It happened to Me
As regular readers of these blogs will know, I sometimes adopt the persona of the man/woman from the planet Zog to see things on an objective and impersonal basis. Bernard Porter does not come from Zog but from the University of Newcastle where he is Emeritus Professor of History. In the following "Letter to Immigrants" he gave as an unbiased view of the UK's past as one could wish.
"As immigrants to Britain, you are following in a long tradition. Britain's origins lie in successive waves of immigration from the European continent and Ireland: Celts first of all, then Romans, northern Germans, Scandinavians and Norman-French, most of them coming as conquerors, but some just to settle; and then bands of refugees from political tyrannies and economic deprivation from the 17th century to the present day. Many of her most distinguished later citizens have been, or have been descended from, these immigrants. They include some of her greatest artists, scientists, industrialists and statesmen and stateswomen; most of her older aristocracy; and her present Queen.
"To complement this, Britain has also been a nation of emigration, sending 'settlers' to countries such as North America, Australasia and Southern Africa, usually displacing their original inhabitants; traders, investors and slavers all over the world; and conquerors and rulers to India, Africa and elsewhere. Some of the settlers could be regarded as 'economic' refugees from Britain and Ireland, driven thence by hunger. You will very likely have come across their descendants and the legacies of what is called 'British imperialism' in your countries of origin. There are differing opinions over whether the latter has overall been a force for good, or for ill.
"Back home, Britons have long prided themselves on their toleration, which was what made possible their generous 'political asylum' policy in the past; the 'freedom' of her institutions, especially the law, and the jury system that underpins that; and – latterly – her parliamentary democracy. All these, however, have had to be struggled for, usually by the 'common people' against a political class that has not always shared the same values; and they can never be said to be absolutely secure.
"Britain's historical 'identity' is confused, differing not only according to class, which is still a powerful factor; but also according to nationality (English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish); region (north-south); religion (Protestant, Catholic, secular, Muslim etc); and gender. Like every other nation in the world she has a mixed history of proud achievements, usually in defence of 'liberty', both her own and others' (slaves, Nazi-occupied Europe); and of egregious sins, some of them in her colonies.
"Britain is not defined by her history, but is ever developing, in response to internal dynamics and global pressures, including movements of population. To become British is to identify with this complex and changing identity. To become a good citizen will involve embracing the best and most liberal features of it, and rejecting the worst."
Looking it over, I can't help thinking that a grasp of it might be salutary for existing Britons, who have such a traditionally slight understanding of their own nation's past. It really does extend beyond the Second World War, Churchill and winning the 1966 World Cup. (DTF)
I was on the point of writing an Article on Charities when I received the following from The Philosophy Man Ltd, 7 Tower Road, Writtle, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 3NR, UK. The questions it raises could well have been mine...
GOOD CAUSES GOOD EFFECTS.
The school staff room at lunchtime. Teachers and teaching assistants are sat eating.
GEOFF My class are doing a Singathon for the Christmas Appeal. Do you want to sponsor them?
LAURA I’ve heard them practise. If you do a sponsored silence instead, I’ll give you a fiver.
GEOFF That’s not very charitable!
LAURA I don’t feel very charitable at this time of year. Too many charity ads.
KAREN I know what you mean. Neglected children looking at you like puppies…
LAURA …puppies looking at you like neglected children.
GEOFF You old miseries. It’s supposed to be the season of goodwill.
KAREN I’ve got goodwill. But I do my bit already. I have a direct debit that goes out each month to a school charity in Tanzania. I just don’t like the way these adverts tug at your heart strings. They make the children look so pathetic. It’s all about pity.
MARY Well, if that’s what works, isn’t it better the charities get more money?
LAURA Not if loads of it goes on advertising. If I give money to charity, I want it to go to the people who need it, not to pay for TV adverts.
MARY Do you give money to charity?
LAURA Not at the moment, no.
MARY Then the ads aren’t aimed at you. Maybe they need a bit of pity to get people to part with their money, to make them feel good about helping.
