In a sense, what played out in Once Great Britain this strange month is fairly straightforward: the collective expression of longing for an empire gone, the one and absolute event to mark that ending – or perhaps better, the event that settled in people’s minds an ending that actually took place a long, long time ago. “A funeral that is the envy of the world”, waxed lyrical one of the myriad news outlets spurring out exactly-the-same-thing, over and over again. How can a funeral, an end that is, be the envy of anyone? “Britain is the envy of the world”, dared to utter another one, and I said “dare” because, surely by now, everyone must know how detached that statement is from the truth: what exactly is there to “envy” in a country where millions cannot afford food?

As a political power, Britain has long been sliding into global irrelevance. A particular type of an embarrassing irrelevance. Embarrassing, in that its leaders seem not to realise what is happening, or perhaps not wanting to realise: conductors still gesturing at an orchestra long gone. But socially, things are even more unsettling. The line so strictly imposed by the powers-that-be over this past strange month is that we are All Mourning Now; we are mourning for a Leader who unequivocally did good, apparently. The fact that the Leader was the very personification of Empire (or better, its remnants) seems to have become a minor detail. And yes, this is the very same Empire that all the postcolonial and decolonial university scholarship is raging against right now, but there was still a curious silence coming from the very same university auditoria when it came to this frenzied display of nostalgia for Empire. Sure, one could attribute this to respect; respect for the loss of an individual, a brief moment when we can all afford to bow our heads in solemn silence. 

Except, once again, it wasn’t “all” of us. My workplace, the very same workplace where – just like so many others – has been making great strides toward a decolonial understanding of knowledge, ordered everyone off teaching on the day of the funeral. Instead, lecture theatres were to open up for those who wished to watch the funeral procession in London. There are at least two great ironies here. First, universities are still, up to the present day, meant to be places of critical thinking, reason and dialogue; attendance of a funeral procession (even remotely), on the other hand, is a religious and deeply personal affair. Second, as a shrewd colleague of mine noted, opening up the university buildings on a bank holiday meant that not all university workers were entitled to said holiday; the building cleaners, caretakers and all other staff essential to ensure the smooth operation of the buildings still had to be at work. 

Of course, the counter-argument here would be that a bank holiday does not automatically give workers any statutory right for time off on the day. And this is precisely where the problem lies. We are still ruled by statute, not in the sense of a law but in a sense of decree; and in this instance the national decree was to unequivocally mourn. For the third time in a row (and counting, no doubt) the acceptable public narrative was singular: there is only one way of dealing with Covid, there is only one truth in the Russia-Ukraine war, and there is only one way to react to the death of the Queen. Where one sits in either of these issues is now irrelevant, as there is literally no space to express dissent. BBC coverage of the Queen’s funeral audio dubbed with the same outlet’s coverage of Kim Jong-il’s death in North Korea in 2011 was funny at first, but then it was chilling: the past month has felt like each of us – and each of us alone – must listen and abide to a single tune, the tune of solemnly paying our dues. Like a crowd silently moving around, awkwardly dancing to the same tune coming through our headphones, we congregate, just like thousands did in the Great Queue, but we do so on our own. The end of the Empire and its forced universalism is fittingly marked by an equally forced, equally universal atomisation.