Wishing anyone who’s reading this a safe and happy Christmas/festive season, and all the best for 2022. Thank you so much for reading my blog xxx.
This is Mental Health Awareness Week 2021. It’s certainly been a strange old year, and one that’s been extremely tough for many people. We are currently awaiting confirmation, later today, that we will be allowed to hug our relatives and friends as of next Monday. This will apparently involve making “informed personal decisions”; and Scientific Experts are advising that “hugs should be selective, short, and avoid face-to-face contact”. The restrictions have been necessary, but did you ever think you’d live in a world where you had to wait for permission from the authorities to hug your own relatives and friends, and instructions on how to do so?! In the meantime, big virtual hugs for anyone who wants them ((virtual hugs 🙂 ))!
Obviously everyone’s experiences will have been different, depending on their personal circumstances and the ways and extent to which the pandemic has impacted on those, but hopefully we’re now well on the way back to some sort of normality. However, sadly, the same can’t be said of India, Brazil and many other countries, and, as keeps being said, no-one’s really safe until everyone’s safe. But we’re out of lockdown now, and, hooray, that means that weekend outings to the countryside and the seaside after a week of being trapped with work are back on. And I want to raise a very large glass to the Victorians and the Edwardians for providing us with our wonderful public parks, without which, whilst waiting to be let out of lockdown, I’d have gone even madder than I already am.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “nature”, and the Mental Health Foundation have explained that this is because “going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health” and “even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress”. Too true. I don’t know how I’d have managed if I hadn’t been able to go for walks round the local park during the lockdowns, especially the first lockdown when we weren’t supposed to be going more than a few miles from home.
It’s funny how, when I can’t bear the noise of dogs barking or engines revving, I find the sound of birdsong very relaxing. And best of all are the flowers. Especially daffodils! I’m a bit obsessive about daffodils. The start of the first lockdown coincided with the daffodil season, and being able to see the daffodils and then the bluebells and the blossom really did make it a lot less difficult to cope with everything.
It was so hard not being able to go to the Lake District, though, or to Blackpool, or the Peaks, or the various National Trust, English Heritage and other properties which I usually visit. I’m extremely grateful to the National Trust, English Heritage and Windermere Lake Cruises for getting things open again as soon as they were able to, even if it was with limited numbers! I even had a full week in the Lakes last summer, for the first time ever, and having that time there, rather than being in a rush on a day trip or a weekend break, was wonderful. We’re very fortunate to have so many lovely places within relatively easy reach. And they really have helped in what’s been a tough year.
Just a few little (well, little-ish) rants here, though.
Firstly, I know all the reasons for lockdown, but it’s been particularly hard on people in densely-populated urban areas. We haven’t got a lot of green space. We’ve got high proportions of residents who haven’t got gardens. And, being densely-populated and having a lot of people in jobs which can’t be done at home, those of us in the old industrial heartlands of Northern England, the Midlands, the central belt of Scotland, South West Wales, and Belfast, were the ones put under additional travel restrictions in the autumn. It was really hard for us – not helped by media outlets showing pictures of crowds in public parks and tut-tutting. Yes, of course we were in the public parks. Where else were we supposed to go? We’re very lucky to have a very big and very lovely public park near us, and I’m extremely grateful for that, but, more than once, it got to a point where I felt like re-enacting the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass. Hopefully, the days of lockdowns are over, but it was pretty frustrating. And as for those local councils which decided to lock all the public toilets …
Secondly, about annoying people who spoil things for others. Yes, I’m sure a lot of people think I’m incredibly annoying, but at least I don’t make a lot of noise or mess … which is more than can be said for dog-owners who let their horrible dogs bark their heads off and or jump up at other people, bikers who rev their engines so loudly that other people can’t hear themselves think, or anyone who drops litter. Please, folks, clean up after yourselves, keep the noise down and keep your dogs under control. Other people do not want your “precious fur baby” (how I hate that expression) jumping all over them or barking so loudly that they can’t hear themselves think.
OK, rant over! Oh dear, that got a bit longer than I’d intended! But having access to open spaces is very important. Yes, you can walk along the pavements, but it’s not very relaxing when you keep having to stop to cross a road or wait for someone to reverse out of their drive, and looking at cars and houses isn’t quite the same as looking at trees and flowers. And nature’s always there – whatever’s been happening over the past year, the seasons have come and gone as usual, the flowers have come and gone as usual, and the baby animals have been born as usual. Turn, turn, turn. There’s something rather reassuring about that. Something a bit frightening, too, as you watch the months slip-sliding away, but, mostly, something reassuring.
