Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Prince Charles' birthday. Now I'm no royalist, far from it. I remember one of my first acts of public defiance - refusing to stand for the English national anthem in my local cinema in Farnham. Bizarre to think what might happen now if it was played at any of the multi-screens around the country. Would there be an outbreak of uncontrollable laughter, uncomfortable shifting in seats, or would teenagers just assume it was a Dom Joly joke and that they were all on camera?

The national anthem came onto Radio 4 this morning to honour the man who's so enthusiastically upheld the royal tradition in sexual politics. I'd forgotten what a part it played in my childhood. It introduced the Queen's speech that, like millions of others, we had to watch religiously at Xmas and seemed to have been broadcast at the drop of a hat, really. In my mind it's inextricably linked with poor lip synching. I never learned the words. They must be very simple. Even at my terribly strict convent school, where we were taught how to curtsey to royalty and address bishops, they didn't teach us the words. Perhaps they assumed we had all been brought up on them.

I suppose I was at a disadvantage since I'd never been part of any uniformed youth group like brownies or guides, where I guess you must have to know the anthem since you have to parade with flags on national occasions and be patriotic. I went to brownies once, at the age of eight, when we moved to Farnham in Surrey. The brownie hut was just up the hill from our house and brown owl was a large, overbearing woman. There was a fake toadstool about the size of a milking stool (milking stool? you know what I mean) in the middle of a bare village hall. There was a mass of terminology about the uniform that I didn't understand, lists of badges you could go for which meant ticking more lists, communal singing and the ritual that finally sealed my decision to flee, circle dancing round the toadstool.

I still can't see a combination of brown and yellow without thinking of that evening. Walking down the hill with my mum afterwards asking if I could please have riding lessons instead because we hadn't bought the uniform yet, so there'd be no waste.

Perhaps if I had stuck with the toadstool I might have known the words to the national anthem and been able to sing along lustily this morning. I might have known a lot about knots, too. Anyway, Charles deserves a good birthday as much as anyone does, I suppose. Actually, for his lemon Duchy biscuits more than anything, despite the cost of them. Coincidentally, yesterday, I was thinking about Camilla and whether she should be a national symbol of waiting, held up to support the zen way.

I have just returned from a week's writing in Wales. A cottage on the Gower, fantastic view of the sea, walks above rocks. The house where I was staying was surrounded by a golf course. To go for a walk you had to look left, right and left again, just in case a ball was launched in your direction. I tasted Old Wood beer, brewed locally, for the first time while watching Wales play the Pacific Islands. It was a good combination.

It was an intense dose of that unique rural/seaside atmosphere which is so uplifting. Rocks talk, so do woods, mud and streams. To see houses with no road leading to them is a delight in the 21st century. It's a relatively gentle transition to London but what struck me first was a brilliant red tag on the side of a building as we were nearing Paddington. I realised I hadn't seen any in my week hiding away with notebooks.

Then getting on the train at Victoria I meet my next door neighbours, so we chat for nearly an hour and amazingly we haven't done that for months because our lives just don't coincide the way they did when the children were little and we hung around in parks for whole mornings or afternoons. Big hugs from my kids and lovely, lovely news. My daughter chosen to talk about personal and social education on behalf of her entire year group (13 forms) to a school visitor and my son invited to do a guest spot with a local rapper who's currently finishing off an album. It was wonderful to see them and those two achievements were icing.

Now to see of any of the poems I've been teasing out of my psyche will transfer from scribble to screen.

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