A diamond mine of Friday Fun

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that there is an event of national – nay, international – significance taking place this weekend. At the very least (if you’re British) you’re on the verge of a four day weekend, which is bound to have captured your attention. I speak, of course, of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

You may remember my confession during the Royal Wedding shenanigans last year, of my conflicted emotions at such times. I may be the daughter of two republicans, but yet I’m a massive fan of London when bedecked with bunting. This year, the conflict has been resolved for me as another significant diamond anniversary is taking place this weekend – that of my mother’s birth. I find it deeply ironic (and pleasing) that this republican’s significant birthdays are always celebrated by our monarch declaring a public holiday. It’s exceptionally useful. So I’m off to Belfast on Sunday (after a wedding in Birmingham tomorrow, this weekend is beyond complicated) where red, white and blue bunting means something completely different, and there will be no flotillas. No matter, I have it on great authority that there will be an abundance of cake.

Few marketing tie-ins have been produced to celebrate my mother’s birth, but fortunately, many have been produced to commemorate our monarch acceding the throne. Here’s a collection of some of my favourites, just in time for you to go out and stock up in advance of the festivities…

Firstly, the oh-so-slightly inappropriate tie-ins. I’m sure the Queen is delighted that Marks & Spencer have decided celebrate her jubilee with appropriately themed pants and hosiery. Confession: I actually bought two pairs of the jubilee pants, but they were simply red/blue with white spots – I didn’t buy the ones with little crowns on. However, the crown ones were significantly more tasteful than pants with the Queen’s face on (not from M&S I hasten to add!):

Those are the M&S ones on the left. The ones on the right are from here.

Obviously, M&S has a massive range of jubilee tat – from pants and hosiery, to duvet covers, to cupcakes and, of course, biscuit tins. This is the one I’m lusting after, probably because it doesn’t actually feature much jubilee related art, but lots of lovely London images:

Sadly, this year’s Cath Kidston collection is rather corgi-heavy and pastelly, however, would you like a skirt bearing the image of 100’s of guardsmen? I rather think I would!

You might be wondering how best to celebrate the occasion – is there a local street party? Will you brave the London crowds? Or, will you simply stay home and order pizza? If you go for the latter, fear not, you can celebrate the jubilee with pizza too!

Thank Pizza Hut for this calorie-fest.

Oh, and you can accompany your pizza with jubilee themed crisps too:

There’s a whole host of goodness out there. If you want to browse more, I recommend this article from The New Statesman and this week’s Style List from Stylist Magazine. Finally, I leave you with the almost obligatory musical Friday moment – a collaboration between two of my favourite singing men (Gary Barlow and Gareth Malone) and the Commonwealth. Not going to lie, it gives me goosebumps every time and I may have nearly cried once. Don’t judge me.

An anthemic question

Apparently, the English public had the opportunity last year to choose what should be played as a ‘victory anthem’ in the event that any of Team England won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. This appears to have passed me by, meaning that I had no idea that as of this year, the tune in question would be Jerusalem.

England has no specific national anthem. In most cases where the home nations play separately (football, rugby…) it’s the British anthem of God Save the Queen. I strongly detest our national anthem – partly because I’m not a monarchist and partly because the poetic, musical side of me finds it dull and boring. Thanks to my career in Guiding I can sing all three verses, but none of them are particularly inspiring. The only decent version I’ve heard recently was at this year’s Last Night of the Proms when the Britten arrangement played was quite beautiful  – a rare occurrence.

True, it’s unusual for a national anthem to be a work of staggering musical and lyrical genius, but many do raise genuine emotions, even for those who don’t belong to the country. Who doesn’t still feel slightly moved by South Africa’s Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika, with all its post-apartheid connotations? What about the anthems that tell a story? The Star Spangled Banner may be overplayed at the Olympics, but it captures a moment in that nation’s history. My all-time favourite though, is Advance Australia Fair, closely followed by O Canada (though that’s possibly more owing to the version on the South Park soundtrack, than any north American romanticism).

The English had a short-list to choose from, consisting of Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Land of Hope & Glory. Personally, I’d have gone for the latter – it’s been a bit of a favourite ever since I discovered Elgar aged 9. [My deeply non-patriotic father was rather embarrassed by my regular insistence that Pomp & Circumstance be played as our classical accompaniment to Sunday lunch, so introduced me to Elgar’s Cello Concerto as a way of distracting me…it worked.] To be honest, the words are far more poetic than our regular anthem and (while slightly naff) at least say something positive about the country, plus the tune’s a good ‘un with fabulous orchestration.

I’m pretty sure I’d never sung Jerusalem until my first Leavers’ Service at the grammar school I joined age 14. It’s not in the Methodist hymn book (nor is it’s fellow patriotic favourite, I Vow to Thee My Country – another cathedral service essential). William Blake’s poem and the accompanying tune will probably forever be associated with the Women’s Institute as far as I’m concerned (though with the additional element of the Calendar Girls getting naked), plus, it just doesn’t make any sense…

So what should it be? Ought there to be a competition to write a new one from scratch? Probably not, the composers who actually would have done a good job of it are dead now, we’d probably end up with an Andrew Lloyd Webber creation. Perhaps we could even ditch the British anthem when the current monarch dies?

