of the central almond – was overwhelming. They were there because they felt it was her duty, which is the least they can do for a woman who explains that she dedicated her life to serving her country and because they had been thinking about this moment for years. Somehow, they counted on it. They were going to come outside as it was.
There were moments of tension, with people crowding against the fences or forming bottlenecks trying to get out. But everything was planned and well organized and nobody lost their calm there. For this reason, sometimes the city seemed like a circus with a very well rehearsed choreography, but suddenly, the crowd transmitted the intensity of a collective ritual and probably necessary not only for them, but for the whole country.
Posted in the second row, Adrian George is also waiting for the funeral procession, a former financial adviser now retired predicts a short life for the monarchy. He doesn’t want to be misunderstood. He is a monarchist to the core, but he believes that Prince William’s son will no longer be king. “There is a Republican sentiment in this country that is advancing. This is not the time to discuss it, of course. At the same time, he is clear that this duel has served to unite the country. “Look, look, there are all kinds of people here, all together. Those who believe that Scotland is now going to become independent are wrong.” George, like the others, seemed to cling to that soothing feeling of unity, as if it were going to protect them from what they guess to be a turbulent future.
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