From The Archive is a special Friday feature. It features posts from my earlier (now-deleted) blog: Stuff & Nonsense and a few items from previous versions of A Tangled Rope that I feel deserve reprinting here, mainly as a way of archiving them. The dates are only approximate, I’m afraid, and there is a possibility that some links may no longer work (although, I will try to remember to test the links before republishing the piece).
British and Proud of It -
A couple of days ago I read an article on the (
Now, I am British. I was born in
I have - for example - always found the American notion of patriotism rather baffling. The seemingly unreflecting earnestness of it makes me uneasy, uncomfortable. I don't doubt it - or - particularly - want to - demean it. But, I have to wonder what this - obvious - PRIDE in one's country means to such people.
So, what can pride in one's country mean, especially in my case of being British?
I have little, or no, time for the monarchy. I am indifferent to them and their activities. As for the current royal kerfuffle, as far as I'm concerned Charlie can marry who - or what (remember he is royalty) he likes. The only reason that I'm not a rabid anti-monarchy republican is that all the other options for a head of state seem worse than the one we've got. President Blair - or even President Howard (stop laughing at the back) - fills me with... well, unpleasant thoughts at the very least.
As you may have gathered I'm not overly impressed with our politicians either.
The famous British traditions, rites and rituals? The civil service? The aristocracy? No, I can't say that any of those make me feel anything approaching respect or pride, let alone anything approaching that current nonce phrase - a sense of identity.
The folks in the Prospect discussion mentioned above talk of the 'British traditions': a sense of fair play, tolerance - even the famous stiff-upper lip, at one point. But I don't see those things as being particularly, uniquely, British. They are personal attributes - some folk have them, some folk don't. Remember this so-called land of tolerance and fair play also is the home of the Daily Mail, Kilroy-Silk and hordes of the hanging and flogging brigade.
British arts and British culture - well, yes. We do Have Shakespeare, the Beatles, Monty Python, Newton, Milton, Dickens, Valerie Singleton and all the other names that I can't quite remember - or remember how to spell - at the moment. But there are other folk in other countries that have produced art and culture of equal or greater stature.
But why should I feel a greater pride in Shakespeare because he was born a few miles down the road from where I'm typing this than in - say - Beethoven who was born hundreds of miles away? They were both great blokes, did great stuff and will probably always be remembered for it. What I don't understand is why one should count more to me because of the accident of where he was born.
So that is one more thing to cross off the list.
So, it is not the institutions that make me feel any sense of British-ness, it is not the royal family, it is not the politicians, it is not the culture or the great men.
What does that leave? The people? The place?
The people? Well, the people are the people. Take one aspect - the famous British sense of humour. Now I like a good laugh myself - but Americans, Australians and others have all made me laugh at one time or another. The Germans even laugh at Monty Python - so I don't think there can be anything that special about the 'British sense of humour', or any of the other stereotypical so-called national characteristics. It seems that British people are British people, just, and only, because they are born in
As for sports, in everything - except football, for some reason I can't put my finger on - I am always pleased when - as usual - Britain, or England, fail, or lose, or whatever. That is mainly because it means we won't be constantly reminded of our great victory at every conceivable - and quite a few inconceivable - opportunity by a suddenly obsessive media.
For example, recently the English team apparently won some rugby match or other, and suddenly everything: the telly, the radio, the newspapers - everything - went rugby mad. But soon, when the rugby team got back to normal and starting losing again, rugby went back to being - more or less - ignored.
The same applies to any other international contest or competition, like the Eurovision Song Contest, or the current Olympic bid by
So that just leaves place.
The only thing is that
After all, despite
There are good things and there are bad things about this country as there are with most - if not all - countries. I am lucky - I know - to live in a place where the good things massively outweigh the bad things. And I do want to keep those good things, and do all I can to improve the bad things, or even make them go away altogether. But I don't think that it only applies to this country - to
A conclusion? I don't know.
As I said at the start - I don't understand patriotism. I would want to fight for what I think is right, but I know that my country (in the sense of the government, and in the sense of popular opinion) and I don't automatically see eye to eye on what those things are. I don't think I could ever say 'my country right or wrong', I think I would put right and wrong above and beyond country.
For example, if a situation like WWII ever arose again, I wouldn't fight 'for
And I don't know what 'feeling British' means, or rather, I can't find, put my finger on, a 'British' feeling inside me.
So, all I can say is - that for me - the question turns out to be a non-question - meaningless, but not pointless.
So, when any politician, or other member of the great and good exhorts me to do, feel, think or act in a particular way because of my 'British-ness' I will know now that it is just empty rhetoric and can be safely discounted.
But, the only thing that I can think of that would - for me - go some way to defining a sense of 'British-ness' would be a scepticism towards all attempts at defining something as nebulous as such a concept. Theorising about abstractions is something we British tend to prefer to leave to Johnny foreigner. Maybe that is an example of the famous British Pragmatism….
Oh, shit, that's buggered my whole bloody thesis hasn't it?