Veronica Cline Barton
Copy of A #WritersDiary Christmas Day Encore: "Mrs. Singh Shuts the Shop' by Sheila Patel #QueenEliz
Happy Christmas! On this merry day of celebration, my British, author friend, Sheila Patel and I decided to release an encore presentation of her short story written and featured here after the passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The tale chronicles a beloved, Vodka Wardrobe character's heartwarming and bittersweet (and at times, quirky) journey to London this past September to pay homage to the late queen as the nation, and world mourned.
Many will be thinking of, and missing her today as her son, HM King Charles III delivers his first Christmas Day speech to the nation. While the turkey's roasting, sit back, relax, and remember a regal lady whose smile touched the world. 💖👑
Original post published on September 28th, 2022:
Today's post is a special, royal edition in honor of the late, Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II. The regal, mourning period has come to pass, and the historic monarch is now laid to rest with her beloved prince. During the past few weeks in the midst of tears and memories, we were treated to rainbows, pet corgis, and her pony, Emma, saying their final, royal farewell. 🌈🐶🐶🐎💖👑
One of my fav, writer friends from the UK, Sheila Patel (@VodkaWardrobe on Twitter), author of The Magic Vodka Wardrobe series, has penned a short tale based upon a sojourn she made to London before the final services in homage to the late queen. It's sweet, poignant, heartwarming, and after a long period of mourning, I think will put a royal smile on your face. We'll resume our regular, blog-post content next week. Today, for your reading pleasure, please enjoy:
Mrs. Singh Shuts the Shop
'Do you have a hangover?’
‘No, just a cold. Do you have any tissues?’ She goes into her rucksack and hands him a couple of paper tissues. The drunk man blows his nose as everyone on the train looks on.
‘Do you want some paracetamol?’
The drunk man nods and says, ‘You have everything in that bag, don’t you?’ She smiles and zips up the bag. ‘I’m off to the Palace, Her Majesty the Queen leaves her home for the last time today, I want to be there to see her off.’
‘I forgot that it was today, I’m never going to get across London now.’ She sits back and looks out as the bleak scenery rolls by. The drunk man falls asleep leaning on his elbows on the pull-down table. His head rests on the seat in front of him.
‘Sorry, was I dribbling?’ She nods her head and tells him to use his tissue and then offers him a Fruit Pastille. He declines.
‘While you’re awake, let me get past you and spend a penny.’ She shuffles down the aisle with her bag. She spots a young man.
‘Are you waiting for the loo?’
He nods and tells her he’s visiting from Spain although she thinks he doesn’t look hairy enough. He had arrived in the country on the night of the Queen’s death.
‘All the matches have been cancelled because of the Queen, I only managed to see the Liverpool match. What a waste of a trip.’
‘Well, you should get yourself to Westminster and pay your respects then!’ She uses the little toilet and goes back to her seat thinking about the football hooligan and promising herself she would never eat paella again.
The train pulls into Euston station.
‘Rightio, I’ll probably see you on the BBC News later, I can’t miss you in that pink cagoule. Good luck with the tube.’ The drunk man waves and leaves.
She steps off the train and feels a tap on her shoulder.
‘Hello, are you going to the Palace?’ There’s a short exchange and the woman introduces herself as Sal. ‘I have a raincoat just like that, but I decided not to wear it, it’s a bit loud. Anyway, it’s going to stay clear.’
Together, the pair start walking up the platform. ‘Hold on, we have to wait for Keith, my husband, he’s just getting off now.’
Bloody Sal and Keith from Runcorn!
‘We need to get the Circle Line, Sal,’ says Keith. ‘You’ll have a job, it’s the Northern Line from Euston.’
‘I’m thinking of getting off at Charing Cross, walking across Trafalgar Square then hopefully going to The Mall from there’. She hopes they don’t follow her.
‘Oh Keith, this lady knows her way round the Underground, we should follow her. Is The Mall the one with Buckingham Palace?’ says Sal. Keith gives his dense wife a disapproving look.
Mrs. Singh checks her phone. There’s a text from Mr. Singh: ‘Look after your bag, lots of robbers in London.’
She replies by informing him she has arrived safely.
There’s a sombre atmosphere, people are very quiet on the Tube, apart from Sal. They exit the station to bright sunshine. The clouds have shifted, it’s going to be a nice day for Her Majesty. ‘There seem to be more policemen than people, look, there’s a whole army unit over there,’ says Sal pointing. They walk past Trafalgar Square, the soldiers and head for The Mall.
‘Sorry Ma’am, all the viewing areas have reached full capacity, we are not letting any more in,’ says the security guard.
