When this year’s birthday presents remind me of the passage of time, the irony is not lost on me. Who wants to contemplate their own mortality on a day that brings them closer to it? Oh yes, I know that every day does that really – but not with the same dramatic impact as a birthday.
Unwrapping boxed DVD sets of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games makes me realise with a jolt that although these events were still in the distant future when I celebrated my previous birthday, now they are simply history. For future generations, unable to say “I was there when Mo Farah took his double gold!”, they will be the stuff of legend. Just as for me, the end of World War II is defined by snapshots of crowds rejoicing in Piccadilly Circus and a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, for my descendants, the 2012 Games will be defined by shots of Mo Farah’s astonishment as he crosses the finishing line to take gold (twice) and by soundbites of Chad Le Clos‘s ecstatic father celebrating the young swimmer’s victory.
Fastening around my wrist the hyacinth blue strap of my beautiful new watch bordered with Venetian millefiore glass, I mentally award top marks to my parents for their psychic powers. I’d never mentioned to them that I’ve had my eye on this watch in the Museum Selection catalogue for several seasons. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re so closely attuned to my tastes, when they’ve known me longer than anyone else has. For a moment, I gaze at the secondhand ticking round from one tiny glass flower to the next. It’s like some sort of ancient rural device for telling when it’s milking time. And then I think: there goes another minute of my life that won’t come again. Better stop clock watching and make the most of it. As I’ve said before (and I hope I’ll say many times again), “Seize the (birth)day!”
But later that evening, I stop worrying. Rummaging in the bathroom for a new bottle of nightcream (yes, I’m now old enough to qualify for nightcream), my hand alights upon a small, blue Occitane bottle that may have the answer to my prayers. It’s an elixir of immortality, according to the label, at least for the face and neck. I wonder what would happen if I splashed it on all over? I think I’m going to need a bigger bottle.
When I first started thinking about the imminent arrival of 2013, I didn’t want 2012 to end. For so long, 2012 had been a year to look forward to, full of promise, from that day back in 2007 when London, my home city, was awarded the 2012 Olympics.
Then a couple of years later the build-up to the Royal Diamond Jubilee began. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a royalist, I was excited at the prospect of living through historic events that people would talk about for generations to come, like VE Day or Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. (I’m now rooting for the Queen to outlive her famous ancestor and set a new record that will be, by association, ours.)
2012 did not disappoint
These events created some very special memories for me. As the commentators said of the now legendary “Super Saturday” for British athletes, I will be proud to look back and say “I was there”.
Not all my favourite memories of 2012 relate to national events, but my other personally and locally momentous occasions, like the national ones, were planned and expected well in advance:
meeting my Canadian cousin’s daughter for the first time (I hadn’t seen her father since he was a child, in the 1970s)
a visit from my American schoolfriend’s daughter in July (I’d last seen her mother in the 1980s)
my father’s 80th birthday in September
the publication of my first book in October
As yet, 2013 will be more of a mystery tour. It feels odd to be on the threshold of a year of uncertainty, after a year of such precise planning and predictability.
It doesn’t help that I always find odd years disconcerting. 2012 always sounded like it was going to be neat and pleasing; 2013 just sounded messy and vaguely threatening.
But as it turned out, on New Year’s Day 2013 we awoke to blue skies and sunshine for the first time in weeks. This promising omen was echoed by a surge of optimism from my friends and family, cascading down my Facebook timeline and Twitter feed. Everyone seemed on great form and ready for another year of triumph
And all of a sudden, instead of being filled with foreboding as I take down the 2012 wall calendar and flip open the 2013 one in its place, I’m feeling excited and optimistic. It doesn’t matter any more that our national annus mirabilis has drifted quietly downstream into the history books. Starting to fill in my 2013 diary, I’m already at ease with writing the new year’s date – something that usually takes me months to get used to.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to be thinking to myself: “2012? That’s SO last year!”
Happy New Year and may 2013 bring you your heart’s desire.
(This new post is about how the Olympics has transformed my dawdling daughter into a clock-watching competitor in the swimming pool.)
Wading into the warm, quiet waters of Monmouth public swimming pool on Sunday, I am mentally prepared to drift about for an hour playing whichever lazy games take the fancy of my nine-year-old daughter Laura. We’ve been taking her swimming since she was tiny and she has developed into a real water baby.
With the encouragement of my husband, who is a much more enthusiastic swimmer than me, (I think he may have been a merman in a previous life), Laura quickly graduated from a floating baby seat to inflatable armbands to being a free swimmer. However, we’ve never signed her up for swimming lessons, unlike many of her friends, who are called up regularly in Friday celebration assembly to collect swimming certificates for ever-greater distances. She’s never wanted lessons either, preferring to mess about and play games, in between short bursts of very competent swimming, much of it completely underwater. Our only concern about her performance in the pool is that we sometimes wonder whether she’s ever going to come up for air. The child has the lungs of a seal.
Laura’s games in the pool have of course changed over the years, from having me drift about the pool with her in my arms singing songs about water babies, to having to impersonate tug boats when she was about 4 and obsessed with a video called Tugs (a sort of floating Thomas the Tank Engine), to pretending we’re various sea creatures.
I’ve had the occasional twinge of guilt at not making her take swimming lessons, but at the same time we’ve not wanted to spoil the sheer pleasure she has in being in the water. When she was about two, we spent hours on a beach in Greece watching her repeatedly climb on to a small rock and jump off into the water, with as much concentration as if she were trying to mentally calculate the volume of the water she was displacing, like Archimedes in his bath.
