Killing time before my flight back to Malaga from Gatwick on 5 September, I went to look for a card for my aunt, whose birthday it is later on this month. I found an appropriate card and headed for the till, where I hoped they might sell stamps. They did, but only books thereof, which I didn't need. I can't remember the last time I needed a stamp in the UK and was unlikely to use the other three in the near or even distant future. I left the card and decided I'd send an online one, as I have been doing quite efficiently for many years.
It was only as I listened to coverage of Queen Elizabeth's death that the significance of my not buying those stamps hit me. It may have been my last opportunity ever to buy one with the Queen's head on it. I was suddenly grief-stricken. I admit I had shed a tear (several, if I'm honest) when the news broke of her death, but it was the enormity of the change this meant for the UK which got me. To quote (the surprisingly eloquent) Boris Johnson, "She seemed so timeless and so wonderful that I am afraid we had come to believe, like children, that she would just go on and on."
Then another thought hit me: by the time I go back to the UK at Christmas, will the whole place have changed beyond recognition? I may never see a Royal Mail post box with the ER insignia emblazoned on it; will coins have changed by then? What other things, which we have taken for granted, for most people, all of our lives, will have changed? Another time I admit welling up was when I heard the national anthem sung for the first time with the words "God Save the King". I'm by no means a royalist, but the Queen was the Queen and that's just the way that things have always been.
Hundreds of miles away in Malaga, it's easy to feel somewhat disconnected from our own history. Over the years I, like many other Brits abroad, have watched royal weddings, jubilee, anniversary and birthday celebrations and the Olympic Games on TV without getting involved in any of the street parties or other celebrations back home. It's only when the moment is upon me that I get an overwhelming desire to be there, to be part of my own history. Then I forget about it, until the next big event. But nothing is going to be more historic in my lifetime than the death of Queen Elizabeth II . However, I'm not about to travel back to be part of it now. Oh well, I've missed being part of history again.
Whether you're a fan of the royal family or not, there's no disputing that the Queen, through the best of times and the worst of times, was a constant presence wherever we were in the world and one of the most iconic things that made home, 'home'. The question is; what are all those little things we've taken for granted in the UK going to look like next time we visit?