In the mean time, it seems that the Guardian readership at least agree with me that Land of Hope & Glory should have beaten Jerusalem. You have a day left to vote, but the former’s currently in the lead with 38.4%.

Caption Competition

The other day, while passing through Euston on our way up north, C spotted a postcard amongst the tourist tat that had him in stiches. On our way back yesterday went to have another look at it and it instantly dissipated our black mood (the result of too late a night working and too early a train that morning) – so we bought several copies of it. Even now whenever I take a look at it, it brings a smile to my face.

Your job is to come up with some kind of caption – particularly about what might be going on inside our Monarch’s head…

When two queens became friends

Once upon a time, in an island kingdom far, far away, there was a Queen who ruled over many islands (169 to be precise). Thanks to this Queen’s grandfather, the island kingdom had formed a bond with another island kingdom on the opposite side of the world, who did not colonise it, but agreed to protect it in the same way it protected its other dominions.

In 1953, a young Queen took to the throne of the United Kingdom. Many foriegn dignatories were invited to pay their respects to the new monarch, but only one of these was a reigning monarch in their own country. On a rainy June day, Queen Salote of Tonga created a stir when she travelled to the coronation without so much as an umbrella – the British public fell in love with her.

A new friendship formed between the two Queens, so much so that when the young Queen decided to tour the world visiting her empire’s colonies, she included a visit to the island kingdom of Tonga so that she could meet Queen Salote again – even though it wasn’t a colony and was miles away from any other destination.

It’s a quaint story, but I love it. For many in Britain it’s the only reason that they’ve heard of Tonga (unless they’re rugby fans), and Tongans are immensely proud of it for several reasons. Firstly, because they are fiercely protective of their independence and the fact that they were never colonised. Secondly, Queen Salote is their most loved monarch ever (the girls school named in her honour still wears black armbands over 3 decades after her death). Thirdly, they love the British monarchy too.

Last night I had the rare opportunity to see the land of my birth on TV. Channel 4 began a series on the Queen’s tour of the empire in 1953 with a programme that included her visit to Tonga. There was a modern day visit too, including some classic Tongan moments – like hearing a church choir sing ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ in Tongan and meeting Salote’s grandson, the current King, who sounds like a British Royal and drives a London taxi! Not to mention the obligatory eating of many pigs.
I’m a history geek and love archive film footage, but to see Tongan scenes from over 50 years ago was actually quite moving – there’s not a lot of it. Watching the presenter leave Fua’amoto airport made me realise that it’s nearly a decade since I visited, and perhaps it’s time to start thinking about another trip. In a week when Tonga’s made one of its rare appearances in the news thanks to a ferry disaster, it was great to see some positive exposure for my beautiful birthplace.

Things I have in common with the Queen

1. We’re both named Elizabeth.
(For the record, my distinctly anti-Royal parents chose my name for its Biblical connotations, as opposed to its royal ones. Thinking about it, does that set me up for almost an entire lifetime of being barren; finally having a son and then him being decapitated at the whim of a despot?? Hmmmm.)

2. People comment that we have rather posh accents.
(I believe we both pronounce “theatre” in the same 5 syllable way…)

3. We both have two birthdays.

It’s true! Officially, the Queen has her real birthday (April 21st) and her ‘official’ birthday (the 3rd Saturday in June). Why does she have two birthdays? I hear you cry. Well, according to Woodlands Junior School in Kent, who have a very informative website on the monarchy (yes, they’re the first ones that came up when I googled “queen elizabeth birthdays”) the June date is because:

‘It has long been customary to celebrate the Sovereign’s birthday publicly on a day during the summer, when better weather is more likely.’

I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m happy with that explanation!

Anyway, much more interesting is the question of why I have two birthdays! (Unless of course, you’re one of the many people I’ve already bored to tears with this story over the years.)

I was born in Tonga, which is twelve hours ahead of the UK.
My Mum gave birth at 4am Tongan time on July 30th, which is 4pm BST on July 29th.
Therefore, if I’m in the UK, I officially turn whatever age I’m turning at 4pm on July 29th, despite my recorded birthdate being July 30th.

Ever since I worked this out (at a fairly young age) I’ve begun celebrating on the afternoon of the 29th and continued well into the 3oth (and even the 31st when moved to).

The only spanner in the works is the fact that a dear friend shares my birthday and he argues that I’m only allowed to celebrate for 24 hours, thus meaning that the evening of the 30th is no longer my birthday and solely his. Personally, I reckon this is just a ploy to make me buy the drinks. It’s not working.

Needless to say, I work out the time difference wherever I happen to be in the world on July 29th/30th. Last year, I think I turned 26 whilst in Ben Gurion airport buying duty-free at the end of my Palestinian trip. The most complicated year was when I was in LA and my birthday arrived almost 24 hours early. (Or rather 20 hours, if you’re pedantic.)

As I’m now just showing off my well travelled-ness I’ll stop, but do make a note of the date, or rather dates…

A beautiful Tongan beach. Paradise.