JANUARY is rightly named after the two-faced Roman god Janus. He looks both back and forward.
Looking back can be rather forbidding, for our memories, mine at least, seem to be mainly regret tinged by occasional bouts of unprofitable nostalgia.
But, come on, we should try to put on a brave face at the turn of the year, at least for a day or two. It’s hard to fan the flames of cheerfulness, what with all the wars and rumours of wars and the seemingly endless economic downturn. What can we find to look forward to?
The Olympic Games promise excitement and they are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people. Even I’m too young to remember the last time the games came to Britain, the London Olympics of 1948. But I have followed them in the newspapers at least since they were held in Helsinki in 1952.
I remember we drew posters of them in junior school.
But the biggest event this year will be the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s noteworthy to recall just how many times grand royal events have come along when the country has been in a pretty bad way. The Coronation of George VI in 1937 was celebrated as war with Hitler loomed. And that of Queen Elizabeth herself, all the way back in 1952, was against the backdrop of the Korean War. At home the British people were exhausted after the seemingly endless experience of national suffering: the hardship of the Thirties slump, the six years of war and the following six years of economic austerity.
It was grim in 1953, but the newspapers were united in the great cause of cheering us all up. They all ran “Countdown to the Big Day” specials with pictures of the young Princess Elizabeth and her handsome Prince Philip. On June 2, Coronation Day itself, it chucked it down nationwide. I had great fun.
While my mother and young sister went to my aunt Hazel’s in Bradford to watch the proceedings on television, as we didn’t yet have one, I sloped off with my dad for a day’s fishing on the Wharfe at Boston Spa. I remember that field of bullocks, too, and my dad’s pal Ernest saying: “It’s all right, Peter. They won’t harm you.” And then we had to run like hell. The whole country went wild when the news came through that Edmund Hilary had climbed Everest.
At the time of the Silver Jubilee in 1977, I had just arrived in my first job in charge of a parish. I was the young Vicar of Tockwith and Bilton with Bickerton, on the rich farmland between York and Wetherby. I arranged a commemorative service in Tockwith church and the whole village turned out to see the children from the village school perform a little musical play in honour of our Queen. It was a timely reminder of the true Yorkshire spirit. I mean, the service and party afterwards were a roaring success but next morning one of the churchwardens stopped me in the street and, with a face like the clouds over Boston Spa on June 2, 1953, said: “‘Ere, Vicar, I’ll tell you what I didn’t like abaht last night...” I knew I was back in my native Yorkshire all right. And Virginia Wade won the women’s singles at Wimbledon.
Despite our well-known differences, surely the Diamond Jubilee will be something to get us all to rally round. Amid the continuing gloom, let’s find in it something to lift the spirits.
A Happy new year.