BLOG 4 (LATEST)
As a cradle republican (note the small “r”) I was agog with indifference to the Windsor family wedding on Saturday last.
I have nothing against them as individuals but plenty against the institution of Monarchy and a sycophantic aristocracy. I feel insulted that my offspring- and yours- however intelligent, wise, respectful and charitable they might become, will never be deemed good enough to head the state they serve.
Robert Burns had similar thoughts in his great 1795 poem, “Is there for honest poverty”. (Excuse the broad Scots but a translation into received English will do justice to neither the poem nor its author).
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
THE British National Party is now in the same state of health as the Monty Python parrot
Although it had been dying on its perch for quite some time, the death rattle came on Friday morning when it was announced that its last councillor in office would not be standing for re-election. The BNP is extinct. It is no more.
Well I remember my shock and revulsion back in 1993 when their first councillor was elected,
to their peak year in 2006 with 33 councillors and strong showings in over 80 other wards. Sure that their time had come, this ill managed party promulgated its racist message of hate across the land….
“Ideology: Euroscepticism, White nationalism, Ethnic nationalism, Right-wing populism, Ultranationalism, British Fascism
Political position: Far-right politics”
[Source BNP website]
Before we are told that the BNP’s demise was due to some left wing elitist plot…. It was not! Ordinary people campaigned against the BNP in elections the length and breadth of Britain, working with local parties, trade unions, faith leaders, the Mirror, and others. Lots of our work was crowd funded from tens of thousands of supporters. An incredible number of leaflets and newspapers were got out in the campaigns. All in all, it was a truly grassroots effort by ordinary people repelled by racism.
We can take real pride in what everyone did to take the BNP from hundreds of thousands of votes and dozens of councillors to today, fading away with the announcement that their last councillor isn't even standing again.
HOWEVER, it is truly a case of “one down, more to follow.” The far right is still alive under its stone and is ready to crawl out onto the streets and spread its pernicious lies on the internet.
When you see articles hiding under the Union Flag and from, for example, “Britain
First,” “English Defence League” etc., remember the words of Dr. Johnson, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” and your ABC….
Having written this article, I stopped and paused. Could hundreds and thousands of Britons have been so stupid and ignorant of their own national history, as to vote for a party whose core beliefs were “White nationalism, Ethnic nationalism, Right-wing populism, Ultra-nationalism, British Fascism with a political position so far to the right traditional politics?”
What do these “patriots” imagine the Second World War to have been all about? National survival certainly but above all to eradicate such beliefs as those of the BNP that led to the mass murder of 6 million people perceived as being different from “everybody else”?
SCOTLAND IN CRISIS!
The approach of World Cup soccer is a reminder of the story behind this photograph.
We were staying up in Oban back in the day when Scotland were due to play Holland in a previous World Cup qualifier. If they lost, they were out!
THE TARTAN TAVERN
Fascinated by the extras left over from "Braveheart" I followed the "See You Jimmy" hats and saltire-painted faces into my favourite bar, less interested in watching the match than watching them watching the match.
Having eventually fought my way to a pint of "the heavy," and knowing England were about to kick off against Germany, I could not resist asking the landlord if there was any chance of watching it. He eyed me with total incredulity..."Do you want to see these bastards burn down my pub?" Perhaps not.
A ROSE AND A TULIP AMONG BLUEBELLS
I made my English way to a discrete table only to be joined by a guy wearing an Orange scarf and bobble hat. He was Dutch! Mmm. a flame in a powder magazine?
"Flower of Scotland" was given a rapturous if inebriated rendition. The whistle went to the sound of the fearsome battle cries that had scared many a redcoat by loch and by glen.
However, this initial enthusiasm slowly subsided, for as the match went on, the Dutch proved themselves to be mfar superior. Their 60 minute winner was greeted with a stony silence by everyone... except that is, my companion, who insisted on shouting his joy and waving his scarf above his head.
The final whistle went. A huge local drained his pint and rumbled over to our table. "Not good," I thought, reaching for a heavy glass ash tray as a potential means of defence. He extended a huge paw to my orange-clad friend and....insisted on shaking his hand..."Och awa’ mon. Yer deserved tae win. Yer team were the better side!" It was fortunate that his gesture was met with nods of friendly agreement all around the bar. At that moment the result from Wembley was announced..."England 5 Germany 0".
THE PHOTOGRAPH AND THE PIPES
I made my excuses and left. Outside the pub, I took my photograph. I doubt if even the 1746 defeat at Culloden could have been greeted with deeper and more obvious body language.
At that precise moment, and I swear this is true...down in the town and to mark Scotland's exit from the world cup , a lone piper struck up a Lament!