It’s hard to find the time, when you’ve got work and housework to do, and there are traffic jams and queues everywhere, but finding that bit of time to “connect” with nature really is worth it.
If anyone’s read this, thank you! Enjoy the flowers, enjoy the trees, enjoy the birdsong … but, if you are struggling, please ask for help.
British Eating Disorders UK (BEAT)’s summary – “Binge eating disorder will affect one in fifty of us in our lifetime, it is the most common but least understood. It isn’t about being greedy or lacking in willpower, but a serious mental illness which many suffer with alone, often with the fear of how others might react the reason they don’t reach out for help”. I’m not responsible for the poor syntax 😉 , nor am I responsible for the clashing colours, but the meaning’s clear enough. They’ve also pointed out on their website that “binge eating disorder is linked to low self-esteem and lack of confidence, depression and anxiety” and that “some people gain weight because of emotional difficulties, and being overweight can also lead to emotional difficulties”.
This is Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2021, with the focus on Binge Eating Disorder. Everyone’s having bad days during lockdown: if you’re someone who struggles with Binge Eating Disorder, you may well be finding that some of those bad days trigger eating binges. If relatives or friends tell you that they’re having a bad day, you’ll probably try to comfort them by telling them that hopefully tomorrow will be better and they’ll be able to put it behind them. That doesn’t work with Binge Eating Disorder – the scales don’t care that you were having a bad day, so an eating binge will probably lead to weight gain, and then you’ll feel even worse about yourself, and it makes it that much harder to move on to a good day. Scales are very mean like that. So you’re probably having some pretty rough patches.
This isn’t meant to sound like a whingefest, just an attempt to highlight a problem which is often hidden. Thank you to BEAT for highlighting it. And almost a year of the pandemic is exacerbating a lot of mental health issues, especially in parts of the country which have been subject to extra restrictions. If any of these are affecting you, have a lot of virtual hugs from me xxx. And, on a totally different note, Happy St David’s Day.
It’s a chicken and egg situation, and also a vicious circle. Oh dear, using two clichés in one situation isn’t very good English either, is it? If you’re someone who has issues with overeating, and if you’re genetically prone to being overweight, then you’ve probably been called names for as far back as you can remember. Society doesn’t half vilify overweight people, and that’s from early childhood onwards. That probably led to low self-esteem, and may well be linked to anxiety and depression. If you’re someone who’s genetically more likely to develop anxiety and depression, then you’re probably also more likely to have issues with food and eating. Round and round it goes.
Just personally speaking, my worst days with it were when I’d just left university and was applying for jobs. I filled in application form after application form, went for interview after interview, and got rejection after rejection. When that happens, however much people tell you that there are loads of applicants for each place and that the constant rejections don’t mean that you’re a failure, it doesn’t half feel like you’re a failure. But all sorts of different things can be triggers, and obviously it’s different for every person.
As with any mental health condition, some days, and some weeks, months and years, will be bad, and others won’t. But lockdown is making things pretty difficult for everyone. We also keep being told that obesity is one of the major factors leading to hospitalisation if someone has contracted Covid-19. That’s a medical fact and I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be spoken about, but it’s adding to the feelings of guilt and shame and inadequacy that surround eating issues.
Also, one of the main causes of eating disorders is a need for control. That sounds strange, because, with eating binges you lose control, but then you feel terrible because you lost control. Feeling trapped can be a major trigger, and we’re all trapped at the moment. Roll on March 29th, April 12th, May 17th and June 21st, eh?!
If you’re struggling, please shout. If you suspect that someone else is struggling, please be nice. Please don’t make comments about how much someone else is eating, and please, please don’t tell them that they’re fat. One in fifty people are affected by this – that’s a lot of people.
Thanks again to Beat Eating Disorders UK for highlighting this. There’s a lot of it about.
Thank you to The Honest Avocado for tagging me in this – original post here
The Honest Avocado’s book reviews are great, if you’d like to read them!
I’m not nominating anyone, because I don’t want anyone to feel obliged if they haven’t got time, but please feel free to consider yourself nominated if you’d like to!
