Over to the west the sun was setting in layers of red light and, because we were standing on the top of Beacon Hill, the sky seemed even more infinite. The skylarks were reminding us it was Evensong and the wild flowers embedded in the tussocked grass gave it a different feel in terms of scent and texture. Reaching out across the landscape, chequerboard fields studded with patchs of dark green trees stretch towards Oxford amongst which red brick houses turn into tiny yellow pinpricks of light as the day fades.
Beacon Hill is high for this part of southern England. Once upon a time it was called Weald Setl, “place of the chieftain” and nearby is the grave of Geordie’s great grandfather, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who, along with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen. He had always wished to be interred here, if he could, surrounded by over 3,000 years of history and near the sky.
At the top of the hill are the ramparts of a fort first built 2,000BC in the Iron Age where our ancestors celebrated and lived. Their way of life and agriculture continued until it was abandoned in the upheavals of the Roman invasion of England in 43BC.
Beacon Hill, as the same suggests, is a very effective place from which to communicate. Towering above the fields and hamlets, easy to see before the time of letters, telegrams, postcards, emails or phone masts, billowing fires contained in metal baskets or fire pits at the top of hills had to suffice to transmit urgent warnings – usually of invasion.
The word “beacon” has two meanings – that of a sign, portent or lighthouse whilst the Old Irish word suggest “white, light, ray of light”. This time we lit the the beacon for celebration and triumph, a tribute to a remarkable world leader, Her Majesty The Queen.
Without promulgating laws or campaigning for votes, she has nevertheless led this country with dedication, hard work and a spiritual (I suspect Her Majesty might say Christian) gravity. The Royal family treads a line between connecting with each of us in everyday life and being apart from us. Out of the destruction of the Second World War, the Queen has helped to build a sense of home and belonging, something positive around which to gather.
Unconnected to politics and immune to the survival techniques of successive governments, she has a uniquely long term view which is rarely replicated elsewhere.
It is easy in times of stress for values and culture to get lost, dismissed when firefighting subsumes normal judgement. At times the Queen has stepped back to make decisions and find the composure to walk forwards and been criticised for so doing. Yet perhaps it was about making stable judgements, learning to adapt without losing what is essential.
This Platinum Jubilee was remarkable – processions, pageantry, music, church services and, above all, villages and streets coming together to share food, to sing and dance and picnic in a uniquely British fashion, predictably in smatterings of rain. It is the music of life and what we all missed so much during the pandemic: a remarkable celebration of someone whose years of service encapsulates those values which help us stay together as a culture.
The Queen has done so much over such a long period of time that she is incomparable. Almost every speech she has made is designed to direct our thoughts towards connection, cooperation and friendship. One of her many achievements is undoubtedly the Commonwealth, in its deepest essence an organisation designed to help us come together, to pursue common goals and the common good. Even if we cannot achieve this, it is the path we should attempt to walk and no one exemplifies this more than the Queen.
“I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life” was her promise to the nation which she has more than fulfilled and she is still remains – a beacon of steadiness and dedication in the midst of yet another global crisis.