C’MON… YOU MUST KNOW DOUG
“Give me a child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.”
(Attributed to St. Ignatius Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus aka The Jesuits.)
“C’mon, you must know him… bald, mid- seventies, stocky, beer gut, short limbs? Left school at 15, built up a small central heating installation business? Married to
Jean, two children who he saw through university with degrees in Business Studies? A real grown up who maintains his own car and their suburban semi, himself? Likes his fags and a beer or three, loathes fresh fruit and vegetables preferring red meat and chips
at as many meals as possible?? Boasts of never having ever read a book for pleasure, preferring the Sun/Daily Mail/ Daily Express? A devout Tory/Brexit voter? Unquestioning Royalist and supporter of the British Military? Believer in bringing back hanging?
Vaguely racist, never having once spoken to a black/brown/yellow/sky blue coloured person in his life? Homophobic to the point of being frightened of otherwise thought to be so himself? A firm believer in knowing what he likes (or rather liking what he knows?)
Has never questioned anything in his life outside his occupation, least of all his own mind?
You must know him or at least perhaps thought about what has made him the way he is.
In short, could St. Ignatius Loyola have been correct?
If he was, then the first seven year’s factors that have made Doug the man he is must have stemmed from family, , school and peer goup. Being 75 myself, I feel best qualified to speculate.
Doug was a child of The Second World War with vague memories of Anderson shelters and maternal reminiscences of the Home Front, ration books and shortages.
Inevitably, his role model would have been his father…working class, also stocky of build, short limbed and challenged for height, None the less this caricature of the English peasantry, clad in khaki, a steel helmet, ludicrous shorts and holding a Lee Enfield .303 rifle with unswerving loyalty had proved to be the scourge of the all-conquering Wehrmacht from the deserts of North Africa through Italy and into Germany to Luneberg Heath- facts he never failed to impress on young Doug at every possible opportunity.
Transmitted with them was the picture of British invincibility, total disdain of black, brown and yellow folk, (friends and enemies alike) disdain for conscientious objectors and ignorance of the part played in victory by The United States and particularly the people of Soviet Russia. The whole conflict was presented as a war against Germany and Japan with no mention of Fascism and Democracy.
The whole experience was perpetuated then and since in soft focus…The Royal Family, Churchill, Spitfires doing victory rolls over Vera Lynn’s White Cliffs of Dover, the triumph of Dunkirk, The Blitz (“London Can Take It”), Land of Hope and Glory… all wrapped up in the Union Flag.
Doug neither got nor wanted encouragement from parents, who having got little out of education themselves, expected no more from him. He enjoyed practical subjects and sport but was proof against anything smacking of the Arts. He left school as soon as possible at 15 and moved into a job on his father’s recommendation.
Outside home and school, Doug’s childhood was dominated by his friends and what they absorbed about The War.
There were bomb sites a-plenty as potential playgrounds and scenes of stone and brick fights with gangs from other streets.
Playthings were invariably militaristic…toy shops being heavily stocked with replica guns of every description…pellet firers, water pistols, spud guns, and those that detonated caps. There were a wide range of models…Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters, Sunderland flying boats, warships from aircraft carriers to submarines, tanks, armoured cars and of course toy soldiers, miniature artillery pieces, battery powered searchlights and most intimidating of all were unhealthily realistic Commando knives made out of rubber. Then there were all the Wild West paraphernalia…Colt 45’s, Winchesters, Stetsons etc.
Apart from the violent toys there were the American Western movies on at the “Saturday Morning Rush” and woe between any cinema manager who failed to show one without plenty of fist fighting and shoot outs.
Then came the spate of war films…“The Dam Busters”, “The Colditz Story” etc., emphasing British officer class stiff upper lips but no mention of lower ranks in ture acts of heroism.
Now into the mid 1950’s television was in many homes and for years there was the nightly western trailing violence with it into the living room. Such murder and mayhem was widely accepted as the norm by children and their parents alike.
There was much racial stereo-typing. Black people were always cooks and servants, frequently figures of fun. Many US Cavalry regiments were pictured but
never the “Buffalo Soldiers” of the Tenth the all- negro but white officered unit so-nicknamed by Native Americans.
They, in their turn got a bad press…always the villains standing in the way of white settlement on their land.
Meanwhile, there was Doug’s choice of reading matter…the Comic.
Leaving aside the “Beano” and the “Dandy” there were several “harder” comics with inevitable war stories presenting British wartime exploits in the best possible light. Brilliantly drawn, violence was held up as the solution of all problems.
