God save the Queen! A serene and graceful, reassuring presence

Well I did my bit for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Granted, I didn’t MC the pageant on the Thames but entertaining 180 four to seven-year-olds for a couple of hours is surely worthy of a mention in despatches.

I was the DJ at a disco at the school my daughters attend.

The assembly hall was resplendent with bunting, balloons and the obligatory Union Flags which we had put up the night before.

To cap it off there was a huge picture of a smiling Her Majesty and two Corgis (who may or may not have been smiling) on the projector screen.

It was almost as if the Queen was watching over proceedings with wry amusement as the youngsters – drunk with excitement – jigged about to tunes from One Direction and other bands I’ve never heard of.

Many were dressed for the occasion in red, white and blue and so I had suggested we get them all together for a souvenir photograph.

This involved yours truly, wearing a Captain Britain T-shirt, presumably breaching Health & Safety rules by climbing on to the school roof – much to the amusement of everyone in the playground below.

The teachers tried valiantly to herd the children into the shape of a ‘6’ and a ‘0’ to mark the Jubilee but, in the end, the ‘o’ in the six sort of vanished so the picture is rather ambiguous in that it could be read as ‘Go’.

Still, I suppose it’s the thought that counts when you are hundreds of a miles away from the capital.

At one point during the disco I sat on a little bench with one lad from the reception class.

“Have you had a good day, mate?” I asked him.

Cake crumbs round his mouth and icing oozing through his teeth as he smiled, he replied: “This has been the best day of my life.”

When a five-year-old says that to you, it’s hard to argue.

So while many of the children may not have fully appreciated the significance of the Queen’s milestone, they knew she was reason we were celebrating and they had a damn good time nonetheless.

I’ve still got my Silver Jubilee mug and coins (or rather, my mum has) and I’ll make sure my Lois and Mina keep souvenirs.

Between the Olympic Torch Relay, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the European Championships and the Olympics proper, I reckon we’ll have flag fatigue come the end of the month.
But for now, at least, the sense of occasion is carrying us along.

That is what prompted me to pitch a gazebo up in the rain at the local park and join scores of families for a Diamond Jubilee picnic.

Card-carrying monarchist that I am, I defy anyone to say these celebrations haven’t generated a genuine collective pride – a coming together only usually associated with wartime or great sporting triumphs.

This IS something special. There has been a real frisson in the air – a sense of history in the making.

The monarchy may cost taxpayers millions of pounds each year but I believe we are infinitely richer – both financially and culturally – for having one.

For the Queen’s reign to have lasted 60 years is remarkable in itself.

But what is far more remarkable is the way in which Her Majesty has conducted herself during those tumultuous six decades.

For me, the Queen has been a serene anchor of the establishment while many other institutions have fallen from grace.

While other royals have embarrassed themselves, while MPs have been ripping us off or getting into bed with media moguls and/or the police, Her Majesty has remained serenely aloof – untainted by these many scandals.

Time is indeed a great healer and the time served by Queen Elizabeth has papered over some of the cracks which could have irrevocably damaged the House of Windsor.

Whether it be the state opening of Parliament, the Trooping of the Colours, the hosting of U.S. Presidents or the Christmas Day message on TV as we all slump on to sofas stuffed with turkey, Her Majesty is a constant, reassuring presence.

She is, in many ways, our final link with the dark days of the Second World War and, with her ultimate passing – and that of a very special generation – I think we lose something very precious.

Social commentators have talked endlessly in recent days about Britishness and what it means to live in, or come from, these relatively insignificant islands which have ever been a cultural melting-pot.

I would suggest that to be British you must be able to moan about having things which people from many other nations would give their right arms for right now. Like the Pound.

With a referendum on Scottish independence looming, the future of the Union – or Britain as we know it – is far from certain.

By the same token, Her Majesty is now 86 and so who knows how many more years we have to cherish a monarch of supreme grace and integrity? Who knows what will happen to the royal family with her passing?

Whatever the future holds, I dare say people will look back on the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with great fondness because you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Idea of Scottish independence frightens and saddens me in equal measure

I know when it happened. I had just climbed up the steps to the top of the Glenfinnan Monument, squeezed myself on to the viewing platform and was looking out across the sun-kissed shores of Loch Shiel.

That’s when I fell in love with Scotland.

I’ve visited Skye several times and even Orkney, Mull and Iona as well as braving the elements for a boat trip to the stunning Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa.

In my opinion, there is simply nowhere in Britain to rival the rugged beauty and sheer majesty of the Highlands.

Like my nan and grandad before me, who enjoyed many coach trips north of the border, I love Scotland.

I holiday there every year and I’ve never viewed taking the high road as going abroad. To my mind it is more akin to popping next door.

We are all part of the same island, after all, and so it’s no different for me to driving from Staffordshire into Cheshire – albeit a tad further.

Thus I find it hard to accept the concept of Scottish independence and the much talked-about referendum leaves me cold.

Rarely do I venture off-patch in my columns but the planned vote which could see our northern neighbours secede the United Kingdom frightens and saddens me in equal measure.

On the one hand, the political and economic arguments just don’t stack up for me. Surely, as our city’s motto says, United Strength Is Stronger.

It stands to reason that Britain has far more clout than any of its constituent parts would have if they were to go it alone.

At present, our tiny nation punches above its weight on the international stage.

Why therefore, at this time of global financial crisis, would anyone think it a good idea to break up the union?

Surely the Scots don’t buy Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond’s vision of a Gaelic utopia fuelled by endless supplies of North Sea oil (and none of our nation’s debt).

While the SNP chases the Braveheart vision of freedom, it strikes me that unravelling the Union would actually be complex in the extreme.

The problems it throws up range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

What would Scottish independence mean for our Armed Forces? Would the Scots keep the Pound, adopt the Euro, or make up their own currency? How would shared border controls be handled? What would it mean in terms of tuition fees for English students studying at Scottish universities? What would happen to the BBC and Team GB?

To my mind, while far from perfect, the Union has far more advantages than disadvantages.

What’s more, time and again it is the echoes of our shared heritage which convince me that a break-up after 300 years would be deeply unpalatable.

The peoples of the United Kingdom share common values which I believe should not be lightly cast aside in a jingoistic fervor surrounding the 700th anniversary of a medieval battle.

Let the facts be presented: The legalities of who calls a referendum plus the costs, the ramifications, the benefits and the disadvantages of such a momentous splitting of cultures must be laid bare to bring some clarity to the debate.

Ultimately, the decision must rest with the Scottish people but the discussion is one in which we should surely all be allowed to take part.

I spoke to a friend of mine about it all – a Scot who has made his living and home here in Stoke-on-Trent – and asked for his views on Scottish independence.

He wasn’t even sure he would get a vote on the matter but if he did, he said he would be against the split on gut instinct alone.

He said: “I think about all those boys in the Army who fought together in the wars and it just doesn’t seem right splitting us up.”

Amen to that, brother.

Ready my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel