WITH the UK in a state of turmoil over politics and its cost-of-living crisis – amongst other issues, like the consequences of Brexit – the death of Queen Elizabeth II could not have come at a less stable moment. The UK has declared 10 days of official mourning and a state funeral for its beloved monarch, who served tirelessly for over 70 years. So, what is the reaction of British expats on social media?
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, public responses have ranged from mawkish displays of affection – as if the Queen was a member of one’s own family – to the obviously distasteful, highly disrespectful, and the plain bizarre. On some forums, this topic is almost as divisive as the mask wars of 2020.
Some of the negative postings focus on the history of colonialism, with accusations that Elizabeth II benefitted from the plundering of countries, such as Africa. Some call for a redistribution of the Windsor’s wealth to “the poor”. While being a humanitarian idea, this is unlikely to happen.
Others say that it’s time for the UK to become a republic, with a democratically elected head of state, instead of another monarch. This is another pipedream, as King Charles III has acceded to the throne, with the coronation date to be confirmed after the funeral.
One of the sillier online diatribes involves how the Spanish press is calling Charles “Carlos” – apparently, this is “insulting”. Charles surely has bigger issues on his mind, such as how to move forward with a divided nation.
Some debates point out that the state funeral will cost ‘billions’ of pounds, while members of the British public cannot afford food or electricity. Says Tanya Grenfell-Williams, a resident of Orgiva: “It’s a financially difficult time. Instead of leaving flowers to die in parks, I wish people would donate to food banks instead.”
People in the event industry claim that the gig economy has been affected by the cancellation of events during the official mourning period, just when it was recovering from the Covid pandemic. A meme circulating from the Breakthrough Party says: “It will put ordinary people out of pocket.”
Teacher Colin Jones, active on Spanish forums but working in the UK, says: “I’m meant to be teaching an art evening class on the funeral day. It will probably be cancelled, meaning I’ll lose money because someone I don’t know has died.”
Gemma Middleton of Gandia, Valencia, agrees: “It will all be forced on to you.”
Unfortunately, we also have gutter-level postings. Two days before the Queen’s death, on September 8, an official photo appeared of her looking frail and diminutive at Balmoral, after meeting the departing PM, Boris Johnson, and welcoming newly appointed prime minister, Liz Truss. This has been used to create memes about which person would “last longer”, showing Facebookers in their worst light.
In a civilised society, we generally don’t insult the recently deceased. To someone, it is their mother, their grandmother, their great grandmother, their friend. Some people have said that seeing pictures of the frail queen, shortly before her death, reminded them of their own mothers dying. To make tasteless jokes is to upset people unnecessarily.
A more tasteful question: will the change of monarch affect us as an expat community? It probably won’t but we’ll remember it as a historic event. Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 and – for those of us aged under 69 – she has been the British monarch for our entire lifetimes, and part of our public consciousness.
Universally, we grew up with her – for example, childhood memories of the 1977 Silver Jubilee. Public events were more spontaneous in those days and “socials” meant enjoying a buffet on a trestle table with your neighbours, rather than what you can upload from a smartphone.
Elizabeth II is credited with moving the monarchy into the modern era. When she was crowned, the country still remembered the Second World War. It’s notable that older people (for example, our elderly parents living in Britain) tend to speak well of Elizabeth. Her coronation in 1953 was the first royal event of its kind to be televised. Who could have foreseen that “progress” would mean a free-for-all on Facebook and Twitter?
No matter how we view the situation, there’s no surprise at an elderly lady dying aged 96. The Queen had an extremely good lifespan and always cut a dignified figure. Who can forget her sitting alone on the bench in Westminster Cathedral during the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip, while – at that time – Boris & Co. were whooping it up, down the road at Westminster, re the “partygate” scandal.
Undeniably, we are fortunate, here in Spain, not to be confronted with 10 days of enforced mourning, with all other TV coverage and events blanked out. As one expat says, “I feel sorry for the presenters at the BBC, having to deal with this period.” Residents of the UK have reason for saying that the coverage is “excessive” and questioning whether people should be made to mourn.
Perhaps we should take heed of an incident, reported in the Daily Telegraph, about a fish and chip shop owner in the Scottish Highlands. She drank Champagne and danced with a notice saying, “lizard Liz is dead” and “London Bridge has fallen” – then uploaded her footage to Facebook. Some 150 locals descended on the shop, threw eggs, sprayed ketchup at the windows, and pelted her with stones. The police had to remove the lady for her own protection.
Whether or not you are a royalist (and the reporter is not), mocking the dead is a bad look for anyone.
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