Answers to The Honest Avocado’s questions:
Why do you like to read?
I’ve always read! To escape, and to learn about different times and different places.
If you could have written any book series, which would it be, and why?
A children’s school story series like the Chalet School books, because they can really get kids into reading.
What is the most surprising fact you can think of?
Er, I have no idea! Probably something to do with animals, but I can’t think of anything offhand.
Are you the sort of person who knows their Myers-Briggs type or Enneagram?
I had to Google those. I don’t think I’m any of the Enneagram types! For Myers-Briggs, introverted and intuitive.
Look out your window, what do you see?
A bit of grass, my car, the black wheelie bin (ready to be collected tomorrow), and the house opposite.
Where is your favourite place to go outside of work or your own home
The Lake District. So glad that I decided to be spontaneous, for once in my life, and go for a day a few weeks ago, just before more restrictions were announced.
Do you have any good Christmas/Thanksgiving/Holiday movie recommendations?
I like White Christmas. And The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – not a holiday film as such, but it’s winter for most of the time, and Father Christmas makes an appearance, so I reckon it counts!
Seven original questions:
Dear Italy. Cara Italia. Thank you for beautiful Venice – photo taken during my, ahem, “significant” birthday visit to the Venice Carnival in 2015, my fourth visit to my favourite Continental city. Thank you for Assisi, a holy place which really does seem holy, for your beautiful lakes, for your magnificent historical cities, for your pretty little towns, for your stunning mountains, and for your orange and lemon groves and your fields of olives, vines and sunflowers. Thank you for your lovely cafes on the shores of the lakes, and overlooking the Bay of Capri, and in beautiful little town squares, where you can spend an evening with ice-cream and cappuccino. Thank you for your gloriously complicated history, especially during the 16th and 17th centuries. Thank you for veal Milanese and limoncello and Asti Spumante. And for the fact that every town in Tuscany has its own special cake or pastry, so that you feel obliged to try all of them! And for those little marzipan things that they make in Sicily, and for arancini, and for Murano glass and Burano lace and gondolas. Thank you for the processions that you hold to honour saints I’ve never heard of: they make for fascinating watching!
Thank you for ‘Italia 90, for Serie A which we all got into during the ban years, and for your lovely southern music which we murder into football chants and Cornetto adverts! Thank you for being the setting for so many books and plays, and for being the place that anyone lucky enough to be able to go on a Grand Tour made their priority. Thank you for the lovely old man in Sicily who stopped me in the street and told me that he’d seen me at a hotel (and he had, because he named it!) and thought I was lovely, and for the lovely old man in Pisa who told me that all English girls were beautiful – Italian men can be terrible flatterers, and it’s a wonderful confidence boost when you haven’t got any confidence!
Thank you for the man who, whilst dressed up as a gladiator in Verona, chatted away merrily with me about United beating Roma 7-1 – Italians, like Mancunians, love to talk about football, in any circumstances! Thank you for the Italian tour guide who sat with me on an island in the Venetian lagoon and listened to my tale of woe about not being able to get a job after leaving university, and told me that it would all be OK. Thank you for all the staff in the Sicilian restaurant who, because I was the annoying fussy idiot who didn’t want the stuff on the set menu which had been put on the table for everyone to share, kept bringing me plateful after plateful of alternative food to make sure I didn’t starve, even though I’d said I’d be fine with bread and salad.
So many special places … I’ve hardly got started!!
Venice is the star of the north, but there are also those beautiful lakes. I always say that I’ll buy a villa at Lake Como if I ever win the lottery. We’ll draw a veil over the time I trekked up a steep hill in 90 degree heat to find the site where Mussolini was captured, but, hey, it probably burned off some of the gelato calories! Lake Maggiore and its beautiful islands, and its hydrofoils which carry you off to Switzerland. Elegant Milan, a capital of football and a capital of fashion, and Genoa with its lovely port and its lovely buildings. And the little seaside resorts where I spent my first visit to Italy, when I was 3.
Moving a little further southwards, beautiful Assisi. There are a lot of places which are supposed to be holy, and sometimes you feel it and sometimes you don’t. In Assisi, I do. I was so sad when it was badly damaged by an earthquake, and so glad to see that much of the damage had been repaired. Glamorous Portofino, and the little trains running between the Cinque Terre towns. The castles outside Parma. And, of course, stunning Tuscany – the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Florence with its fascinating history and Renaissance buildings, San Gimignano with its towers, Lucca with its little stalls in the streets, Siena with its lovely Palio and for the sandwich shop where they actually understood my manifold instructions about what I did and didn’t want … in fact, thank you to anyone in Italy who’s ever understood my Manchester-accented Italian!