Not surprisingly, her current favourite television viewing is an Australian teenage series called H20: Just Add Water. This is all about three mermaids -0r rather, teenage girls who, after a trip to an enchanted island, discover they turn into mermaids every time they come into contact with water. So in Monmouth I’m fully expecting that we’ll have to play H20. I’m just wondering how to persuade my husband to be one of the mermaids when she takes me completely by surprise.
“Come on, let’s have a race!” she cries, and immediately starts to swim with great concentration towards the deep end.
I follow, feeling slightly put out. Usually I’m begging for time off from her watery games to do some actual swimming, but I hadn’t anticipated being made to race. She beats me easily to the far end of the pool.
Then she spots the clock above the pool with its big red second hand ticking round.
“Time me, Mummy!”
And she’s off again.
This happens several times before we revert to our usual improvised games with woggles (you know, those great long bendy sponge sticks), and it’s not long before every child in the pool is trying to do the same as her. She is very inventive with them. I’m left wondering what has brought on her sudden need for speed. Previously, I’d have said Laura doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body. While many children can easily be chivvied into doing things faster – dressing, eating meals, bathing – by turning the activity into a race, Laura has always resisted. In fact, trying to make her race usually only slows her down, as she resists any attempt to hurry her, no matter how subtle.
I can only blame – or rather, thank – the London 2012 Olympics. We spent a long time glued to the aquatic events this summer, especially those involving the wonderful Ellie Simmonds, whom Laura really admires. Perhaps it is this that has transformed Laura’s take on clock-watching from something irritating that Mummy does in the mornings to something really valuable that wins gold medals for her heroes. I am delighted. Either that, it might be the superpower that the H20 mermaids have – they can swim as fast as speedboats when they’re in a hurry. Either way it’s – dare I say it? – a sea-change in Laura’s attitude. Their magic is catching.
It’s not just in the swimming pool that Laura’s got her eye on the clock. Voluntarily, she’s dug out her watch, which I suspect had been strategically hidden some time ago, and she has started wearing it every day, even in her sleep. She’s timing herself on other activities too. I dare not intervene for fear of breaking the spell. I guess it’s another milestone in her growing up, taking responsibility for her own time management, and I am truly grateful.
All the same, I hope our days of playing mermaids will not be over any time soon.
If you enjoyed this post, here are some others you might enjoy:
I no longer have to worry about which events I’m missing if I go out for the evening
On evenings in, I don’t burn holes in my ironing when, so gripped by the excitement of an event, I forget to keep moving the iron
I can take the Union Jacks down from the front of the house, where they’re practically in shreds, having been there since the Diamond Jubilee kicked off this amazing English summer
I’ll save a lot of money on Kleenex, no longer being reduced to tears at least once a day by the athletes’ amazing victories
Shops will return to their usual shorter Sunday opening hours (did you notice that the restricted Sunday opening times were removed for the duration of the Games, in hope of extracting extra cash from Olympic tourists? When were those poor shop assistants meant to watch the events?)
We can reproduce the Olympic logo without fear of being sued
I can once more plan trips to meet friends in London without worrying about being caught up in crowds of Olympic spectators
But – did you guess? – I’m bluffing. I STILL don’t want them to end, even though their closing days have produced so many wonderful memories to treasure. Not least was the Mayor of London’s priceless speech at the Athletes’ Parade through central London today. Only the gloriously brazen, blustering Boris Johnson could get away with some of the things he said – and whatever your politics, you have to love his spirit. (If you missed it, you MUST watch it here.)
If Boris was right about the creation of a new generation on our nation’s living room sofas during the Games, I’m willing to bet that by time the athletes are leaving the starting blocks of Rio 2016, Britain’s nursery schools and playparks will be full of little Jessicas, Ellies, Mos and Jonnies, named in honour of our London 2012 heroes. I hope there’ll be a smattering of small Borises too.
Since catching Olympic fever this summer, I’ve started to view the antics of our village children in a different way.
I’ve always known that Hawkesbury turns out talented children, as anyone could see from the children’s entries section of the Village Show. Hawkesbury Primary School is renowned for producing great all-rounders, not least because it offers an impressive array of after-school clubs, from cooking and cross-country running to journalism and orchestra.
There is also an extraordinary choice of children’s activities elsewhere in the village. Many are so popular that they are fully subscribed, even for the older age groups, who tend to drift away from such activities in urban communities.
These opportunities are only made possible by the dedication and hard work of the adults who run them. There are also clubs set up by the children themselves, encouraged by the school to make good use of lunchtimes and enjoyed by children of all ages. Our children are lucky to have so much purposeful, fulfilling activity readily available to them, as well as our gorgeous rural setting – and they know it.
Since the London 2012 Olympics, I’ve become even more impressed by our children’s activities. Inadvertently, I’ve found myself transforming into an unofficial Team GB talent-spotter. Seeing a child cycling at speed down the high street, I fast-forward to the 2020 Olympics and picture them surging ahead in the Velodrome. Spotting a child swing with ease across the monkey bars in the playpark, I imagine them, eight years on, performing on the parallel bars in the Olympic Gymnastic Arena. Will the proposed village skate park, nearing completion of its fundraising appeal, generate members of the 2020 Team GB BMX team? I never knew BMX biking was an Olympic sport till London 2012, but it made impressive viewing.
Now there’s a good reason to help the HawksNest Skate Park appeal cross the finishing line this autumn! London 2012 may be over, but for the children of Hawkesbury Upton, the adventure may be only just beginning.