Jubilees and a Slow Start to Summer

A month ago, I wrote that we were waiting on tenterhooks for the swifts to return, and to see if there were any takers for the nest boxes we had installed. I am delighted to say that the birds arrived a couple of days after the post was published, although there have been no obvious takers for the ‘accommodation’ we are providing. Unfortunately, the swift box that plays swift calls developed a fault. I don’t want to attract swifts with laryngitis, so it was sent off for repair, but that meant we lost a couple of weeks. The sound of swifts is like lost souls wheeling and shrieking overhead, but the sight of them makes up for the sound.

The swifts may not be breeding here this year, but the rest of the wildlife is making up for it. The blackbirds’ alarm calls let me know when there is a cat in the garden or there is a hawk about. Yesterday I stepped out of my office to the alarm of a young, and newly fledged, blackbird foraging outside. It panicked and flew into a window on the side of the conservatory, fortunately slowly, so it was not knocked out. From there it dove into the shrubbery and looked accusingly at me. There is a young squirrel in the garden that comes down to steal the bird seed. I have watched it playing. It is like a kitten, mock shock at its own tail and gambling about happily. It is also not scared of me, a relationship that will have to change once the walnuts on the tree next to the office are ripening. Then it is time for the water pistol, and we become enemies.

I wrote this blog/letter over the Jubilee long weekend. We were given public holidays on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd of June to mark, and for some, celebrate the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. The opinion polls from YouGov showed the British people are surprisingly neutral when it comes to the monarchy. I completed a ‘YouGov’ daily survey a couple of days ago. The ‘live’ unweighted results showed only 46% of respondents thought the royal family is a good thing for the UK (30% think it is a bad thing). The Queen does a bit better, with 62% having a favourable view of her. A surprising 54% said they would not celebrate the Jubilee, although they will obviously enjoy the holidays. Of course, given there is no clarity on what we might have instead, most seem to think the monarchy should continue in some form. This, and other polls, are at YouGov.

Our neighbour in the house opposite hung up a string of Union Jack bunting to mark the occasion, but she was the only one on the street to do so. The parish council organised a ‘Summer Fayre’ on the recreation ground. All in all, it seemed pretty low key in the provinces, if not in London. The weather played ball, a clear and mostly cloudless sky on Thursday, but not too hot. The forecast was for the good weather to continue over the weekend, not good news for the garden.

I watched and enjoyed the Trooping of the Colour and the fly-past live on the television on Thursday. There can be no doubt that the British ‘do’ pageantry really well. The sight of the various Guards regiments marching on Horse Guards Parade, and in front of Buckingham Palace, was impressive. The red tunics and absurd bearskin hats make for a real spectacle. The BBC commentators on the parade peppered their commentaries with ‘fun facts’, for example officers rode grey horses so they could be more easily identified by their troops, although the downside must have been they could also be targeted by the enemy.

The bearskin hat was worn by most of the soldiers taking part in the ceremony. This was originally developed to add to the height of the soldiers and intimidate an enemy, an early form of psychological warfare. They are not unique to the British Army, and not all regiments use them. The first was the Grenadier Guards, following the Battle of Waterloo in 1814. At the moment, there are eight British regiments who have the right to wear them. As far as I can tell they are still, unbelievably, made from the fur of Canadian black bears. There is, indeed, a lobby to move away from using real fur.

The fly-past was impressive. There were fourteen waves of aircraft. The first few were helicopters of various types; they were followed by transport and reconnaissance planes and then various fighters. The Red Arrows brought up the rear. The stars of the show were the World War II planes. It is amazing to see them still in the air; all are over 70 years old. The Battle of Britain flight included a Lancaster bomber, Spitfires and Hurricanes. The sound of those deep rumbling engines is visceral. The Queen was involved in active service during the Second World War, and I wonder how she felt as she watched and heard the planes.

Apart from the incredible discipline of the troops, it was telling that there were no visible errors. Something that is hard to believe with so many men and women on parade. I well remember the British army parades in Swaziland before independence in the 1960s. These were held on the Oval in Mbabane and we, unfeeling callow youth, would watch with great interest to see which of the troops would faint. There would be a perceptible unsteadiness and then the man would fall forward and lie prostrate on the ground. As I remember they were generally left where they lay. I must admit to having felt concerned when the soldier was an officer holding an unsheathed sword in front of them.

The Jubilee was a welcome distraction as the British political scene is in a real mess. The conservative government hoped that they would be able to draw a line under ‘party gate’. This was the revelation that various people in the government: civil servants and politicians, had social gatherings during the lockdown period. All gatherings were banned, and indeed illegal. Johnson has clearly been lying to parliament and the country, but I doubt there is the momentum to depose him as prime minister, yet. Having said that he was booed when he and his wife arrived at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral for Queen Elizabeth’s thanksgiving service on Friday 3rd June. The news coverage shows this very clearly, but Johnson seemed unfazed. Of course, even if the Conservatives do the ‘right’ thing and remove him as party leader, and thus prime minister, they still have a large majority in the parliament so they would remain in power under a new leader. There is no obvious successor, I don’t think that should prevent action: ‘cometh the hour cometh the man’ as the saying goes.

Also, in the headlines has been a bizarre suggestion that Britain should return to imperial measures. That would mean goods could be sold by the pound or as ounces. It would be a terribly retrograde and confusing move. Just to remind people an inch is about 2.5 cm. There are 12 inches in a foot, three feet in a yard and 1,760 yards in a mile. A mile is equivalent to 1.6 km. With regard to weight an ounce is about 28 g, there are 16 ounces in a pound, 14 pounds in a stone, and 112 pounds in a hundredweight and so it goes. There are also imperial measures for liquids, the only one which might have some approval is a pint. Imperial measures are incredibly complicated by comparison with the metric system. This is part of the Brexit backlash by a bankrupt government.

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