Watched the Jubilee Boat Parade. The Canaletto of ships spread like a tapestry. Tower bridge arms open wide. Somehow evocative of all that Britain does best, the guts of war, the little ships at Dunkirk, the majesty of royal pomp – and what Britain has lost. I don’t mean empire, though I remember as a child looking at a globe where one quarter was colored red for Britain, but the sense of who we are, the pride in endurance – exemplified by the 90-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, standing to attention for 80 minutes in the drizzling rain though sick enough to be helicoptered to hospital immediately after.
Duty is in his bones. What else would he do? That’s what we used to do, stiffened by tradition and service, or wry cockney humour through the Blitz. My aunt, before she died at 100, spoke of the post-war years with her husband, home from prisoner of war camp, forever changed.
“We never spoke of it,” she said. “It was best.” And her lips folded in resolve. Unbelievable to today’s world, but totally understandable to anyone with memories of the war.
Which makes me think how strange is memory. We carry not only our own memories, but by osmosis the era of our parents. War, air raids, bombed cities fringe my earliest memories along with driving through darkened streets and sitting on my father’s shoulders in the crowd outside Buckingham Palace on VE Day. Mistier but stretching back, lit by the emotion of my parents’ experiences, is the ’29 stock exchange crash, which ruined my grandparents, the bleak ’30s. Cameos of horse-drawn milk carts, rag and bone men, straw put in the street to hush the clang of hooves when my grandfather lay dying and a feeling of endless sunshine, somewhere far back with hawthorne blossom, orchards and later the lazy drone of a lone aircraft.