Posted in Writing

Putting the Great Back into Britain

my daughter and her friend at the village partyBack in the spring, with the calendar dominated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics, I expected our lives would feel a little empty, come September. What on earth could we look forward to after all that summer treasure: diamonds, gold, silver and bronze?

Yet with the Autumn Term upon us, I’m still remarkably buoyed up by all the excitement. The Olympics have left us a wealth of unexpected legacies, quite apart from the planned regeneration of East London. Here are some of the things that the Young household has gained. My nine-year-old daughter Laura’s points first:

  • A greater awareness of the world beyond the Cotwolds, its many countries, nationalities and ethnic diversity
  • An encyclopaedic knowledge of these country’s national flags
  • A keen interest in – and mostly, but not always, the ability to spell – numerous sports that she’d never heard of before this summer
  • An awareness of history being made all around her – she’ll have plenty of memories to share with her grandchildren, beginning every story with “I was there when…”

This is what I have gained from the London 2012 Olympics:

  •  The totally new experience of wanting to read a newspaper backwards rather than forwards. Previously the most use I’ve had for the sports section has been to line the cat litter tray.
  • A huge sense of relief that our beautiful national flag has been redeemed from dodgy punk rockers and right wing fanatics, to be flourished now with unremitting pride.
  • A renewed respect for the Royal Family. If that fabulous double act by the Queen and James Bond doesn’t soften the hearts of the hardest Republican, then nothing ever will.
  • A passionate longing to have one of those long-legged swimsuits that triathletes wear – and the figure to go with it. Watch my personal space – I’ll be taking up less of it from now on.
  • A genuine conviction that the main role of British athletes at international sporting events is not to provide comic relief, but to win medals and inspire generations to come with their talent, dedication and single-mindedness.
First page (of two) of the sheet music to &quo...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my husband, a proud Scottish republican, gained from this summer’s outpouring of British pride: so that Laura and I could enjoy the festivities unrestrained, we gave him free rein to go off and climb Scottish mountains all summer, Munro-bagging, as it’s known north of the border.

I know I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna, ever able to irritate gloomy friends with my “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” attitude. But now I’m sure there’s a much broader optimism afoot – a national conviction, in fact. We may no longer rule the waves, but boy, do we know how to make them. It’s been a truly Great British summer. I’ve forgotten and forgiven the rain.

This post was written for the Tetbury Advertiser (September 2012 edition).

If you liked this post and want to make the Olympics last a little longer, you might like to read some of my other posts about the Olympics:

Which New Olympic Sport Would You Choose?

The Olympic Spirit Meets Britannia

Sharing the Olympic Glory – or How I Learned to Love the London2012 Logo

Posted in Writing

From Diamond to Silver: Remembering the 25th Anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation

postage stamp from Queen's Silver Jubilee, 1977What 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.

photo of Virginia Wade, Wimbledon women's singles winner 1977
“I did it for you, Ma’am.”

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.

Betty Stöve, Dutch tennisplayer
Betty Stöve: no contest (Photo: Wikipedia)

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