Then came the American comic books…in colour, even better drawn and deliberate propaganda. One such was entitled “The Black Hawks” that appeared circa 1951 at the time of the Korean War. It concerned the exploits of a squadron of United Nations pilots combating the Communist Chinese allies of North Korea. They flew US “Sabre Jets” as opposed to the Chinese Russian-supplied Mig 15s with their distinctive high tail fins.
Of course the Blackhawks won every engagement but what was more interesting was the make up of the squadron…American Squadron Leader, British number 2 and then acceptable Nordic-Anglo-Saxons…a Swede, a Canadian, an Australian, a stray Frenchman, a Dutchman and one Chinese- a pigtailed Taiwanese - one of Chiang kai Check’s capitalist retinue fighting against the dreaded Communists. No black or brown pilots whatsoever.
Young Doug, me and millions of other boys like us were subjected to these violent, simplistic and racially biased influences. Then in Grammar Schools like mine came the pressures to join an Army, Navy or Air Force cadet unit with unquestioning loyalty to the Crown, uniformity and the glamour of handling a rifle…all at the time of Suez and the retreat from Empire as indigenous peoples sought their independence.
So do you know Doug, or could it be Jan Stewer, Bill Brewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davey, Dan’l Widdon, Harry Hawke or old Uncle Tom Cobley? Does their innate conservatism, patriotism preferred to universal charity and prejudices stem from those childhood years? Was St. Ignatius Loyola right in his assertion and if so, what are the warnings for us today?
Oh yes, in case you are wondering….
I was a refusnik. Like my dad, I liked my Westerns, war films and tales of daring do but he always pointed out the reality. I once asked him about how he felt about rescuing German submariners in Arctic waters. His answer was simple…”They were mariners like me. The only real enemy was the sea”. He held conscientious objectors to have had the greatest courage of all and never failed to impress upon me that the war was not in defence of King and Empire but defeating Fascism, securing Freedom and setting up The Welfare State.
I have never wavered from those (and other) principles but among the 65-plus Dougs that I know, I am in a very small minority.
In my last Blog I proposed offering details of how this 75 year old has attempted to plan for the future.
Between then and now, the BBC has produced a truly excellent 10 part series entitled "Holding back the Years" weekdays 9.15-10.00am. It has somewhat upstaged me for it is essential viewing for not just us oldies but for everyone….
“There will be no justice in Athens until those who
are not hurt feel as indignant about it as those who are.”
[Thucydides, two and a half thousand years ago]
All I can do is applaud the general advice offered in “Holding Back the Years” and demonstrate how it is possible to adapt much of it to one’s own specific case, as I had already done to mine.
Despite being a very fit indoor rower for my age, I am not so short sighted as to assume this will always be the case. Elizabeth’s acute arthritis is a constant daily reminder to us both.
Plan for the future remembering that we are indeed not islands.
The first essential was to adapt our home. We accordingly installed a stair lift, converted a conventional bathroom into a wet room, obtained mobility scooters to “give Elizabeth her legs back, ” and put a landline telephone in every room.
The second essential
was to establish a “Circle of Support” for time of need within our own social environment…a small North Norfolk market town of some 3,000 people.
Small it might be, but it contains everything we need for everyday living…
Surgery (ambulance depot 4 miles away, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital 20 miles), dentist, solicitor, undertaker, chemist, optician. A twice weekly mobile bank and ATMs
(Retained fire service, quick response police),
Builders, plumbers and decorators, gardeners, computers.
Supermarkets and sufficient outlets for everyday living
Bus routes (not on Sundays) south to Yarmouth, North to Cromer, west to Norwich and access to rail, National Express, airport and rail station. Taxis.
Having been flying computers for thirty years, we are well and truly computer literate. My advice is to get to be the same. This is the safety net for everything from grocery supplies to new friendships across the world.
With a secure base secured, it was time to turn to the third essential… not to give up on those activities that have made us who we are. “Don’t give up on things because you are old, because you are old when you give up on things.”
My personal priorities are intellectual; creative and aesthetic; emotional; financial; social, underpinning them all with good health and fitness and seeking FUN.
They are interlocked in the sense of the little boy whose parents told him they were taking him to see The University. They showed him the Senate House, the lecture halls, the seminar rooms, the halls of residence, the laboratories, the gym and playing fields and of course the student bar. Asked what he thought, the little boy replied, “Great, but where is The University?”
Such has been my personal approach to “Holding Back the Years.” Whatever you are contemplating at hopefully a younger age do not forget that “AGE IS COMPULSORY” and above all…
“As you are now, so once were we,
As we are now, so shall ye be.”