For as long as I can remember, I have been on a quest to find the perfect handbag. Until a few weeks ago, I seemed as likely to discover the Holy Grail. But unlike the Holy Grail, the object of my mission has changed as I aged.
Two weeks on from the Royal Jubilee celebrations, and I can’t quite bring myself to turn off the red, white and blue fairy lights outside my house, nor to take down the bunting. I don’t want to lose that carefree sense of fun that took over the nation’s lives, for all but the most hardened Republicans.
Cards on the table: I’m not especially a Royalist, but I do have a profound admiration for those Royals who work hard and tirelessly to do their duty for the country. I certainly wouldn’t want to swap places with the Queen. During the Jubilee period, it’s been a treat to see our national flag restored to its proper use of celebrating our national unity, rather than indicating right-wing tendencies or National Front affiliations. I hung the biggest flag I could find from my bedroom window. (“Are you doing that just to irritate Daddy?” asked my nine-year-old daughter, too perceptive for her own good of my husband’s revolutionary tendencies.)
Admittedly, the weekend of celebrations was not quite what I expected it to be. First of all, the very British but very uncooperative weather meant I didn’t get the chance to wear the long, light cotton sundress that I’d bought for the occasion in the colours of the flag. Secondly, our village decided to have a party in the recreation ground, rather than the street. To my mind, you can’t beat a street party. But we did have a jolly good time.
My best memories will be:
– laughing at the egg-catching competition on the rec (we were having so much fun that we didn’t realise the showers had turned into torrents until it was finished)
– snuggling under a blanket in front of a log fire with my daughter Laura, slightly steaming as we dried off after said village party, as we watched the Royal Flotilla (also in pouring rain)
– a frisson of pleasure watching the Queen and her inner circle start jigging up and down to the sounds of the Sailors’ Hornpipe played by the floating Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
– being astonished by the colour and imagination of the Jubilee-themed Flower Festival at the local church
– trekking up to our village’s Beacon Bonfire and spotting the next one at Uley, 10 miles or so away
After all, the whole point of a Beacon Bonfire is to be seen from afar, and send a kind of Mexican wave of bonfires across the length and breadth of the nation. And for a moment there, the nation felt just like a close-knit village. It was a fabulous feeling, and I really hope we don’t have to wait another 60 years to feel that way again. God Save The Queen!
If you like the British Royal Family, you might like these posts:
A taste of the Jubilee Flower Festival at St Mary’s Church, Hawkesbury Upton
What will you remember about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? In a town like Tetbury, so conscious of its royal connections, there will certainly be plenty of celebrations to choose from. But in twenty years’ time what will be your most vivid memories of the occasion?
If my experience is anything to go by, they may surprise you.
My daughter recently announced what for her had been the best thing about William and Kate’s wedding a year ago. (To you and me, the passage of a year is nothing, but when you’re eight, that’s a big proportion of your life – certainly long enough to make you nostalgic.)
At the time, she celebrated the event in all the ways I thought she should: watched the wedding ceremony live on telly, joined in our local street party, had a non-uniform day at school, went to a party at Brownies. But her fondest memory was none of these things.
“I was thinking of writing a letter to Prince William and Kate,” she revealed, “to thank them for making it such a special day for me.”
I raised my eyebrows. “And what are you going to say?”
“Well, I was going to thank them for getting married because if they hadn’t, there wouldn’t have been a street party, and it was at the street party that I started to become really good friends with Nicola, and we hadn’t known each other very well before then.”
And there was I fondly hoping that my invention of a Hunt the Corgi game might have been the highlight.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. My own recollections of national celebrations when I was young are equally unexpected. I was a teenager during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Though living abroad, I was spending the summer in England staying with my grandmother, and I had my teenage Dutch boyfriend in tow. I remember my grandfather giving us each a Silver Jubilee coin, and there being a lot of silvery stuff and British flags in the shops, but my most vivid memory is of the rivalry with my boyfriend over whose country had the best Queen. To my mind, there could only be one right answer. My faith in Britain’s supremacy was a little shaken when he told me proudly that his forebears had once sailed up the Thames in anger and taken possession of the Isle of Sheppey, something the history lessons at my school in England had singularly failed to mention. By the time the Wimbledon finals came round, our rivalry was intense.
It astonishes me now to have to relate that in 1977, both our nations were represented in the Ladies’ Singles Final: Virginia Wade playing for England and Betty Stove for the Netherlands. To get that far, they had put out in earlier rounds – wait for it – tennis legends Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Billie Jean King. It was as if this year’s tournament had been fixed specifically to emphasise the differences between me and my boyfriend.
So my strongest memory of the Silver Jubilee is of sitting on the swirly carpet of my grandmother’s living room, tense and shouting alongside my equally vociferous boyfriend, as we watched our nations do battle on the tennis court. I was convinced that Wade would win, as if by some kind of divine right – which was only as it should be in our Queen’s special year of celebrations. And win she did, but only after dropping the first set, to the detriment of my fingernails. Watching her hold her silver plate above her head was a truly historic moment. Gracious and elated in my victory, I didn’t realise the Dutch boyfriend would soon be history too.
However you choose to spend the Jubilee weekend, may it bring you many happy memories.
This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, June 2012.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might like this post about last year’s Royal Wedding: Saying It With Trees
Or if the postage stamp at the top turned you on, try this one: The Power of the Postage Stamp