We were spending the night in Stamford, a town renowned for its number of mediaeval churches. Returning to our hotel room after a long stroll around the streets, there was no update and then suddenly a single church bell began its sombre chime. We made the association almost immediately although it was moments later before there was confirmation on the BBC of the sad passing of Queen Elizabeth II. How strange but how poignant that in 21st century Britain we still learnt of the demise of the monarch from the tolling of a bell rather than technology.
Of course, some are now questioning whether the national response is an over-reaction for modern times. With the exception of those over 70, none of us have known another Head of State. The Queen represented a continuum. Her head graced our coins, notes and postage stamps; from an early age we were taught the words of the National Anthem, God Save the Queen, and learnt to stand up when it was played; she was instantly recognisable and even an avowed Republican would surely acknowledge her dignity and commitment.
So many times over the last couple of days I have felt empathy with statements to the effect that the utterers have never thought of themselves as Royalists but they still feel shaken, as though something large has shifted, leaving a gap beneath.
Perhaps John Donne, born in the reign of Elizabeth I, summed it up when he wrote: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a part of the continent, a part of the main.....Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
We may not always appreciate the implications but we do each belong to society and there is an inevitable feeling of loss whenever anyone dies; more so, when that person, however subtly, has been a prominent feature in our lives regardless of whether we knew them personally or not. A reminder too perhaps of those close to us that we have already lost and the knowledge that, King, Queen or commoner, we are all mortal and one day that bell will ring for us.