KAREN It shouldn’t be about how you feel. It should be about what’s right. I think it’s wrong that children anywhere don’t get a good education, because they’re just like our children.
TOM But what about children in this country? Lots of them have a miserable time too. We can’t fix the world.
LAURA I can’t fix my washing machine. That’s where my money will be going.
LUCY I think it’s best to put your charity where it makes the biggest difference. You can save a life in some countries for the same money it costs to look after a dog in Battersea Dogs’ home here.
MARY But the puppies look so cute.
LUCY That’s just the problem. It should be a rational decision, not based on which charity has the best adverts.
LAURA You’re all making me feel guilty now. Geoff, I’ll give you £2 if you promise not to do “Away in a Manger”.
What causes are most deserving of charity? (Animal, cultural, welfare, emergency
or long term, at "home" or far away?)
How should the impact of giving be measured?
Do charitable ends justify fundraising means? (Emotional manipulation, fundraising costs, targeting of donors)
Who in the dialogue has good reasons for their actions, and who is just making excuses? How can you tell if someone is just making excuses?
Is charity a matter of pity or of justice?
Where does charity begin?
One way in which History differs from “the past” is the constant need to search for bias in sources of evidence.
So when providing such a source ourselves, we should admit our own beliefs and prejudices, then try to remain as neutral as possible in what we communicate.
It was in this spirit that I approached the website of the Britain First party and its eleven statements of principle. I found the third particularly interesting…
“Britain First is committed to preserving our ancestral ethnic and cultural heritage, traditions, customs, and values. We oppose the colonisation of our homeland through immigration and support the maintenance of the indigenous British people as the demographic majority within our own homeland. Britain First is committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture.”
The BF thus draw a clear line of distinction between “Us” and “Them,” and a definition of “Britishness.”
In its sixth statement of principles, the BF states its commitment to “freedom of opinion, [and} expression…” so would surely not grudge me as an interested observer from asking questions regarding “Us”, the supposed indigenous and “Them” the immigrants?
QUESTION. WHO ARE US AND WHO ARE THEM?
In this spirit I will now address myself to “Britain First”…
Is it not true that at the end of the last Ice Age, there was no one living here within the British Isles simply because it was too cold? Does it therefore not follow that every family presently living here are descended from immigrants, whether they arrived 10,000 years ago or yesterday?
Did not your families, like mine, arrive here at some undetermined point in the past seeking the same two things…to escape persecution and/or to better their lot in life?
Confident that you accept this as fact, then at what point do or have “they,” the immigrants, become “us,” the indigenous? Is it a matter of Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Generations, Millennia? Will you not have to make a ruling on this?
Even having made such a ruling how will you determine the truth of a person’s claim of residential longevity in the UK?
What will you do with those who do not meet your criteria? Imprisonment? Deportation back to their original historical homelands? What if the present inhabitants of the latter will not accept them? Will this not impose very heavy burdens on an already over-worked and under-staffed police, customs and prison authorities?
You make great play of the term “indigenous British people” as if we are a people sharing a common gene pool. Really? Are we not an amalgam of all those peoples who have “colonised” the British Isles since the last Ice Age…Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers; Neolithic farmers; Celtic speaking Bronze and Iron Age peoples, Romans, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, Frisians, Danes, Norwegians, Normans, Jews, Huguenots, Dutch, Flemish, Irish, emigre French, West Indians, Africans, Asians, eastern Europeans?
In which case, I wonder what you mean by “our ancestral ethnic and cultural heritage, traditions, customs, and values…” Let us lump them altogether as “Culture,”(here used in the archaeological sense of “the way people do things.”)
Here I must ask, is there one British Culture different from everyone else‘s cultire? If you know what it is, could you please tell me?
Just what is “Britishness?”
Alternatively, is there just one culture or many different sub-cultures as with every other nation on earth caused by geography, history, politics, economics, class and religion? If this is the case then I take it you are bound to protect and encourage them all?
