Ninety-Six Tolls

Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of newcomers to Nanaimo. Sitting beside me was a very nice lady who asked me where I came from and as usual, because of my accent, I explained that I was here from Edmonton but originally from the Greater London area of England.

Excitedly, she asked “Oh, did you watch the Queen’s funeral?” presuming, I think, that as an English person I would say that I had. When I said I had not, she looked crestfallen. “What is it with the English?” she asked. “Nearly every Brit I have asked have said they are not interested.”

Image via Culture Trip

I said that I was not a monarchist and left it at, more-or-less, that. We went on to discuss the event’s pageantry and the ninety-six tolls of the tenor bells at Westminster Abbey. That reminded her of the song 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians from 1966. What a memory! I didn’t remember the song from the title, but when she played it on her phone, I recognized it. Wow. That took me back to my teenage years, and it nicely detracted from the question of why so many of the English people she knew were not interested in the monarchy.

The answer probably has something to do with the British caste system that ranks people by accent, gender, occupation, social status, and race. At least, it did when I lived there. It is (or was) a deeply rooted and complex process for figuring out where each person stands in the pecking order. I grew up becoming increasingly aware of what cues to watch out for, how to moderate the traits that gave away too many clues, and how much disdain dripped down from above. I, and many others I know, are very glad to have left all that behind.

Image via

Another reason so many of her acquaintances no longer feel in thrall to the royal family is that we immigrated to Canada, one of the British colonies. Soon after I arrived, I discovered that the glorious history of the commonwealth was not as I had learned it in school, and not glorious at all. As the years have gone by, my dismay over the ways in which the indigenous peoples and the lands were treated has only grown. Perhaps her other English friends went through a similar process of discovery and shame-by-association.

Recent events relating to individual royal family members have only added to my growing sense that the royalty collectively is objectionable to me, even though some individual members seem to be nice enough. Yes, the Queen was generally loved and admired, and I’m glad she had a respectful send-off, but I felt no need to watch several days of ceremonies and a funeral in which every detail had some sort of meaning or significance.

The whole event was so far removed from my Canadian life and identity, that I simply did not feel the urge to join the crowds of royal fans, but there was no opportunity for me to explain all this to my seat mate. I simply had to leave her wondering why so many ex-pats were less interested in the whole affair than she was.


  1. Ha Ha! I remember that song also! Great way to finish off your blog. I recorded the Queen’s funeral and watched it yesterday on and off. It certainly was a funeral fit for a great Queen, everything perfectly done, great pageantry, lovely music. I was touched and cried a couple of tears when they finally sang God Save the King, and I saw Charles having difficulty keeping it together also. Now, today I have come back to myself and I’m thinking about what that magnificent funeral cost the British taxpayers. And what is the relevance of the monarchy? Especially in Canada.

    1. The woman I sat next to said she watched it all day and was reluctant to leave the TV room for any reason.

      I question the relevance of it all, too, but you can’t just put hundreds of years of tradition on a shelf and forget about it.

  2. I watched My Fair Lady. Rex Harrison explained it all. But few people care these days, certainly not the immigrants. I found the pageantry fascinating. Millions of people happy to wait up to thirty hours to say goodbye. Where I live, Australia, the activists for a republic are already sharpening their knives. It’s only a matter of time. Our new prime minister says now is not the time to talk about the republic, but he’s appointed a minister for the republic so we know where that’s heading. Im a constitutional monarchist. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We have a stable system of government. The Westminster system. I’m appalled at the thought that today’s politicians willdecide what sort of republic we will have. Every country has its flaws. Canada is not what it was. Too bad you’re ashamed of your birth country.

    1. I understand the fascination with the pageantry and the reverence for the royals, I just don’t share it. It is not that I am ashamed of my birth country so much as I am ashamed of so much of what colonization has done.

      I would also add that it is possible to have the Westminster system of government without having a sovereign holder of executive power.

      1. Thanks for responding.
        Anything is possible, but I doubt that the sort of people who constantly toss off the word colonisation are planning to keep what’s best about our system.
        Arabs conquered Spain in 711 and occupied it till 1492. I heard Rick Stein talk admiringly about food influences and architecture.

        Are you aware that thousands of residents in Hong Kong waited for hours to lay flowers at the British consulate to pay tribute to the Queen?

          1. Why not? Hong Kong was developed, and fostered under British rule. It transformed into a booming trade hub.
            Hong Kong’s economic strengths include a sound banking system, virtually no public debt and a strong legal system (Wikipedia) Communist China crushed the people of Hong Kong’s fight for freedom and independence. I guess these queueing people couldn’t help making the comparison and were showing their appreciation.

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