We've all played the where-were-you game. It comes round roughly every four years, like the World Cup. "Where were you when you heard that Di had died?" "On 9/11?" "When Blair finally walked?" "When they got Osama?" Well, in case you've not yet noticed, the impending death of the Queen is a where-were-you to rival them all. And most exciting of all is that it's pretty much inevitable. Even an ox like Lizzie Windsor can't outrun the reaper forever, as her recent brush with gastroenteritis has shown.
The problem, as ever, is that no one knows exactly when this massive news-asteroid is going to land. You could, for instance, be in the middle of shagging a Latvian prostitute when some madam bursts through the door in tears and splutters: “The Queen, she's dead!”
You check your phone. You have 45 new text messages. “Bugger,” you sigh, as your penis wilts from the mood-killer of regal mortality. “This is going to be a tricky one to explain to people at parties in years to come. Especially considering I was burning a ten-year-old child with cigarettes when I heard they'd got Osama.” So it will go, up and down the land, as people's banal life routines become freeze-dried into immortality. Which is why, personally, I am going to spend much of the next fortnight water-skiing, so that I will have something that makes me sound aspirational to tell people when the moment comes.
The death of the Queen is something many of us have been anticipating all our lives. But are we actually ready for it? Our news glands will probably go numb from the sheer intensity of news-worthiness they're being blasted with, and initially, no one will be able to wrap their heads around it. Britain will go off its nut in a way that will be difficult to imagine.
Britain loves to go off its nut, anyway. For the Diamond Jubilee, everyone stood around getting soaked to the tits just to watch a live Queen stand on a boat. Imagine how much more adverse weather they'd put up with for a dead Queen. It would be almost limitless.
In general, the media tries not to look too hard like it might be salivating at the prospect of a dead Queen, but the way those Royal reporters were loitering outside King Edward VII Hospital over the weekend… well, you could see the necro-lust in their eyes. Like the lifeguard who fantasises about all the people he's going to drag from the water, all of them understood that if the Queen did die from her stomach bug, it would be the highlight of their careers.
Huw Edwards, Kay Burley, Jon Snow… secretly they all long for her to die. Then the nation's eyes will turn to them: it'll be their job to comfort, to explain, to inform, and to ask various people whether “the Queen would have liked this”.
“And do you think the Queen would have enjoyed this carpet of flowers outside Buckingham Palace?” Burley will ask Jennie Bond.
“Oh yes,” Bond will reply, inwardly already writing out her appearance invoice in her head. “She really loved flowers. Loved them. Absolutely.”
The public response will be all id and super-ego, nothing in-between. There'll be tonnes of censorious behaviour: a flaying of those not wearing their black armband low enough, some tarring and feathering of the few republicans who dared to point out that she was just an ordinary gal who had a cushy life.
And, at the id end, as with Di a swell of emotion will spill over into a sense that the Royals simply aren't doing enough to express their grief. Unfortunately, unlike 15 years ago, the public of today will have been hardened to the money shots of emotional pornography by years of reality TV. A pleasant little speech just won't cut it any more. William will be hauled out in front of the cameras, and interviewed mercilessly until he blubs his guts out for his dead grandma. The bloodlust sated, William becomes the hero of the hour, almost as if he were a real-life Pinocchio who had suddenly turned from wood into boy.
The wonderful thing is that someone, somewhere, has already been doing a lot of planning in this kind of area. Several people, in fact. No doubt the newspapers have already been round and collected the little histories of people who were born on the same day as the Queen. No doubt someone in the archives at ITN got a call on Saturday morning telling them they should go over their "Life Of Queen" emergency VT package and check whether it needed updating.
This will be the ultimate no-news news event. If you thought it was boring watching Sky News' man outside the hospital speculate pointlessly over what Her Majesty may or may not have eaten; if you thought it was slightly amusing that the Guardian would instruct someone to write an FAQ on "What Is Gastroenteritis", well then you ain't seen nothing yet.
As the sheer demand for copy explodes, the papers will have to cover every angle imaginable. Three days after death, the Sun will be resorting to timelining the hour-by-hour process of bodily decomposition that the Queen is going through:
2PM: The body is now stiffening. The bowels have been most likely been evacuated. Her Majesty has roughly the texture of a pine wall unit covered in a tablecloth.
6PM: Putrefying gases are leading to small ruptures and explosions in the abdomen.
Over on page 84 of their Queen Tribute Souvenir Edition (Part Three), the Daily Mail will wonder aloud which one will be next to die, in “The Seven Royals Who Could Be Next To Go”. It includes Kate:
“Don't let the statistics fool you. Childbirth is always an ordeal. And with the hypertension she may have inherited on her father's side, there is always a chance Kate's heart could give in, despite the expert medical attention she is undoubtedly about to receive.”
Then lead from that straight onto a special report on "Why Funerals Are Great Modern Places To Find A New Partner", complete with three case studies of people who did just that, trussed up in black silk dresses that look slightly more expensive than something you'd find in Marks & Spencer.
But the worst will be the heart-warming stories of ordinary folk. The woman in Edinburgh who has carved an individual turnip into the shape of the Queen meeting every world leader of the past 60 years. The man in Manchester who has collected money from everyone on his miserable, bottom-rung council estate in order to raise £10,000 to send an embroidered cushion to Buckingham Palace.
If we make it through the national fever-dream, maybe we will all take a good hard look at ourselves. More than the "let's be a bit more huggy" look that Diana left us with. No. Maybe we'll take the sort of look at ourselves that people take when they wake up to find they've drunk a bottle of mouthwash, crapped the bedsheets and possibly killed the family dog. Maybe we will again begin to realise that Britishness isn't so much a nationality as a collective psychosis.