I note with interest, “Britain First is committed to maintaining and strengthening Christianity as the foundation of our society and culture.” As an atheist myself, can you tell me how you will lead and encourage this moral crusade? As you are aware, church attendance is rapidly falling…but with one exception- The Pentecostal Church with its congregations heavily consisting of those Britons whose families arrived from the Caribbean sometime between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries. Will they therefore meet your criteria for continuing citizenship?
THE ROYAL FAMILY
Will not the acid test of your resolve be your future plans for the Royal Family...the best known immigrant family in the land? Not speaking a word of English, did not disqualify the German Elector of Hanover a.k.a. George I from being offered and accepting the throne in 1714.
Finally, kind reader, it is time to come clean. I hope you will see that I have tried to avoid abusing individual members of BF. Accepting that you share many experiences with me and however much I happen to disagree with you, I have simply asked objective questions about your principles.
“I do not disrespect you as individuals, only your ideas that I thoroughly despise!”
As a form of self appraisal I recently took stock of my books by genre on both shelf and Kindle...
Novels, poetry, drama, painting, music, photography, history, philosophy, sport, naturism, natural history, sociology, geography, psychology, politics.
(If this seems a lot then I have been reading consistently and hoarding books now for seventy years).
The most self-revealing lay not so much in my choice of classic novels from Jane Austen to Kazuo Ishiguro as my "feet up with a scotch" holiday reads.
My oldest favourite and one I have turned to many times since I was eight years old is the Sherlock Holmes collection. Although I have never been able to decide whether it is a good bad book or a bad good book, it seems to have influenced my taste in light reading ever since...a fascination with crime or espionage; a marked sense of time and place; a strong but flawed central character faced with an equally strong but even more flawed opponent and of course a clever plot line.
Holmes has his late nineteenth century London, complete with his pea-soup fogs, Hansom cabs, steam railways, tobacco smoke, conjured up in a remarkable economy of words; he took drugs, was unashamedly ignorant of anything outside his highly specialised interests; he had Moriarty as his opponent and of course each of the short stories had their own clever denouements.
At the other end of the time-scale is Ian Rankin's John Rebus. His stamping ground is a living Edinburgh far removed from the hoots, toots and haggis picture on millions of shortbread tins. Rebus lives through not just a changing city but a changing nation over nearly thirty years; he does not do drugs but drinks and smokes to excess, cannot establish a permanent relationship with a woman as the job always comes first, has few outside interests apart from music and football; over the years his one major opponent is Gerald Morris Cafferty, Edinburgh's Mr. Big. The one thing that appeals to me about Rebus is his doggedness and obstinacy in the face of any form of pressure that will prevent him from solving a case, regardless of personal cost and however many superiors he has to upset.
Very different from those two is my anti-hero, the late George MacDonald Fraser's creation, Harry Flashman,the notorious bully of in "Tom Brown's Schooldays." The self-confessed coward lied, cheated, stole, womanised, drank and toadied his way around the nineteenth century world but never failed to leave behind indelible impressions of time and place and a sure antidote to the hypocrisy surrounding the establishment of Empire. Here he tells nothing but the truth, naturally seeing the worst in everyone. He had three great gifts in life...languages, horse riding and fornication- all three frequently used to secure his (totally false) reputation, survival and fortune regardless of the interests of others.
My last two books are again totally different to the others. The first is the wicked black humour of Tom Sharpe that creases me with inane laughter however often I read the books.
YE DYSKE WORLDE
My last choice presented me with a problem. Should it be in this class of book at all? You see, I totally agree with those who have accused the late, great and sadly missed Sir Terry Pratchett of literature!
The real central character of his books is Ye Dyske Worlde itself....a world bearing an uncanny likeness to a record turntable, flat with a central high peak It is supported on the backs of four giant elephants who in
turn stand on the shell of the Great A'Tuin- an even more gigantic turtle. Incredible characters abound in the world of magic but the more incredible the situations they find themselves in, the more the Disc World seems like Earth in the here and now. Everyone
has their own favourites, Rincewind the "Wizzard"; the Patrician; Sam Vimes; Captain Carrot, even the city of Ankh Morpork itself. I personally favour the Three Witches-Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick- any resemblance to "Macbeth" being totally
So much of the humour turns on the use of language...who else could have described Ankh Morpork sex workers as "Ladies of negotiable affection"? To describe Nanny Ogg's cat, Grebo, catching a vampire still in stunned bat mode and eating it with the line that Vampires have been known to rise from the grave, the tomb and the crypt, but never from the cat" (sic) or for that matter describe Commander Vimes using a small dragon as a handgun?
