Yesterday, whilst dashing from Banbury train station to Marks and Spencer to buy some delicious treats for BLG reading groups (the cakes alone are a good reason to come to a reading group!), I stumbled across the Queen.
The white-haired lady, immaculate in scarlet coat and hat, walked elegantly through an enthusiastic, flag-waving crowd. She posed for photographs, a sunshine-yellow posy in her hand and a gracious expression in her eyes. Flanked by burly men in suits, she seemed tiny, ancient: like any ordinary grandmother, in fact.
The man beside me turned to whisper deferentially: “it’s the Queen!”. I smiled at him, and we both waved as royalty and its entourage processed along the cobbles. The woman’s face, the focus of all these other faces in the crowd, appeared drawn; although not displeased. She looked chilly; she was clearly feeling the bitter nip of the November air. As I traced her glance up to the lone piper on the town hall tower, I suddenly realised how normal this person was. Like most of us there, she was tired and cold; but still feeling the joy of the music.
For the very first time in my life, I felt a faint pulse of patriotism. Over recent weeks, I have been quite envious of Americans and their Obama. We need inspiration too; and unfortunately there seems to be so little of it in the world of British politics. In a time where fathers torture their daughters, mothers permit the abuse of their babies and capitalism collapses around us, to who or what can we cling? Somehow Elizabeth Windsor – as much as she is a throwback to the injustices of predestined power and privilege – seems to embody something thoroughly stoic, decent and good.
Earlier this week, Bob Holcroft from Bibby Ship Management in Liverpool, reminded me of If by Rudyard Kipling which, in recent years, has been voted ‘the nation’s favourite poem’. It too encompasses those very British qualities of stoicism and decency and, for some reason, can make even the most hardened of readers feel quite emotional. Enjoy.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!