Thursday, May 31, 2012

God save your mad parade

While clearing out my mum’s flat the other day (we’ve moved her to a Home for the Baffled and Irritating), I came across a dusty red presentation sleeve containing my silver jubilee coin.  The children immediately squirrelled it away to their room, informing me they’ll give it back only if they receive similar diamond-themed largesse from the Council. Back in 1977 I imagined the Queen had munificently sent the coins out herself to every child in the land. Certainly Man of the House was given the exact same one in Glasgow, and he slipped it under his pillow each braw bricht nicht to prevent it being thieved by the frightening neds who shared the filthy tenement block he called home. I’m convinced he’s hired Irvine Welsh to script these reminiscences.
Grange Girl couldn’t recall getting a silver coin, though she did remember dressing up for a street party as HMS Britain, made out of cardboard and milk bottle tops. Ah, memories. Just the words ‘street party’ and I’m back, ten years old, squinting into the perpetual-sunshine-of-childhood, slightly anxious about the unfamiliar Liebfraumilch-fuelled bonhomie of our street, and dressed as a little Dutch girl. I assume I must have had the costume already and doggedly insisting on wearing it to the party. I can still bring to mind the simultaneous feelings of pride in the little white hat with the turned-up corners, and hot embarrassment at the suspicion that I looked like a div. I wasn’t old enough yet to question my fervently patriotic feelings towards the Royal Family, particularly Andrew, who unbelievably was quite fanciable back then, if you were ten and inclined to wear clogs, anyway. I saw no conflict between my Union Jack scrapbook and my punkified Pippa dolls, whose malleable plastic cheeks I had pierced with safety pins.
My family kept itself to itself, but on this one glorious day no traffic was allowed in the street, and my mum was seen talking – even smiling! – to the other, more glamorous mothers previously categorised as ‘tarty’ or ‘probably anti-semitic.’ All the adults worked together to place trestle tables end to end, their uneven heights covered by sheets that had seen better days. Dads stood smoking in their ‘Life on Mars’style tank tops, and mums trotted back and forth with plates of, I suppose, flat little cheese sandwiches on white bread and Golden Wonder crisps. I don’t think we were allowed to eat anything else back then. Sitting in the middle of the road, in the middle of the afternoon, the heat almost setting my polyester Dutch dress aflame, my mother chatting vivaciously to people she held grudges against,  it felt like the world had tipped upside down, in a good way. But it was an illusion. Next day there was nothing but a few crusts in the gutter, and my mum shifting the lace nets muttering, “She’s off out again. Could she show any more bosom if she tried?’

Beth Miller, 14th May 2012. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine June 2012

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