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Archive for July, 2012

This past Wednesday we all enjoyed July 4th in the States, indulging in barbeques and general overeating with family and friends.  A grand celebration of 236 years of independence and pride – flags were hung outside houses and businesses, God Bless America and the Star Spangled Banner were sang more heartily than usual at ballgames, and the day was capped off with spectacular displays of fireworks around the country.

The Canadians have Canada Day. The Australians have Australia Day. The French have Bastille Day.  During the times I lived in all three countries – I joined the crowds and watched myriad celebrations of all that it means to be patriotic.

In Great Britain, we honour our national pride through pageantry and traditional ceremony without having an official annual celebration.  Last April, we watched the future King of England marry his sweetheart at Westminster Abbey.  Pomp and circumstance at its best.  Like many transplanted English friends, I watched it on the telly  – getting up at 4am to drink champagne and toast the newlyweds.  Instead of hiding my nationality behind a stiff upper lip I was proud to be British.   This year we’ve been congratulating Elizabeth II, our Queen, as she marks 60 years on the throne. Marching soldiers, carriages on parade, afternoon tea, a free concert at Hyde Park – and no doubt some fireworks too.  In just a couple of weeks the whole world will be watching London as we host the 2012 Olympics.  My American friends often say to me: “Nobody does that stuff as well as the British.”

So why are we so bad at celebrating our nationality the rest of the time?   There’s been talk of making Trafalgar Day a national holiday to celebrate our great victory at sea, or Battle of Britain day to honour our victory in the skies – or even Victoria Day to celebrate our longest-reigning monarch, but nothing has been done.  If you live in London or are visiting as a tourist, you can enjoy the Queen’s official birthday by attending Trooping the Colour.   In St Paul’s Cathedral crypt you will see the tombs of the great Sir Christopher Wren and military heroes Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, the latter who famously wrote in a dispatch after defeating Napoleon at Waterloo: “Nothing except a battle lost can be held so melancholy as a battle won”.  Only the British could be glum about a great victory over the French.

When I was growing up, we had fireworks on November 5th – and if we were lucky, a bonfire organized by the local council with baked potatoes and an effigy of Guy Fawkes tossed on the pyre.  Guy Fawkes was a member of a group of provincial Catholics who, in 1605, tried to restore one of their own to the throne, and attempted to assassinate King James I of England by blowing up Parliament in London.  Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder stored underneath the House of Lords – but an anonymous letter led authorities to his hiding place in Westminster Palace in the early hours of November 5th, and after questioning and torture – he gave up the details and was sent to the scaffold.  Ever since that day, we’ve celebrated one of our countrymen’s biggest failures in one of the coldest months of the year with bonfires and fireworks.   That is, of course, as long as it’s not raining and everything is cancelled.

Nowhere are our national failures more celebrated than in the world of sports.

This is probably the best time to watch the British being British – the English soccer team failing to advance (yet again) to the finals of the European cup, but being ever hopeful that “there’s always the World Cup – and we have the Olympics this year!”   We won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 (defeating the West Germans 4-2 – don’t mention the war, by the way) and have never come anywhere close since.   That’s probably why we’re so good at making the best of it – the stoic stiff upper lip prevails again.  Always look on the bright side of life (to quote Monty Python).

And then, of course – there’s tennis.   Wimbledon – the quintessential tennis tournament held on the hallowed grass of SW19.  Centre Court, the temple itself, where you curtseyed to the Royal Box until a few years ago and where white is still the mandatory uniform of play.   Where other nationalities have prevailed more often than our own, where “You Cannot Be Serious” was heard more than God Save the Queen, and where the weather always triumphed more than the hometown players.

In 1977, which also happened to be the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, our very own Miss Virginia Wade won the Ladies Singles Championship.   It was a Friday, and I remember I had been in Manchester visiting my Mum at her office that day.  People were crowded around the black and white televisions in the shop windows in town – there was no sound from the TVs because we were outside – but you could hear the cheers of the crowds on the street every time she won a point.  When she was given the gorgeous Venus Rosewater Dish by Queen Elizabeth herself it made us proud to be British all over again.

For the first time since 1936, we have a British player in the Gentleman’s Final.  There is a sense of national pride at Wimbledon unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time.  Apparently, Centre Court tickets are selling for 21,ooo British Pounds.  Strawberries and cream have already been consumed by the ton, Pimms is flowing in abundance, hats will be worn to protect our fair English skin from the sun (if it comes out, that is).  God Save the Queen!

Hopefully it won’t be raining, but if it is – the brollies will go up and the cover will roll over Centre Court.  The Union Jacks will be waved  – flags will be painted on faces and chests – and the British will let go of the stiff upper lip at least for a few hours.   World number 4 Mr Andy Murray is not from south of the border, like Tim Henman, but from Scotland.   Nonetheless, he will have the weight of our national pride on his shoulders as he tries to prevail against the magnificent Roger Federer, who will be chasing his own piece of history in his attempt to win a seventh Wimbledon title and regain the world number 1 ranking.

May the best (British) man win. There will be tears and cheers either way.   Jonathan Marray did it in doubles.  Let’s hope Andy Murray can do it too.

And if he doesn’t – well, there’s always next year.

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