Tag Archives: Diamond Jubilee

An Exciting Day

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Wednesday 13th June, 2012. A pretty fabulous day. At least until I realised I was catching a cold. Before that it was brilliant though. I went to London, with work, to help deliver the education program at the Royal Courts of Justice. But on the way I had a royal encounter…

It just so happened that the Queen was visiting Nottingham as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour that day. Nottingham has quite a history where Diamond Jubilees are concerned–it was as part of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897 that Nottingham was given city status. And the people of this city were certainly excited to see her…they think there were 35,00o just in the Old Market Square. I hadn’t given it much thought though, since I was off to London. Then I arrived at the station and found that the Queen would be arriving shortly and, since I had a train ticket, I could wait in a place beyond the ticket barriers where only a few people were waiting to see her (compared to elsewhere).

So I did. And I reflected on why I wanted to. Politically, I’m fairly ambivalent about the monarchy. I recognise their privilege, the inherent unfairness of anything hereditary and their real irrelevence to the politcal life of this country. And yet…and yet…I can’t help but be a bit of a fan. Perhaps because the Queen seems like a genuinely good person. Perhaps because I recognise that even if we didn’t have a monarchy we would undoubtedly still be led by with privilege and money, so I can’t hold that against them. But mostly I think it’s that I’m aware that I’m looking at history. The figures of the queens of the past fascinate me, all of them, but especially the first Queen Elizabeth. I was awed to see her tomb in Westminster Abbey and to just be a few feet away from her earthly remains. So to see a living queen, plus a future king and his future queen consort is exciting to me. I can’t help it.

Anyone who hears me talk about history will know that I am all about the history of the ordinary people. I love the untold stories, trying to work out the little details of the lives of the poorest people in society. My writing research and my job give me endless opportunity to understand those tales and to try to breathe life into them once again. However, it is impossible to ignore the big events of history, the stories of the powerful, the great and not-so-great. Those stories are interesting too and part of the fabric of this country’s history and culture. I can’t help but enjoy it. I was unashamedly excited to get to see the Queen, and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. When I’m an old woman, I’ll be able to say that I saw a Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year. No one’s been able to say that since 1897. It’s an event, a moment in time. And so very British.

So, without further ado, here’s some photographs, for anyone who hasn’t already seen them!

And if that wasn’t excitement enough, then I headed off to London. I love the place. History just oozes from every building and flagstone when you look at the place through my eyes. The Royal Courts of Justice are amazing…to be able to enter that grand doorway and actually have a job to do in there was wonderful. It’s an impressive and awe inspiring place, but I didn’t feel scared of it. When I was at Oxford University all those years ago the sheer grandeur and weight of history of the place terrified me. Now I feel quite at home in those surroundings, I find. I loved it there. Significant historically and such an important place–the highest civil court in the United Kingdom and main court of appeal. Wow.

And then I wandered around the vicinity. The Strand, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, Old Bailey, Cheapside, Holborn Viaduct. Even then names fascinate me. Bread Lane. Wow. And I saw so much history…not to do with kings and queen and great events…to do with what London has been to Londoners, and Britons, for centuries. The area destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, the churches rebuilt by Wren. The churches which house the bells of the rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’. St Paul’s Cathedral. The site of the old, infamous Newgate Gaol and the public executions outside, now the location of the Central Criminal Courts. The old newspaper offices of Fleet Street, the Temple Bar boundary dragon, site of the old City gate. The oldest tea shop in London. There is so much to see. I tried to soak it all in, but there’s never enough time in London, it seems!

Temple Bar boundary dragon, the Strand

Twinings tea shop, there on the Strand since 1706

I loved this. The site of an old well outside St Clement Danes Church.

The corner of the Central Criminal Courts…the site of the old Newgate Gaol

St Mary-le-Bow church, home of the famous Bow Bells.

Old newspaper offices on Fleet Street.

St Paul’s Cathedral

And the best part of all? I wasn’t remotely intimidated by any of it. Not the grandeur, the history, the hustle and bustle, the crowded tube or the very solemn Evening Prayer service at St Mary-le-Bow. I just enjoyed it all. I don’t know where this new confidence came from exactly and I can’t pinpoint on which day exactly I stopped being scared. But it feels very, very good indeed. 13th June just showed me how far I’ve come. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Beginning at the end.

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I’ve been enjoying the coverage of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations today. It’s hard not to get a little thrill out of being British on a day like this. I’m mostly ambivalent about monarchy as an institution, but what I have been enjoying is the sense of continuity. The Queen’s been reigning for 60 years, most of us can’t remember another monarch. And we’ve been ruled by (more or less) related kings and queens for centuries (with one notable gap). The river pageant today was the biggest in 300 years. But there was something like it 300 years ago. And it was impossible not to think of the great Tudor river pageants, those of the first Queen Elizabeth in particular.

