Earlier this week I went to our local Honey Fair in the mediaeval walled town of Conwy. It is an annual event which the whole family looks forward to and after the exigencies of the Covid years, it is a real treat to once again see the narrow streets teeming with people and dozens of stalls piled high with sparkling glass jars of golden honey and other bee-related products.
One of the items I always purchase at the fair is my winter supply of beeswax furniture polish. As soon as I retuned to the shady car park with my bulging cotton shopping bags, I whipped out a jar of polish, unscrewed the lid and took a deep breath. I simply love the smell of it! It instantly transports me back to so many other days when furniture around the home had been newly polished and the house was filled with this unmistakable sharp, clean scent…
Hot summer days when I would get in from school or college and step into the cool, shady living room of our cottage, an oasis of calm tranquillity… where dark furniture shone like satin and reflected the bowls and vases of velvet-petalled roses set about the room. Later, autumn afternoons of grey drizzle when the room was set for tea – winking copper and china on the shining sideboard and table and my little son would toddle in to toast crumpets by a glowing fire. Memories of blustery March days with all the doors and windows open as the house was swept, scrubbed, dusted and polished to welcome the coming spring… or given an extra buff in preparation for lighting the Midwinter candles.
Now I have a particular task for my new jar of polish. A week ago I attended a wonderful family reunion at which one of my darling cousins presented me with a beautiful oval mirror which at one time hung in the home of our grandparents – possibly nearly a hundred years ago. I peer at my reflection in it and imagine all the times my grandfather and grandmother, my father and his little brother and all the other older members of the family must have stopped in front of it to tidy their hair, adjust the angle of a hat – or perhaps simply catch a fleeting glimpse of themselves as they rushed about their busy days. I can almost see them smiling back at me from the captured depths of another era. There would be times, too, when the dark wooden frame got a good polishing, and perhaps the family home was briefly scented with a similar aroma of beeswax and turpentine.
It is quite amazing how one small household item can encapsulate so many memories and unite a whole century of family history. How much greater is the impact of one very long life lived publicly and in service to others – and here, of course, I am referring to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. How many of us have lived our entire lives with the queen as head of our nation’s ‘family’. Whether we agree with having a Royal Family or not, the Queen has acted as a figurehead, an unwavering example, a matriarch, a highly principled and conscientious common denominator running through not just our British society but that of all the Commonwealth countries around the world. I have been stunned by the many messages of condolence which I have received from friends and family abroad, especially America.
The fact is that the Queen has been a constant in our lives. There is no one under the age of seventy living in the world today who can remember a time when Elizabeth wasn’t Queen of the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is one reason why so many people now feel lost and adrift? We have lost the royal, loyal thread which has run through so many decades, connected so many famous people and places, so many historic events, so many eras – our national anchor, mainstay and compass. What comes next?
Time to reflect some more, I think, while I polish my precious mirror…