And, of course, Rome – the magnificent Eternal City, with its incredible Roman remains, its grand buildings, its squares and its fountains. And the Vatican, although technically that’s not part of Italy. We’ll also draw a veil over the time I got chocolate ice-cream all down my T-shirt in St Peter’s Square: you can’t take me anywhere! Thank you for lovely Sorrento, and for the Neapolitan cafe that provided us with breakfast when our overnight ferry from Palermo docked late and we were horrendously hungry! For Capri, and for Pompeii – when you’ve had to do the Cambridge Latin Course at school, seeing Pompeii really is a thrill! And for Sicily – for Mount Etna, and for all those lovely little seaside resorts, Greek-built towns and steep villages.
I could go on for ever! And there are so many places in Italy which I haven’t been to and want to, and so many places that I’ve been to and want to go back to. Thank you, Italy, for so much. It is heartbreaking to see what you’re going through at the moment – it’s like some nightmare out of the Middle Ages, or even out of the Bible. I know that good wishes from abroad aren’t going to help, but I find myself wishing that heads of state would send messages of support to Italy at this difficult time, and also to China, South Korea and anywhere else particularly badly affected. Italy is a very special place to me, and I’m thinking of it and hoping that this horrible situation doesn’t get much worse and doesn’t go on much longer.
Lots of love – con amore,
This was a blog challenge idea, and it sounded so easy … but it wasn’t. I was originally going to try to tie it into particular books, but I didn’t get very far with that. Would I really want to be caught up in the Siege of Atlanta, with or without Rhett Butler to help me escape? Or in Russia in 1812, with everything being burned to stop the Grande Armee in its tracks? Or negotiating the politics of the Tudor courts? One of the balls in Jane Austen books would be a lot more peaceful, but I would very definitely be classed as “not handsome enough to tempt me“. Back to the drawing board. Try just general places, without specific books. And the first one has to be Victorian Manchester. I’m so predictable, aren’t I?
1 – Victorian Manchester. Yes, I know all about the condition of the working-classes: I have read Engels’ book several times. But this was a time of confidence, and belief, and hope. This was a time when people believed they could change the world. Peterloo (OK, that’s Georgian, not Victorian) – it was a tragedy, but it began with the genuine belief that people could win their rights. The Chartists carried that on, and so did the Suffragettes. The Anti Corn Law League, the whole campaign for free trade – we even named the Free Trade Hall after it! The glorious buildings – to have the confidence to do that, even after the Cotton Famine. The ideas of self-improvement and self-help, and the growth of the trade union movement. That’s what the world’s missing now – the confidence that we can change things for the better, and getting out there and fighting for it.
And 9 more, in no particular order.
2 – Elizabethan England, again for that feeling of hope and confidence, moving on from the internal turmoil of the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation. Well, until it all went pear-shaped in Charles I’s time, but no-one would have seen that coming back in the Gloriana days. The flourishing of culture, as well. I can’t be doing with Shakespeare, but he does symbolise the English Renaissance. Yes, I know that the Elizabethan Age gets rather mythologised, but you can’t have myths unless you’ve got something to start with.
3 – Venice in the 18th century. I was going to say the Renaissance, but I’m not an arty person, for one thing, and Renaissance Italy involved too much fighting and political chaos and religious intolerance. Venice in the 18th century, all that grandeur and glamour and elegance, would be a much better bet. I’ve even got Carnevale masks: I wore them when I went to the Venice Carnival for my, ahem, “significant” birthday in 2015.
4 – Vienna in the late 19th century. Music and waltzing, literature and philosophy. I quite fancy the idea of sitting in a Viennese coffee house, exchanging ideas with great minds … who would probably think I was talking a load of utter rubbish and be totally unimpressed with my support for Slavic nationalists. But still.
5 – The Caliphate of Cordoba. OK, this is another one that’s probably been mythologised into a lot more of a Golden Age than it actually was, but there is certainly something in the idea of La Convivencia, the flourishing of Christian and Jewish and Islamic culture together. We’ve come so far from that, and sometimes it seems as if we’re getting further away from it rather than getting closer towards it again.
