The Platinum Jubilee celebrations bring to my mind not just the Queen herself but all those of her generation, born in the shadow of the First World War, who have been role models for the rest of us.
The dedication to service that we admire in the Queen is a trait commonly found in people of her generation, no matter what their background.
The Great War must have had a lasting impact on those who were too young to have lived through it themselves but were raised by those who did. It must have been difficult to moan about your own problems when those around you were either traumatised by the trenches or haunted by the ghosts of those who never came back.
In many respects the Queen appears to be more a child of the 1920s than she is a product of palaces, tied more to the time rather than the place of her childhood.
I remember an official photo of the Royal Family that appeared in newspapers around 1980. Journalists had a field day mocking the fact that the hem on young Prince Edward’s trousers had clearly been let down, leaving the old trouser line visible.
The response from Buckingham Palace press office was that the Queen did not believe in wasting anything and liked to get good wear out of her children’s clothes. Just because her son had had a growth spurt was no reason to throw out a good pair of trousers. This wasn’t a fashionable attitude at the time; it seemed laughably fuddy-duddy. This was the dawn of the Eighties; the ethos was not so much Make Do and Mend as Chuck Out and Spend.
But as with so many things, the cycle has turned again and the Queen’s distaste for waste is now fashionable because we know it’s essential.
My great-aunt Margaret was born in the same year as the Queen – 1926. Although their lives couldn’t have been more different, they shared many common values.
Orphaned as a toddler, Auntie Margaret was raised by my great-grandmother, who was a widow in her 50s at the time. Her last year in school involved no education at all but was spent knitting socks for soldiers and filling out ration books. She would have loved to become a seamstress but no jobs were available at the time, so at 14 she went into the woollen mill where my grandma also worked to become a weaver.
Noise of looms
‘I grew up the day I walked into that mill,’ she used to say. The incessant noise of the looms in the weaving shed was deafening and most weavers ended up profoundly deaf by middle age.
Margaret never married or had children, never owned her own home, worked past retirement age scrubbing floors in a doctors’ surgery at night while also caring for elderly relatives. She loved to cook, bake, clean, knit, darn, sew, embroider and tend her potted plants. She never wasted a morsel of food or scrap of material. When she died, I inherited her sewing box full of what she would call ‘bits and bobs’. I can’t for the life of me think of a use for many of these random scraps but I hope I will grow into the sort of person who can.
Another great example of this generation is my husband’s grandfather Sid. A veteran of the Second World War, in peacetime he was a factory foreman as well as gardener extraordinaire in his free time. When the family were lucky enough to get a corner-plot council house in Redditch with a larger than average garden, Sid made full use of it, growing his own veg and flowers.
My husband remembers his grandfather in his trademark cravat and hat – an immaculately-dressed model of working-class diligence and decency. Never one for leisure, Sid also made toys for his three children. While he was busy in his shed or greenhouse, his wife Edna would be baking her locally-famous apple pies and knitting for England, providing jumpers and cardigans for all the family, right down to her great-grandchildren, only stopping in her eighties because of arthritis.
Like my Auntie Margaret, if there was anything Sid and Edna could make or do for themselves and those around them, they did. Their lives were a world away from the Queen’s but in values they were much the same. In the Queen, whom they very much admired, they saw not merely a monarch but a kindred spirit.
I think of Margaret and Sid and Edna as being in their own quiet ways as responsible for the good things this country stands for as the Queen.
Name that composter
When we discovered at Great Green Systems that some of our customers had given names to their Green Johanna or Green Cone composter, our family was inspired to do the same. There wasn’t much debate about what that name should be. For his love of gardening, his self-sufficiency, his recycling habits before people even knew the term, it had to be ….Sid.
There is something very reassuring about Sid the composter’s presence in the garden, watching over us as he gets down to work turning our food and garden waste into compost so we can feed our plants and soil. Sadly, Grandad Sid died before hot composters became a thing, but we know he would absolutely approve of this naturally efficient way of turning waste into something wonderful.
Neither myself nor my husband are green-fingered, but I feel that ‘Sid’ is watching approvingly as we finally follow in his footsteps by growing our own veg and flowers. Sometimes he must be rolling his eyes and thinking the apple has fallen very far from the tree, but hey… every journey starts with a single step, as they say.
We have a plant in our garden that is a cutting of a cutting from one in Sid’s garden in the 1950s and every time I look at it I feel that we are trying to walk in his footsteps. They are big footsteps to fill.
So on Platinum Jubilee Day on the 3rd of June, in our house we will raise a toast not just to the Queen but to all those of her generation we have been lucky enough to know and love.