Right now in the UK, it feels like the bad news is never-ending. There’s the cost-of-living crisis, inflation, skyrocketing gas bills and unaffordable housing. Couple that with a government as temperamental as the weather and it’s practically impossible to not feel like doomsday is around the corner. Just when you think things can’t possibly get worse than Liz Truss taking office, you learn through a couple of black-tied BBC anchors that the Queen has died.
My own republican views aside, I do empathise with the millions of Brits who have lost a figure who symbolised stability and national pride to them. And as someone who obsessively loves (re: needs) efficient planning, I had already naturally read the many, detailed articles explaining the protocol for when London Bridge is down. Despite having known what to expect, I am still taken aback by the reaction to her passing, more specifically, by the aggressive expectation that we must all mourn and the arbitrariness of how that should look.
One form of official mourning seems to be by cancelling events like English Association Football fixtures, the Great North Run (the world’s largest half marathon) and BBC Radio 2 Live in Leeds. Even planned strikes by rail and postal workers have been postponed. According to the official guidance, there is “no obligation” for events or sporting fixtures to be cancelled, or for entertainment venues to be closed, and this is at the discretion of the organisers. But as there has been a total lack of consensus on which events must be cancelled in order to showcase due respect, where is the line? At what point are we cancelling events, especially in the case of cultural ones, at the expense of real people who will now have to suffer the losses from incurring upfront costs?
Over the last week, various cultural events – that are not even scheduled for the day of her funeral – have been cancelled, including Burberry and Raf Simons’ London Fashion Week shows and the Mercury Awards (guests were even seated in their places an hour before the show started when the cancellation was announced.) And although the decision to cancel is supposedly in the hands of event organisers, many lost permission from various councils to go ahead, including Hackney Carnival, Overflo and Boiler Room London.
Many of these events are centred around small independent businesses and artists for whom high footfall days are imperative to them remaining afloat financially. Meryl Fernandes, who runs the Duke of Richmond pub in Hackney and was preparing for Hackney Carnival on 11th September, tells THE FACE, “we had bought enough food and drink supplies to make 300 meals and serve all the extra people the carnival brings in.” That’s nearly three times more than her usual Sunday patronage. “Even though we can store the alcohol, it’s the upfront costs that really hurt us, and we can’t afford to impact our cash flow, especially considering how expensive everything is right now.” Hackney Council, who is responsible for running the carnival, has agreed to cover the pitch costs for contracted suppliers (such as food stalls) but have failed to reach out to other participating small businesses such as Fernandes’s.
Overflo, a queer festival run by the co-founders of music collectives Pxssy Palace and BBZ, was set to run on Sunday 18th September, until their permission was rescinded by Southwark Council. Burgess Park, the festival’s location, is owned by Southwark Council who claimed that public safety would be compromised because “London Ambulance Services, Met Police and Environmental Health would no longer have the resources to support the event going forward as planned.”
The responsibility of rescheduling the event, naturally, falls on the shoulders of the organisers who would have lost not only large amounts of money (organising a festival doesn’t come cheap) but also disappointed ticket-holders – especially for those who find that safe, inclusive spaces for queer people such as Overflo are few and far between. Jyoti, a DJ who was set to perform at this weekend’s London Boiler Room, took to her Instagram to apologise to the fans who were travelling in from cities outside of London or the UK altogether.
There’s a pervasive sense of fear surrounding speaking up during this period, as people and organisations can easily be branded insensitive or worse, face legal troubles. Anti-monarchy resistors have been arrested in England and Scotland for protesting during the Queen’s procession, which has concerned civil liberties groups on the lack of freedom of expression and the misuse of new powers awarded to the police force. Not officially mourning the Queen, however, isn’t a crime, and shouldn’t be treated as one.
The passing of a nominal head of state simply might not have an impact on their daily lives and they shouldn’t be forcibly interrupted. The Hackney Chinese Community Centre, for example, had to forgo their planned celebrations for Mid-Autumn Festival, a tradition in Chinese culture that community members were looking forward to. It makes you question which citizens are “mourning correctly” and which (often, ironically, descendants of The British Empire) are having their voices erased.
As well as cultural events, doctors appointments have been cancelled or rescheduled (including expectant mothers and cancer patients who could have been rebooked in about a month’s time), food banks are closing on the day of the funeral next Monday and everything from chain grocery stores to cycle racks seem to need the day off.
When the Queen’s funeral is expected to cost millions of pounds (billions, if you take into account the cost of a bank holiday and King Charles III’s coronation), it feels only fair to question why, in addition to all these costs, small businesses and artists are being stripped of their livelihoods, and people in need are being denied access to essential services – especially when the average citizen is shouldering the burden of the financial squeeze of the economy. Mourning a monarch with pomp and grandeur at the expense of ordinary people feels rather cruel.