‘Don’t be silly, I’ve come all the way from Liverpool.’
‘I’ve just turned away people from New Zealand, Ma’am. You are free to watch the procession on the screens in Hyde Park.’
They walk along. All the entrances are blocked off with large fences. She spots a nice Asian security guard. ‘I think I know your mother, can you let me in to see the Queen?’
He smiles, ‘I don’t think so, Mama has been dead for nearly ten years.’
The old Indian mind tricks just don’t work in these modern times.
She looks back. Sal and Keith are arguing with a young policeman. She takes this opportunity to leg it. She follows the other disappointed people walking along Pall Mall. She spots a jolly looking policeman and says, ‘Can I stand here and watch the procession through the crack in the fence?’ He nods a firm no.
‘What if you lift me up onto your shoulders?’ His left eyebrow rises, and a smile spreads across his face. He tells her she can watch it on the big screen in Hyde Park.
‘But I've brought my sandwiches and a flask. I’ve also got a packet of Fruit Pastilles.’ Unfortunately, he is either not susceptible to bribery, or doesn’t like Fruit Pastilles.
It’s one o’clock. The Procession starts at 2:22pm exactly. ‘You will be able to follow it all on the big screen in the park, it’s fifteen minutes up that street. Turn left at the building with the green dome.’ She thanks the kind policeman, takes a swig of water from her bottle and pulls the rucksack tight onto her back. She sets off.
The roads look lovely and clean, the shop fronts are gleaming. There are wonderful posters and tributes for the Queen in all the windows. She takes a closer look at some of the prices and tuts.
‘Can I help you?’ asks a shop security guard.
‘Yes, can you watch my bag while I take my cagoule off? It’s getting rather hot.’
‘Is this the right way to Hyde Park?’ The shop security guard instructs her to continue up Regent Street. She sets off again. There don’t seem to be many grieving tourists, only staff buying sandwiches and expensive frothy coffees.
After ten more minutes she spots two workmen carrying a ladder. She asks them the way to Hyde Park. ‘No, Hyde Park is the other way, you need to take the Tube from Oxford Circus.’ The workman points at the Underground station and walks off.
Flustered and hot she sticks out her hand and waves down a black London cab. She had read somewhere that London cabbies knew everything. The cabbie greets her and asks her where she would like to go. ‘I’m lost, I need to get to the big screens in Hyde Park, but if you know a sneaky way to get me onto The Mall, I would really appreciate it.’
‘Blimey, you have walked a long way in the wrong direction. You know the police have been brought in from all over the country, they don’t know their Regent’s Park from their Hyde Park.’ She sits back in the taxi and thinks about the policeman and the security guard both looking at Google maps. She makes a note to use her own phone to navigate from now on.
‘I’ve heard all the flowers are in Green Park now, they are supposed to smell amazing. Make sure you visit there. I’d love to take my three daughters to see them,’ says the cabbie. She thinks how unfortunate it is that the poor man has three daughters. Lots of expenses for their weddings.
‘I’ve got you as close to Hyde Park Corner as I can, now walk through that gap and ask that guard where the screens are. Good luck.’ She pays him and steps out of the cab.
‘Is this the place with the big screen?’
‘Over there, my love’. He points to the huge screens in the park.
‘And the loo?’
‘Over there, my love.’ He points again.
Wanting to avoid the festival style portaloos, she says a prayer, holds her breath and steps in. She walks over to the taps and re-fills her water bottle, for free.
It’s 1:45pm now. She finds a spot on the grass, spreads her cagoule and sits down. She takes her sandwiches out of the tin foil and starts to eat. She thinks about Mr. Singh frying his steak for lunch. She hopes he wipes down the cooker afterwards. The grease will have splashed everywhere.
She looks at the group of ladies sitting close by her. ‘Excuse me, which way is the Palace? I got a taxi here.’
‘Brenda, which way is the Palace?’
Brenda points to some trees to the west then goes back to her vow of silence. The clouds clear and the afternoon sun radiates. She takes out her suncream and applies it to her face and arms. The screens are showing the crowd along The Mall all the way to Westminster. She thinks they must also be boiling hot as well.
It’s 2:22, the cannons fire and Big Ben rings. The Queen’s coffin appears on a gun carriage, she leaves the arches of Buckingham Palace. The crowd stands. It’s deadly silent.
More cannons, more bells. Wipes tear.
At 3pm The Queen reaches Westminster. An angelic choir rings through the park. She reaches for her phone and looks for Google Maps. She sets off walking.