6 – I’ve got to have Russia in here somewhere! I want to be a romantic Slavophile. I want to walk around wearing a red sarafan (I have actually worn one once) and go on about mysticism and melancholy and the “going to the people” and peasant communes. Er, except that most of that is romantic rubbish. I could be a noble in St Petersburg, but that really doesn’t work at all with being a romantic Slavophile. Oh dear. I’m going to have to be a revolutionary instead, aren’t I?
7 – The Lake District in the time of the Romantic poets. Hooray – I can get away with Romanticism in this one! Maybe I could stay with Wordsworth in Grasmere?
8 – I’ve got to have America in here somewhere, as well, but it’s a bit difficult to say that I actually want to be there during “my” period of American history, the 1840s to the 1870s. The Twelve Oaks barbecue does sound like good fun, until war gets declared in the middle of it, but, quite apart from the fact that, as with a Jane Austen ball, I’d be the person no-one wanted to sit with or dance with, it’s a slaveholding society and I just couldn’t be there. No – it’s going to have to be the American Dream, the immigrants sailing into New York and hoping that they’re going to find that the streets are paved with gold. OK, it’d probably mean ending up doing backbreaking work in horrible conditions, but, again, it’s that feeling of hope, that belief, that you can make the world a better place and be part of it.
9 – India with Gandhi. I normally refuse to class anything later than the First World War as “history”, but I watched the Gandhi film again recently, and I’ve been reading up on Indian history, and … that incredible idea that you can bring about change by non-violent civil resistance, and the hope – even if it did turn out to be futile – of religious tolerance and co-operation. There are a lot of groups of people now who have little hope – the Rohingyas spring to mind – but what an inspiration that time was.
10 – Do you know what, I actually do want to go to a Jane Austen era ball? I’d get over no-one wanting to dance with me! At least the clothes of the time were fairly loose, so I wouldn’t look as fat in them as I would in clothes from some other time periods. I like that idea of the county society in Jane Austen books, that you did get invited to parties and balls as a matter of course, and weren’t sat at home wondering how you’d get to meet new people. I am absolutely useless at social occasions and would probably have hated it all in practice, but I do like the idea in theory. I mean, Mary Bennet does seem to enjoy the balls, doesn’t she, even though everyone thinks she’s weird? I like the idea of visiting spa towns and “taking the waters” as well.
I just wish I could match all these times and places up to books! But most of the best historical fiction’s set against a background of war and turmoil. Is that because it appeals to authors, it appeals to readers, or it appeals to me? And, if anyone’s reading this, please tell me when and where you’d like to go, and if any of our ideas match. If they do, maybe we can build a time machine and go there together 🙂 .
The spell is broken. England are out of the World Cup, and, for a while yesterday morning, it poured with rain – the first rain we’d had in weeks. I’m incredibly proud of everything that our young, inexperienced group of players and our inspirational manager have achieved, and we desperately need rain to put out the fires on Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor, but I just want to turn the clock back to Wednesday afternoon, when everything seemed possible!
The football was still the headlines of the news yesterday morning, the morning after the night before, and we were still hearing about the twelve young lads and their coach being rescued from the caves in Thailand (although it’s so sad that one man died during the rescue effort, and possibly a bit tacky that there’s already talk of making a film about it all) … but then came Donald Trump, our incompetent embarrassment of a government, and yet another year of Twelfth Day of July unrest in Northern Ireland.
For a few weeks, we were Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream … . (Incidentally, Simon Schama, the historian and TV presenter, once made a thought-provoking point about how that song could only have been written by the child of immigrants who’d fled persecution for the American Dream.) Yesterday morning, the skies were grey, and it was sinking in that the World Cup was not coming home after all. But, hey, what a time we’ve had! Before the World Cup started, we didn’t dare hope for any more than getting out of the group. Not to mention all the catastrophising about how the tournament was going to be spoilt by racism, homophobia and Russia’s troubled relations with the rest of the world. And look what we got instead! Talk about the feelgood factor. It felt as if the whole country was singing Three Lions.
