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Where were you when…

There are certain events that stand out as landmarks in our personal and family lives.  Your wedding day, the birth of a child, the passing of a parent. As the years go by we talk about these moments at family gatherings and we all have our own special memories.

There are other events in life which in reality are a million miles away from our personal lives which have a similar effect on our memories, a nation’s memory, sometimes even the world.

In years to come I expect we will start to talk about where we were when we heard of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and that has made me look back at other world events that have left their mark on me.

On 21st October 1966 I was at my grandmother’s for lunch when the TV news came on with black and white pictures from Aberfan.  Even as a 6 year old I could tell that this was a momentous moment and I still remember my grandmother holding me extra tight before I left for the afternoon lessons.

The event people always used to talk about when I was a child was ‘Where were you when you heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was too young for that to register but I certainly remember the assassination of his brother Robert Kennedy.  For some reason I was off from school and the TV schools programmes were interrupted by blurry images from Chicago which stick in my mind even to this day.

Mal &…Elvis?

Back in 1977 I wouldn’t have said I was a big Elvis Presley fan, but I still remember going to bed on that hot August night, turning on Swansea Sound and hearing the Elvis hits being played one after another and feeling heartbroken. 3 years later, together with friends from Church we held a candlelit vigil whilst on holiday in Frome to mark the passing of John Lennon

It was late on a Saturday night in 1997 the news started filtering through that Princess Diana had been in an accident.  By the following morning the world seemed to stop as the country went into mourning.  It felt like a moment when our relationship with the Monarchy either faltered or simply changed into something different.

On the 11th September 2001 I was recording some bass parts for a new album at the Red Café in Mumbles.  Someone working downstairs in the café knocked on the studio door telling us we needed to see the news coverage of a tragic accident in New York.  Wal, my bass player, and myself arrived in front of the television just in time to see the second plane hit the Twin Towers.

We watched in horror as the events unfolded.  We decided to cancel the rest of the session and went for a coffee.  This was before the days when people were attached to their phones with news alerts going off every few minutes.  As we walked along the Mumbles front we passed people blissfully unaware that the world was changing forever.

So to 2022.  The past few years have been momentous for us all. I’m sure we all have our tragedies and triumphs.  Since Covid changed the world I’ve become an orphan and a grandfather.  These are milestones I will never forget which mean little to the world outside my little world.

Over that time moments that stand out include the pictures from Northern Italy as the pandemic struck down whole towns and villages, Andrea Bocelli singing in front of the Duomo di Milano offering up a prayer for all of us, the Queen sat alone at her husband’s funeral in St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle.

And so to this week…

Mal & Bronwen Lewis

Trying to plan ahead better than usual I had been recording a song to raise funds and awareness for this year’s ‘Everyone Deserves a Christmas’ Hamper Appeal with Bronwen Lewis.  These days you have to take photographs and videos of everything you do to post on social media. After she left I found myself in front of the computer editing some film.

I know they say men can’t multitask but…I was on a deadline but also wanted to see the first Prime Minister’s Question Time with Liz Truss up against Sir Keir Starmer.  To be honest it was going pretty much the way I thought it would, so I wasn’t paying too much attention until I noticed movement on the front benches.  Notes were being passed.  People were leaving the chamber.

In the ‘olden days’ I would have gone straight to the BBC website now, well I know it’s not as reliable but, Twitter seems to have a monopoly on early rumours.  It was quite clear that The Queen might not be well.  Within an hour or so Huw Edwards was presenting blanket coverage in a dark suit and tie and the Royal Family was headed for Balmoral.

I think it was the news the family were rushing to her bedside that really touched me.  It was only a few months ago I got the call from my brother to say our mum was deteriorating and we should try to head to Hengoed Park as soon as possible.  It was an awful car ride with so many memories and emotions all swirling around in my head and heart. I understood how that family must be feeling.

It was a WhatsApp message from my daughter that finally broke the news that the Queen was gone.  I immediately rushed to the television to find Huw Edwards speaking on behalf of the nation. He’s really very good isn’t he?

What I have been pleasantly surprised about is how royalists and republicans have managed to find a way to put their differences aside and look at the extraordinary life of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. I’m sure we all have different views on the monarchy but one thing we can all agree on, she didn’t ask for the job, she wasn’t expecting the job, but when the job came she accepted it and gave her life to it.

Duty can be a word used to force people to do the most awful things but in this case she saw the role of Monarch as a duty given to her by the Almighty and she took on that duty right up until the final week of her life.

I think the first time I saw the Queen in the flesh was at the Swansea Leisure Centre in 1969 when she came to Swansea to declare it a city in the year that Charles was invested as Prince of Wales in Caernarvon. It was 50 years later I would meet her in person.  It was in 2019 when Swansea was celebrating its 50th Anniversary of becoming a city and I had been invited to a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.  As she moved easily though the assorted guests we all knew this was a special moment.

I think too often, after some event or another, we say the world has changed forever but given time we simply adapt and move on.  In this instance I think something has changed. As governments come and go, the Queen has been one of the only constants in many of our lives.  Now we start again. Our stamps and coins and money will feature a new face and we will now hear God Save the King at national events.  I feel we have lost a cherished member of the family.  It will be interesting if we ever feel exactly that same way about anyone else.

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