‘It’s no use using that. Most of the roads and paths are blocked off, just follow the crowd, it will take you straight through Green Park,’ says a lady with a bike. ‘That’s smashing.’
London people are so kind and helpful, nothing like what the customers had told her over the years. ‘Bloody rude, stuck up, think us Northerners are thick.’
She walks on and wonders if she might need the portaloo again. A large crowd carries her to Green Park. The scent of flowers is overpowering, it smells fruity. She stops to read some of the messages. She wipes another tear, then opens her bag and puts down a single rose for Her Majesty.
She spots a lady security guard at Wellington Arch. She’s wearing a yellow jacket.
‘Is The Mall open yet?’.
The train back home leaves at 7pm, so she thinks she has enough time for a bite to eat on Leicester Square. She knows it’s not far from Trafalgar Square, she stayed around there in 2006 when she went to the Garden Party at the Palace. She thinks about that day fondly while joining the queue to the portaloos.
‘Why are all these fences up everywhere? Stupid one-way system. There’re mums with prams and old people here,' says a chap in a Queen T-shirt. ‘It’s so people don’t jump over the fence and cause a stampede, Dennis,’ says his wife. She then goes on to say she will be soaking her feet for the rest of the evening.
The Mall is on her right. She can see the gold statue on top of the monument and the flag flying at half-mast on the palace. She’s close. She controls her excitement. Her mobile rings and Mr. Singh asks her if she saw anything. She hangs up.
There it is, the red brick road of the famous Mall, where Her Majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II just made her final journey followed by her sons and daughter. She wipes away yet another tear.
She spots a man on a step ladder. ‘Do you mind if I take a photo for my family to see? ’The man steps down, makes a joke about insurance and helps her up. The row of flags looks magnificent, gently flapping in the light breeze. She gets a shot of the Palace in all its glory.
‘This is just splendid, wait till I show this picture to all my customers.’ Suddenly the crowd cheers and starts to clap. The new King passes by in his car. He makes eye contact with her, does his namaste hands and smiles.
She steps down and texts, ‘Don’t forget to pick me up at 9pm.’ She asks a policeman the way to Trafalgar Square. He points. She walks through Admiralty Arch, spots the famous lions on Trafalgar Square and lets out a sigh of relief.
It’s still very warm, so she picks a Pizzeria, goes in and sits down. She orders a wine, not the small measure. A dishevelled mother and daughter are sitting on the table next to her. ‘Do you know what the loud blasts and bells were?’ asks the mother. She tells her it was cannon fire and Big Ben.
‘Oh, that explains it, we were right at the front of The Mall. We camped out all night, at least we can say we saw it all first-hand.’
‘King Charles smiled at me.’ She did her namaste hands and went back to sipping her wine.
The waitress interrupts and asks her if she has any food allergies.
‘I’ve got a long journey home, so I better avoid dairy at this time of the evening. I’ll have a chicken salad please, no dressing.’ She checks her phone, there is a text, ‘I will pick you up at 9pm at the usual spot.’
She eats her bland salad and pays the waitress. She takes a walk around Leicester Square. A busker sings a melancholy old Elvis tune. She gives him a tip and walks over to Charing Cross Underground Station. It’s 6:15pm now.
Arriving at Euston Station, she takes a seat, she still has thirty minutes. The station is heaving. A little girl on the next seat stares at her. She offers her a Fruit Pastille, but the mother says she can’t have it. The girl throws a tantrum.
She walks along the platform and finds carriage F. She wonders how the drunk man is feeling. She takes her seat and closes her eyes. It’s been a long day and her feet are sore. She thinks about that smile from King Charles, the sunshine, all the people, the togetherness and the Britishness.
The train pulls into Liverpool Lime Street Station.
‘Have you been in that cagoule all day? I’m surprised I didn’t see you on the telly,’ says her husband. ‘I hope it was worth it, the shop’s been dead busy. On the news they are saying there are 30-hour queues to view the coffin.’
They drive out of the station.
‘Lying-in-state, that’s what they call it.’
Mr. Singh grunts.
She enters the house, unpacks her rucksack, throws away the foil and the uneaten sandwich. Still wearing her cagoule, she goes into the kitchen, puts on her marigolds and starts cleaning the cooker.
She shouts from the kitchen, ‘We are definitely shutting the shop on Monday, I don’t want to miss one second of the funeral.’
A special thank you once again to author Sheila Patel for sharing this lovely, royal moment with us! Enjoy the rest of your week and weekend friends! #GodBlessTheQueen 🙏
Crowns and Kisses,