Diary

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The Independent Online
Sitting under a vast spreading chestnut tree in the garden of the local pub on Saturday evening with the family, I was struck with the morbid thought that the next big celebration of the end of the Second World War would be in another 50 years' time, in 2045, and that not only would there be no veterans around to tell their stories and polish their medals, but most probably I wouldn't be either. My husband, getting more patriotic by the hour, said we should all go to Hyde Park the following afternoon for the pageant of peace. But pity the poor foot-soldiers, what a ghastly experience. The main event was for ticket-holders only, the giant screens were hard to watch and impossible to approach, the strains of "Men of Harlech" and "Ode to Joy" were barely audible and the supporting tents were dreary in the extreme. The mock bomb shelter was jammed, we ducked out of a tent devoted to the unthrilling activities of the London Fire brigade and were reduced to listening to a military band playing old Michael Jackson hits. At least the baby did a little jig to a steel band. We saw the "doves" - actually racing pigeons - and white balloons of peace float away, but the main experience was of being excluded, and having to buy three ice lollies apiece for our unhappy children. I'm sorry to strike a sour note, but watching the event on television in the evening was much more fruitful. We almost regretted making the effort.

Except that we did see the Queen, twice, wearing an extraordinary varnished yellow hat. Arriving at the main gate there was a buzz that the Royal car was about to arrive. My children were heading off towards two grazing police horses to pat them.

"Come and see the Queen" I said.

"Why should we want to see the Queen?" my eldest daughter's friend replied.

"Because there's nothing else to look at," said a stolid Briton, leaning on the uncrowded crowd-control barrier.

"Are you a Republican?" asked a middle-aged woman, turning to the child.

"Don't you know," she continued, "that the Queen is the symbol of peace and unity in Europe?"

That shut them up. They waved dutifully, and did a repeat performance, with a few cheers, as we made our exit, again with the Royals.

Watching the VE Monday morning sing-song outside Buckingham Palace from the comfort of home (wild horses wouldn't drag me out to a live VE Day event again), which ended with Harry Secombe leading a three cheers for the Royal Family, one can only marvel at the way they have so mishandled their relationship with the public that it is perfectly respectable to say we no longer need a monarchy. One final question about the public celebration: why was Cliff Richard on a podium with Vera Lynn?

The editor of this page had suggested I might like to write about a street party. I am a resourceful woman, but have never in my life been near a street party, not even for the 1977 Jubilee. No one I know has ever been to one either. I suppose this is a reflection of the fact I don't live in a cosy Coronation-style Street or any discernable community at all: just largish houses, armed with burglar alarms, strung out along a road. However, I noticed that a nearby road lined with very expensive houses had been blocked off. I rang a friend who lives there, only to receive a major shock: she was busy with the street party. In the early evening I pushed the baby around, hoping to fulfill my assignment by gate crashing. But it was all over, as discreetly as it had begun, so exclusive an affair that only those living in the road had taken part. There was no litter, no mess, no noise; it might never have happened.

Defeated, I returned determined to observe the two-minute silence. But at 8.50pm we ruefully accepted our final failure - we'd missed it. We had turned the television off, and were discussing the one thing that had really moved the children: Saturday night's programme about Anne Frank.

Up at 7am for a daughter's sixth birthday. Her main aim was to get her hands on the hot toy of the moment, called the Littlest Pet Shop. Imported from America, it is shamelessly promoted on children's television with a jingle, which she sings, about how "it's always open". The Littlest Pet Shop looks to adult eyes like a converted lunch box in bright pink plastic. It opens from a central hinge and you slot in shelves for the "animals" you are supposed to collect separately, but which have precious little to do with England. "Each LPS animal does something special and needs lots of love and attention from you," reads the blurb, presumably constructed by a child psychologist. So at 7.05am I was sticking pretend bits of newspaper on to the cage floor of the loving Lovebirds (they kiss) while Fearsome Falcon, an inch of weedy plastic, had to be precariously perched on his tiny mock cactus stand (he flaps his puny wings). There was more ... Chirpy Tree Friends with Treetop Home (and sky-high price: £11.99) in which a squirrel roosts and a Sweet Smelling Skunk skunks while the Baby Bobcat with Mountain Den has a mouse on a magnet (£6.75.) to keep him occupied. Yuck.

All this because we refused her request to buy a kitten on the grounds it would set off the burglar alarm. By 8.30am, she was watching children's television, apparently bored with the plastic pets. By 9am, I'd agreed to buy her a new hamster on Saturday. Cheap at the price.

Coming to work on the Tube I was confronted by that familiar spectacle: a young woman with a small child, sitting woefully on the bottom step by the platform, begging. My stock response is to give beggars £1 in case there's a heaven, and I always add something meant to sound kindly like "hope things look up" to the mothers.

In front of me I saw another woman double back: accosted by guilt, I assumed. Not a bit of it. She attacked me. "How dare you give this woman money? Can't you see she's drugged the child to sleep, probably with alcohol or drugs? You are just encouraging her. The police know all about her activities."

I looked back at the child. It was unnaturally large to be asleep at that hour, and it certainly did not look healthy. Was I in the wrong?

"How can you be sure she just isn't desperate. Why, if she's drugging the child, don't social services take him into care?", I replied, as a tube train came along to the rescue. Hiding behind my newspaper I realised I had completely failed to ask the beggar what was going on.

The question remains: Is it really anti-social to give to a begging woman?

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