Tuesday 15 June 2010

Foot in mouth disease strikes again

Out of step with the national mood as ever, I sat happily watching the highlights of Trooping the Colour on Saturday evening, while the rest of the country was glued to England’s inglorious World Cup performance against the United States.

As my elderly neighbours remarked when I called upon them during the live broadcast of the parade that morning, “There’s no other country in the world can put on a show like this.” The same might be said of the football, of course, but for sadly different reasons. On Horse Guards Parade, everyone looked smart and knew their roles to perfection. No-one made any risible mistakes, and there was no sign of any of the participants feeling the urge to hug and kiss each other when it came to a successful conclusion.

I was reminded of my late father’s ritual declaration at the start of each FA Cup Final that the best players on the pitch that afternoon would be the Guards band entertaining the crowd at half time.

Soldiers’ wages seem remarkably good value compared with those of footballers, too. And who would you rather have on your side if you came under terrorist attack? The Brigade of Guards or Fabio Capello’s finest? I rest my case.

My son Charlie, who will be one on Friday, was enthralled when I showed him edited highlights of the royal birthday celebrations on Sunday. He particularly liked the men shouting orders, the big drums, the slow marches, the horses and the gun salute. He also seemed quite chuffed to see the Queen and Prince Philip, though a little puzzled that they looked so different from their appearance in his favourite picture, a cinema poster on my dining room wall for Flight of the White Heron, the film of their Commonwealth tour of 1954.

That was also the year I was born. Since then Britain has changed almost beyond recognition, though some of us can shelter from that reality by living in favoured rural areas where some aspects of traditional life survive; and by carefully choosing our TV viewing to focus on those few unchanging rituals that the BBC still feels obliged to cover.

Most of this sea change has taken place since I left school in 1971, a fact of which I was reminded on Thursday night when I went to the Bacchus in Newcastle for a reunion drink with a couple of men I have not seen since then. (Even at 56, it seems a bit unnatural to be writing “men” rather than “boys”.) We had taken the precaution of exchanging a couple of photographs beforehand, but I still found them surprisingly recognisable. Apparently the main difference in me is that I am a lot less reserved than I was 39 years ago, which may not be an unqualified blessing.

I should certainly have kept my mouth shut when one of them explained that he too had waited until he was over 50 to start a family, following his marriage to a lovely Russian lady, and I jokingly piped up “You did not find her on www.russianbrides.com, did you?” Only for him to reply “I did, actually.”

First prize for tactlessness to Hann, as usual. Trooping the Colour is not the only thing in national life that never changes, but I dearly wish that I could learn to engage brain before opening mouth. However, recent disturbing signs of failing memory and increasing confusion make it increasingly unlikely that I ever will.

So if there is anyone else out there who has not seen me since 1971 and feels that they would like to get together to be accidentally insulted over a pint or two of real ale, may I urge them drop me a line immediately, while I might still have some vague idea who they are.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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