I was an eleven year old boy wandering around the gardens of Schloss Mainau in Germany’s Lake Constanz at the moment of England’s triumphant 4-2 win over Germany on 30 July,1966. Being surrounded by rather glum Germans made my family a little nervous about too much cheering! My excellent Private Secretary, Jenny Fleischer was at Wembley last week to see her team once again being defeated by England, so she can sympathise with my predicament, almost embarrassment, of 55 years ago. Whatever happens on Sunday, England can be very proud of making it through to the final for the first ever time. Captain Bobby Moore holding high that famous cup presented by Her Majesty in Wembley is a moment we have savoured ever since.
Yet is it the cup that matters, or is it the football? Is winning more important than playing the game?
I am delighted that Her Majesty has awarded the George Cross to the entire NHS. What a wonderful way to mark the collective effort of all million or so people who have fought so hard to save lives and cure people of this dreadful disease throughout the Pandemic. The NHS will be able to wear the badge with pride alongside Malta and the 20 living GC recipients (including North Wiltshire resident, Margaret Purves GC).
I am hosting a reception on the Terrace of the House of Commons in September to thank the members of the Order of St John for their magnificent service throughout the Pandemic. On great occasions I am proud to wear their eight-pointed Maltese Cross as a neck decoration by virtue of my role as a Commander of the Order. There are various interpretations of its origin and meaning; but one thing is for sure - today it symbolises unselfish service to others.
The Queen’s Birthday honours list a couple of weeks ago is similarly crammed with people who have given great service to their communities. So is it the honour or medal which counts, or the vast quantity of service which they symbolise?
As we near the end of Lockdown, my mailbag is evenly split between those who welcome it (or argue that if anything it is rather late); and those who fear the consequences and would rather keep us in Purdah until the disease has finally been conquered (ignoring the fact that it never will be). It is absolutely vital that whatever else happens, Parliament gets back to normal with no further delay. It’s been a hollowed-out apology for a House of Commons for too long, barely living up to the symbolism of the magnificent gold mace which sits on the table while the House is in Session. It may be a ‘worthless bauble’; but like the Charles 1 maces carried by the Old Corporation of Malmesbury, they are potent symbols of the authority and history of the institution.
Human activity, especially self-sacrifice, bravery, commitment to our fellow human beings are marked by these symbols. The World Cup, the George Cross, the Maltese Cross of St John, knighthoods, OBEs, maces - they themselves may be worthless baubles; but the human qualities which they mark live for ever.
So well done so far and God Speed for Sunday to Gareth Southgate and the magnificent England Team.