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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 20, 2002
The Queen
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November 20, 2002   
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There were some who believed that Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee would be a non-event. They were wrong. These reflections are based upon the celebrations set up by the community of a village called Cookham, whose population numbers 4,500 and growing.

Cookham was until a few years ago in Berkshire. It has now become a unitary authority and is in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, about 20 miles from London. The River Thames flows along the boundary between it and the Buckinghamshire border.

"A Village in Heaven," is how its famous local artist Stanley Spencer regarded Cookham. Although it has changed greatly since his day, it can still be thought of in this light. Kenneth Grahame too is said to have been inspired by Cookham, basing his delightful The
Wind in the Willows here.

Having set the scene, let us now look at the celebrations of early last June. The Union Flag had already been much in evidence, flying proudly from flag-poles, houses and cars. It all began on 31 May, when a huge marquee was erected on Cookham Moor in readiness for the following day's children's party.

Children bring their own excitement and expectations to any party and so it was here. This was not to be a genteel sit-me-down, for there were clowns in attendance, a bouncy castle and the transformation of sweet little children's faces into ferocious tigers or fluffy kittens with the aid of a face-painting team. A party is never complete without the food and it wasn't long before the children tucked into their customary party dinner.

A lively barn dance was held in the marquee. The more committed folk dancers couldn't for the life of them understand how anyone could possibly misunderstand the caller's instructions-surely everyone knows their right from their left? Don't you believe it.

The marquee's role was not yet at an end. On Sunday an ecumenical church service was to be held at 1 p.m. The service drew so many that there was standing room only outside the marquee.

Each church had a representative speaker, hymns were sung lustily and differences in religious views quite forgotten. The choir from Holy Trinity Church gave full voice and children brought their musical instruments and played with one accord.

It was a time for reflection. Words of remembrance on life 50 years
ago were spoken by some of the oldsters as well as the children, speaking about their grandparents recollections. How strange it seemed to hear of matters which were once common-place referred to as "historical," such as national service for lads aged 18 and the culture shock they experienced, the attempts to have their call-up delayed, usually ending in the same result.

Food rationing was still in place and the romantic gesture of a box of chocolates was reduced to the offer of "would you like my sweet coupons?"

It seemed fitting that at the end of the service, people stood about talking or looking at the exhibition of portraits of local people, painted by local artist and comedian Timmy Mallett.

The partying wasn't over, for the following day brought about the
off-street parties. What is an off-street party? Well, it's the same as a street party but without the street. Simple, isn't it?

Our party was a wow. A few days previous to the event, a notice came round from our Neighbourhood Watch leader, asking us each to volunteer, either preparing food, organising games, playing music, or hosting the event in their garden. There were no dissenters.

Each house was given balloons of red, white and blue to hang on their gate or hedge. Flags had already been brought out. Ours looked a little pale and wan having last been on "duty" during the Falklands conflict, but there it was fluttering in the breeze.

The offer of a front garden at the end of our street was perfect. People busied themselves preparing food, barbecues were set up and
everyone brought their own food and champagne to toast the Queen.

There were salads of all descriptions, including couscous and beansprouts-unheard of 50 years ago. Jacket potatoes too, as well as perfectly barbecued meats and chicken. The puddings, always are part of our heritage, were strawberry flan with cream.

Patriotic music was interspersed with current hits and the drinking of ale. Lots of chatting and team games took place, complete with raucous encouragement to "get a move on", not easy when you're endeavouring to eat a doughnut dangling on a piece of string with your hands behind your back.

Who were these people taking part in our celebrations? A microcosm of multi-cultural Britain: English, Irish, Welsh and Scots, as well as people of Asian origin, French and New Zealanders. Each one taking part and enjoying the Golden Jubilee in Cookham. How will things have changed for the next celebration, perhaps a Diamond Jubilee? We shall see.
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