And we’ve still got Wimbledon! Well, OK, this isn’t a national thing, but it will make me ecstatically happy if the French Open champion can win his third Wimbledon title on Sunday. OK, I’m not holding my breath. Nole looked worryingly good yesterday. Balkan double? Croatia win the World Cup and Serbia win Wimbledon? How weird would that be? And there are so many stories of the horrors of the wars of the 1990s tied up in all that. Sport can give so much.
We hoped. And we dreamed. Everyone, including Princes William and Harry, was saying “It’s coming home”. That song! 1996 was weird. It started off being all so exciting. I’d just been to Prague for a belated 21st birthday weekend away, and the Czech Republic were based in Manchester for Euro ’96, so the flight home was full of football fans. There was such a buzz in the air. Then the IRA blew up our city centre. So we didn’t quite get the ongoing 1996 feelgood factor. But we got the song. Everyone gets the song! Everyone’s been singing it. Friends who normally have little interest in football have been posting on Facebook about how excited they are. The day of the semi-final was even dubbed Waistcoat Wednesday, with people posting pictures of themselves wearing waistcoats in honour of Gareth Southgate! At 7 o’clock on Wednesday evening, the streets were deserted. Everyone was watching the match. We were all in it together.
That hasn’t happened too much lately. And the leadership qualities displayed by Gareth Southgate, and the sense of team spirit he’s instilled in the team, the togetherness, the unity – well, there’s been precious little of that around either. I do appreciate that Theresa May’s in a difficult position, but, come on, two years to agree an internal position on Brexit, and then it all falls apart within three days? How on earth are we meant to negotiate with the EU when Cabinet members can’t even agree amongst themselves? Summoned to Chequers, told to put their mobile phones away, like a bunch of naughty schoolkids in detention – and then the whole thing falling apart anyway. That’s not Three Lions; that’s Madness’s You’re An Embarrassment.
And the Opposition are no better. Jeremy Corbyn’s inability to deal with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party is extremely concerning, as well as embarrassing. And does anyone have the remotest clue what Labour’s policy on the best way of getting us out of the EU is? No, me neither. And all this talk about “Brexiters” and “Remoaners”. The decision’s been made, OK? You may as well label people as Hanoverians and Jacobites, or Roundheads and Cavaliers. Move on. But it’s very difficult when both main parties are making such a mess of everything. There is not one senior politician at Westminster who inspires a scrap of confidence. Leadership? Togetherness? Unity? Hah! Gareth Southgate for PM! I’m telling you, he could only do better! He and the players brought us together.
Sport does this. London 2012. Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. Oh, it can go horribly wrong well, we all know that; but it can do this. There’s something a bit different about it this time, though. It’s not just the success – whilst it lasted. It’s the team spirit. This is not the so-called “Golden Generation” of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard & co, or the 1998 squad which included the likes of David Beckham and Alan Shearer. Most of these players weren’t even household names before the tournament began. But they’ve connected, to use a modern-day buzzword – with each other, and with the fans. They got it. We got it.
And the skies were blue. And the sun shone.
I think it actually started with the Royal Wedding. We’ve watched Prince Harry grow up. We saw that little boy walking along behind his mother’s coffin. We’ve seen him get himself into trouble. And then we’ve seen him as a hero, whether it’s been serving in Afghanistan or helping to organise the Invictus Games. Very few people have got a bad word to say about him. And we’ve seen his romances with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas end in tears, and longed for him to find his happy ever after. And now, hopefully, he has. We’d have been delighted for him whomever that was with – but the fact that his fairytale princess is a mixed-race American divorcee actress somehow did that bit extra to bring people together. It reminded us that it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter who you love. It doesn’t matter about race, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status … any of it. All that matters is that people are happy. It was the stuff of fairytales, but very modern ones. It brought everyone together. We needed that.
The sky was a perfect cornflower blue. Not a cloud in it. The sun shone down.
And then, as the sky continued to be blue, and the sun continued to shine, Gareth Southgate and his band of brothers gave us hopes and dreams, and showed us what leadership and togetherness are about – something that our politicians don’t seem to have the first clue regarding.
This is history. Twenty years from now, we’ll be looking back on the early summer of 2018, and we’ll be remembering how it was hot and sunny for days and days on end, and how we got to the semi-finals of the World Cup. We don’t know what lies ahead – but do we ever? In 1990, we were riding the crest of a wave of hope, with the Berlin Wall down, Nelson Mandela released from prison and Germany set for reunification. Well, that soon went pear-shaped, didn’t it? Croatia, where they were celebrating as we cried, could tell us all about that. In 2018, everything’s a mass of uncertainty. But maybe it’ll all turn out for the best? Well, you never know.
52 years of hurt can go a long way towards stopping you from dreaming. I mean 52 years since 1966, OK – I have not personally experienced 52 years of hurt! The first World Cup I remember was 1982! But we’re dreaming again. There’s a positivity in the air. There’s hope, and there’s pride. And there are waistcoats!
There were things I thought I might never see. Growing up in the 1980s, you seriously began to wonder whether United would ever win the league again. We waited 26 years. City fans waited longer. We waited 77 years for a British man to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon again. Going back to 1990, or, rather, to 1989, I’m not sure that we thought we’d see the Berlin Wall come down in our lifetimes, or that Nelson Mandela would ever be released from prison. We certainly never thought we’d see Prince Harry marry a lovely mixed-race American divorcee actress.
And, yes, “We’ve seen it all before” and we know all about semi-final heartbreak. But people are already looking ahead to Euro 2020. And the country’s come together. We’ve been reminded that we can do this. We can do leadership. We can do unity. We can do hopes and dreams. Thank you for that, Gareth and the boys. We needed it from someone, and we’ve got it from you. And we’ll never forget this summer. We’ve been living through history in the making.
Obviously England are going to win the World Cup 🙂 , but just imagine, oh horror of horrors, that that doesn’t happen. Imagine that we get knocked out early on. Whom are you going to support then? If anyone’s actually reading this, please feel free to answer that! A country featuring players from your own club? I would think a lot of Liverpool fans will be keeping a close eye on Egypt. Somewhere you’ve got personal connections to? – maybe you had a nice holiday there, or a family member or close friend comes from there? Maybe – it is meant to be about the football, after all! – it’s all about whose style of play you like. Or is it political/historical – I assume not too many of us will be supporting Saudi Arabia or Iran. Or maybe you just want to win the office sweepstake.
OK, I know this has nothing to do with history, but the History Channel said it’d be showing a load of programmes on the history of football during the World Cup, and it hasn’t done! And the BBC somehow managed to get through the whole of Egypt v Uruguay, in Ekaterinburg, without mentioning the assassination of the Romanovs. Seriously. I assume we will get a few references to the Siege of Stalingrad when England take on Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday, but I bet we don’t get the Cossack revolts L . So I haven’t got anything historical to review, as far as the World Cup goes … so, instead, I wrote a rather silly list of notes on whom to support and whom not to support. And then I was just going to delete it because it was a load of waffle, but, having written it, I thought I might as well post it. Waffles are associated with Belgium. I hope that’s not a bad omen for Thursday’s match.
(Marked with a * if I’ve actually been there.)
Countries with a strong connection:
Spain* – after a long and wondrous clay court season, and with Wimbledon up ahead, my brain is practically running in Spanish. And Spain have the biggest United contingent of any team other than England, with David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata all involved.
Russia* – spot the Russian history specialist! Been there twice, hope so much to go again.
Portugal* – a country I’m very fond of. Pasteis de nata, pasteis de nata! And he may be an idiot, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sweden* – I have a long-standing soft spot for Sweden, going back nearly 30 years, and they’ve got Victor Lindelof in their squad.
Serbia – I’ve always had an interest in Serbian history. And they’ve got Nemanja Matic.
Countries with some connection:
Brazil* – everyone’s got a soft spot for Brazil, haven’t they? And a nice man lent me a toy World Cup to hold up outside the Maracana.
Belgium* – they’ve got Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini. And they do make very nice chocolate.
France* – it always feels vaguely wrong to cheer for France ;-), but they have got Paul Pogba.
Argentina* – it may be 32 years since the Hand of God incident but I still have issues with Argentina! But Buenos Aires has to be the most football-mad city I’ve ever been to, and that made quite an impression on me. I thought there might still be hostility towards British visitors, even 34 years after the Falklands War, but I was made to feel welcome everywhere, and faces lit up whenever I mentioned the word “Manchester”. And they’ve got Sergio Romero.
Morocco* – well, I had a very nice holiday there. Even if someone did ask me if I was German. I know my French accent isn’t exactly Parisian, but I’ve never been accused of being German anywhere else!! But, hey, at least they understood me!
Egypt* – another place with happy holiday memories. And they make tea properly. Surprisingly few countries do.
Switzerland* – no real football ties, but it has lakes and mountains and chocolate.
Peru* – they’ve got Machu Picchu. And they seemed to understand my Spanish.
Denmark* – well, they did have Peter Schmeichel. And they make nice open top sandwiches.
Australia – come on, all Anglophones and Commonwealth countries together!
Nigeria – ditto!
Countries with no connection but which I hope do well:
Iceland – OK, they made fools of us at Euro 2016, but it was all kind of romantic, and I got really into their chanting.
Senegal – I can’t think of a way to say this that doesn’t sound patronising, but they are the poorest country to qualify, and I watched an interesting programme (presented by Eric Cantona) about how much football means to people there.
No strong feelings:
Germany* – I just don’t particularly cheer for Germany. Don’t mention the war and all that. Old habits die hard!
Mexico* (very briefly).
Croatia* – I have been there, and it was very nice, but it’s not somewhere I’ve ever felt a close affinity for.
Uruguay – it’s usually nice to see South American teams do well, but I cannot bear Luis Suarez!
Countries I won’t be cheering for:
Saudi Arabia. I know the football team isn’t to blame for what’s going on in Yemen, Or the country’s attitude towards women. Or its human rights record in general. But even so.
Iran – even if they are managed by Carlos Queiroz. Again, I know the football team isn’t to blame for political issues. But even so.
Poland* – I have studied a lot of Polish history, and I have been to Poland twice, and any country which produces cherry vodka deserves a certain amount of respect. But this current government – ugh.
I use too many exclamation marks, don’t I? Apparently Prince Philip does, as well.
But obviously England are going to win. So all this is irrelevant. Yes, indeed …
Rewriting history seems to be, worryingly, a term that we’re hearing more and more these days. It generally runs alongside trying to stifle free speech and debate. And now it’s causing an international row, following the passing by the Polish parliament of a law making it a criminal offence to state publicly that “the Polish nation or state was responsible or co-responsible for Third Reich crimes”.
Hopefully, no-one is for one minute trying to say that “the Polish nation or state was responsible or co-responsible for Third Reich crimes”. And it’s quite understandable that people in Poland object to the blatantly incorrect but all too frequent use of the term “Polish death camps” when referring to Nazi concentration camps on Polish soil. But the passing of this law has led to considerable concern amongst historians and others that it will stifle debate about and even research into the events of the Nazi period. Where is the line to be drawn between saying or writing about the complicity by individuals in Poland with “Third Reich crimes” – in 2001, on the 60th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom in which over 340 Polish Jews were murdered by their Polish neighbours, the then president of Poland stated clearly that the murderers were Poles – and falling foul of the new legislation?
This isn’t the first time that there’s been controversy over the present Polish government’s attitude towards the events of the Second World War. There was a long, drawn-out wrangle over the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, which finally opened last spring after considerable arguing between the government and historians over the extent to which the museum should focus on Poland’s experience – by which the government meant Poland’s suffering and Polish resistance to the Nazis – as opposed to telling the entire history of how the war affected the whole of Europe and beyond. Wanting to focus on your own country’s experiences is reasonable to some extent, but this latest controversy goes much further than that
It’s not just Poland where there are issues concerning the presentation of the events of the Second World War. Unless it’s been changed since I was there, the video which is shown to visitors at the Second World War Museum in Riga focuses almost entirely on the Soviet invasion and occupation of Latvia, with next to nothing being said about the atrocities committed there by the Nazis. And collaboration and support for the Nazis is a very sensitive subject everywhere. We’ve all heard the stories about how hardly anyone in Austria’s seen The Sound of Music. There’s a lot of evidence for complicity in Nazi atrocities by local people in Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere, but it isn’t really spoken about. But it isn’t actually banned.
Statues are being pulled down in America. Certain British universities and even Virgin Trains have tried to restrict the sale of certain newspapers. Where do you draw the line between trying to avoid offensive speech and interfering with free speech? It’s a difficult one.
It’s hard to see any other countries following Poland’s lead. For one thing, the present Polish government is not exactly renowned for its free thinking. Concerns have already been raised over its interference in both the media and the judiciary. For another thing, no other country has the same place that Poland, through no fault of its own, has in the history of the Holocaust. But this is a worrying development. It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.