Invisible Women: all change please
3 Americans and a weirdly bereft Brit
HELLO GFPs, and welcome to the all new Invisible Women newsletter! It’s pretty much the same as the old newsletter except we’re now on substack.
I have moved for two reasons. First, I have for a while wanted paying subscribers to be able to comment on posts and to have a community within this one space, rather than having to have a totally separate members area — and Revue didn’t seem to be going to offer that option any time soon.
AND, second, substack also does podcasty stuff and since I’m now one of those dreadful podcasters, it seemed a good idea to bring those two work threads closer together. Please bear with me as I figure out our new home. Hopefully you won’t notice too many differences as readers except for the fact that paid subscribers can now comment on posts (keep it clean, team, don’t make me regret this…!).
In other news, loyal listeners to the podcast may have noticed that we didn’t have a bonus episode as promised on Friday. We also won’t be releasing a main episode this Wednesday. This was because of The Queen dying on Thursday; all planned Tortoise podcast publishing has been paused for a week.
GFPs, I don’t know how you have all found the Queen’s death; I found it profoundly unsettling. I’ve never been one for Jubilees and bunting. I’ve always been pretty ambivalent about the monarchy at best — so her death affecting me like this took me completely by surprise, as in fact it seems to have taken a lot of us.
Some of you, perhaps many of you, will feel the same as I do. Others will feel different. Some of you will be more pro-monarchy than me; some of you less. But I have been really struck by how many people of my generation, and people who share my general sense of ambivalence about the monarchy, have been, as I have been, ambushed by our depth of feeling about her death. Of course we always knew she had to die one day, but it feels like we somehow never really expected it to actually happen. The Queen has always been there. Quietly, solidly, getting on with the job. Surely, she would always be there.
The day she died I was in a house with three Americans — the AB of course, but also his sister and his sisters’ friend who had been visiting us from Mississippi for the week — and I think they were pretty nonplussed by this left-wing feminist being so affected by the death of a monarch. Well, I was too — but how to explain? “I’m sorry your Queen has died,” one of them sweetly said to me, giving me a hug. The other said simply, “I’m sorry for your loss.” But…it wasn't a loss exactly. Or at least, it was a loss, and in some ways a profound loss. But it wasn’t a loss in the way we normally mean those words. I wasn't grieving over the death of someone I loved, whose presence I would miss intimately in my daily life. It was a much more complicated feeling.
Whatever you think of the institution of the monarchy, there is simply no denying that this was a woman who did dedicate her whole life to the ideal of public service. Two days before she died, the Queen was still getting dressed up to welcome in the new PM, smiling, made up, posing for photos, doing tiresome small talk. She should have been in bed!
This final act does seem to represent everything about her approach to her job — and why her loss is hitting so many of us so hard. Out of all the people who hold authority in this country, she feels like one of the very last who truly believed in the ideas of duty and of being a public servant. Those musty, old-fashioned words, which now they seem to have left us, appear so much more valuable than we realised.
She has never been pushy or showy. You never felt that she was putting herself first, or that she was allowing her own feelings or emotions interfere with what she saw as her duty to the country — to the extent that we really have no idea what her feelings, emotions, or wishes were. Never complain, never explain, personified. That is extraordinary — not least when you compare her to pretty much everyone else in supposed public service.
And so, the sadness that we feel isn’t even necessarily for her — although of course it is also for her. In retrospect it feels like the Queen has been occupying the space of a kind of national grandmother — a very distant one that we never consciously acknowledged, but who it turns had been providing us with a stabilising backdrop we never realised mattered to us until the stabilisers came off.
But more than being for her, our sadness, our sense of loss and dislocation is for that ideal that she so clearly subscribed to, that duty, that the job, that serving the country, is something so important that you put it above your own individual or partisan desires. It’s for the loss of that sense of stability and continuity that came from having someone in public life who so clearly wasn’t in it for what she personally could get out of it. Who took her responsibility so seriously, so gravely.
It’s about the sense of unease that comes from being left in a country where most of the people in positions of authority are now either incompetent or mendacious or both. And it’s about what that means for us all. Nothing good, I fear.
So there you have it, GFPs, my attempt to put into words this odd sense of dislocation that I think most of us simply didn’t expect to feel. I may not think much of the monarchy as a system, I may think that some of the things that are owned and profited from by the royal family should by rights belong to or at least profit the people. But it turns out, I admired the hell out of her — who knew? What a horrendous job to be born into. And what a job she did.
I am writing this on a train to the airport, from which tonight (Sunday) I will be flying to Iceland on PODCAST business. I’m also in Norway this week, as I mentioned in last week’s newsletter. So quite possibly I will not have time to write a newsletter for next Monday. However next WEDNESDAY, normal podcast publishing resumes, with an episode about sexist pianos, which I’m sure HM would have enjoyed…You can listen on Tortoise, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Poppy pic of the week
Until next time, my dear GFPs….xoxoxo