So much for the appraisal of my light reading that has raised more questions than it answers. To what extent has it influenced my sense of humour or to what extent did my existing sense of humour determine my choice of reading? Does it reveal anything to me about me? If so what, and do I like the what?
With the Ashes series having started down under, it is time to look back at…
THE TEST OF THE CENTURY!
ENGLAND 635-1, AUSTRALIA 32 ALL OUT!
This, surely the most outstanding cricket test result of all time, did not occur at Lord’s, The Oval nor the Melbourne Cricket Ground but on the back
row bench in the Physics Lab of Great Yarmouth Grammar School in the summer of 1957.
The players? Me and my mate. I sense that an explanation is here needed.
The Physics master, who also ran the School Cadet Corps that we were all expected to join, while retaining his wartime rank of Major in civilian life had little time for refusniks like my mate and me. While the corps were on parade one Friday morning, he caught us hanging out of a window chanting “You’ve got a face like a chicken’s arse”, to the sound of a matching bugle call Rounding on us he asked “Why aren’t you two in the cadets? You aren’t homosexuals are you?” It is a cliché to speak of a “bristling moustache” but his ginger moustache BRISTLED especially when we both burst out laughing remembering where we had been the evening before!
Next term we were assigned to his Physics class. Eying us with total disdain he relegated the two of us to the very back row of the long, narrow lab, clearly intending to leave us to rot, but not for long, however.
Left to our own devices we turned to the ancient and noble game of Pencil Cricket. For the uninitiated, it does not call for bat, ball, pads stumps or even a pitch, just two hexagonal pencils with the paint scraped off the blunt ends. On pencil A were written on each hexagonal and in order were 1, 2, 3, 4, How Zat? And 6. On pencil B’s hexagonal were written, again in order, “Bowled”, “Not Out”,
“Caught”, “Not Out”, “LBW”, “Not Out”.
The “batting team” would then roll pencil A. If a number was rolled then that would be recorded as their runs. If on the other hand they landed on “Ow Zat” they would have to roll Pencil B and take their chance with the umpire’s decision.
Our next step was to buy a proper cricket score book and so began the test series that ended with England’s monumental win over Australia…not without more than a little help from us. Well, it was Australia!
Our last development was to select teams of famous people of choice to play each other.
To my shame I admit to still selecting teams in moments of enforced idleness, hence…
All Time Female Movie Stars v. British PMs,
Sixties Bands v. Fictional Detectives
F1 Drivers v. Roman Emperors,
British Women Politicians v. Male Movie Stars etc.
However, my favourite match was devised giggling stupidly with a much valued female ex-colleague during a break on a school expedition.
We considered playing after dark and under flood lights out of deference to one of the team captains…
An Eminent Nineteenth Century Lady Novelists XI
An All-time Evil XI.
Jane Austen (Captain), George Eliot, Mrs Gaskell, Louisa M. Alcott, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Ann Bronte, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (nee Godwin), Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Count Dracula (Captain), Caligula, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan; the swine who kicked me in the back whilst playing rugby in Bishop Stortford; Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Armin, Mao Tse Tung.
We fantasised about a scorecard that contained…
G. Khan, caught E. Bronte, bowled J Austen………….0
Caligula lbw Harriet Beecher Stowe……………………….3
J.Stalin stumped M.Shelley……………………………….....5
I am sure this is sufficient to create the atmosphere of the matches- even to my American readers whom I am sure will quickly transpose baseball for cricket.
Oh yes, my exams. No way would I have passed Physics as Pencil Cricket was not on the syllabus, but I did at least pass “O” Level General Science, (Thank fortune for Biology and Chemistry!)