Elizabeth II (via Wikiepedia)

 

Elizabeth I (via Wikipedia)

I like continuity. Something about it moves me and reassures me. I used to be very frightened of endings, of changes, of moving on. That fear is still there. When something is good, I want it to go on forever. I’ve not tended to have faith that the future will bring something equally good, or better. It’s partly irrational fear, partly lack of faith in myself, and partly lack of belief in other people. I don’t like to lose things. I’ve hoarded possessions, contacted people out of the blue after years, given up huge parts of myself…all in order to hold back change. To stop anything coming to an end.

But things do change. The royal court today is not remotely like that of the first Elizabeth. Part of what we’re celebrating in this Jubilee year is how much change there has been while Elizabeth II has been on the throne. Yes, she is a fixed point, but nothing else is. The element of continuity is lovely, but change cannot be avoided and, in fact, it should be celebrated.

 

I found some baby pictures recently. I loved looking through them, they made me quite emotional.

Me and my Mum c. 1983

My Dad and me c. 1983

 

I’ve always wanted to go back. To a time when things were pure, undamaged, when I was full of potential and nothing bad had ever happened. I didn’t like the feeling that the happy little girl, with her happy parents, was someone else, such a long time ago. I didn’t like the loss of continuity with her. I felt guilty that my choices had taken me away from her. It felt like so long ago and so far away. Which made me feel a little stranded in my present self. And frightened of losing anything else, of any more endings.

But change is impossible to avoid. Time ticks on and things have to change, there has to be a moving on. There has to be an ending. When I’m reading a good book, I realise it can’t go on forever. There will be a conclusion. There might well be a sequel in which I can revisit the things I liked about it. But I do have to close that particular book and put it on the shelf. I can admire the spine, think over the story, take it out and look at it, flick through the pages. But you can’t have a never ending book.

This has probably been the hardest part of life for me to accept. There’s a whole host of reasons, but I’ve always struggled with it. Just recently it’s been bothering me even more because I’m at a massive turning point. Not even a turning point, but a real ending in many ways. I reached a point, during the night last Friday when the sadness overwhelmed me in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before. It’s rare that I can’t stop crying and the tears are more articulate than any words. But it felt that way. I couldn’t shake it for the whole of the next day.

Then, in one of those weird convoluted ways that amazing things happen, I heard a song. ‘The End Where I Begin’ by The Script (from their self-titled album).

The lyrics caught me:

Sometimes tears say all there is to say / Sometimes your first scars won’t ever fade away / Tried to break my heart / Well it’s broke / Tried to hang me high / Well I’m choked / Wanted rain on me / Well I’m soaked Soaked to the skin / It’s the end where I begin.
Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes / Sometimes we’ve no choice but to walk away…It’s the end where I begin 
Now I’m alive and my ghosts are gone / I’ve shed all the pain I’ve been holding on / The cure for a heart / Is to move along, is to move along…What don’t kill a heart / Only makes it strong
It’s the End where I begin

Sometimes we don’t learn from our mistakes Sometimes we’ve no choice but to walk away…

And suddenly, the sense of the continuity of life struck me again. I am so grateful that I found my way to this song. You see, I realise I have the scars, I’ve been soaked the skin, my heart has been broken. It’s already happened and can’t be undone. But it has made me stronger. I survived it. I am that little girl, even now, and I’ve come through the rain and the battles. Scars are healed wounds, the bleeding has stopped, but they are reminders. And it’s time to walk away, to move on. To accept the end as a beginning. It’s like a circle. Every time you try to find where it ends, you also find where it begins.

It’s interesting too. I’ve been going to church a lot lately and yet it’s only just struck me that the central story of Christianity (whether you believe, take it as truth, or a metaphor) is one of an ending being a beginning. That’s what the story of Crucifixion and Resurrection is all about. If it was not for that terrible ending–of brutal death on a cross–there could not be the new beginning–the Resurrrection–the message of light and hope and eternal love. The end is the beginning.

I can’t go back to be that little girl in the pictures. But I can remember that she is part of me. Childhood ended, but I simply began again. There are always endings. I will endure loss. Some things will remain, they will stay with me while other things end. Other things will return, like the characters in sequels to well-loved novels. I can’t always control it.

But I can begin at the end and go through it and past it and onto things that are better, deeper, brighter, more fun. I will still be me. I will still be the happy child. But I’ll be the complex adult too. I’ll take some things with me and move on from others.

Now, this moment, summer 2012, in a year where continuity is being celebrated. This is the end where I begin.

 

(and by the way, my latest novel, The Locket and the Flintlock, is now available in both ebook and paperback form!)