Where do we look for heroes, today of all days? Not at the war memorial. They have almost all gone away. There used to be soldiers, sailors, airmen, Waafs and Wrens everywhere, even if they were mostly invisible. The elderly gent shuffling home from the supermarket with a budget meal for one, a survivor of the Somme. The bank manager polishing his car on Sunday, dogged by memories of D-Day. The headmaster who thrashed the same boys repeatedly and who was taken away in the end. Manhandled out of the school. He had gone funny in the head, they said, thanks to a war wound he never mentioned. Silence was a characteristic of most of those old soldiers. The battles were as close then in history as Live Aid is now, but the combatants kept mum. Except on Remembrance Sunday. Then they polished medals and cap badges, dusted down regimental blazers and marched with the Scouts and Guides. The Last Post was played hesitantly by a bugler from the Boys’ Brigade, the Mayor led the hymn singing and hundreds turned up to join in. The scene will be repeated all over the country today, but in many places the old soldiers will be older and fewer, the uniformed organisations down to the stragglers, and the crowds absent. War is what happens far away, or long ago, or on the PlayStation. Continue reading “Where do we look for heroes today?”
You can’t get more English than a bunch of middle-aged bearded men with bells on their ankles, waving hankies and prancing like their piles are on fire, can you? The way to stop the BNP kidnapping notions of Englishness is by celebrating the new England. The riotous, bawdy, multi-ethnic Englishness evolving before our eyes. A piece for The Guardian
May madness matters. It’s a festival of British eccentricity — from dancers at dawn on the Cerne Abbas giant to maypole plaiting in Gawthorpe. The sinister ’Obby ’Oss has already cavorted through Padstow, but huge crowds will watch the Jack-in-the-Green do the same in Hastings this morning. It is easy to dismiss these things as silly and say they are mostly relatively recent inventions, the product of guesswork and improvisation designed to attract tourists as well as hark back to some illusory time when we were closer to the land. That’s all true. But they are also an example of something else, which is very relevant this week: good old British wilfulness, a stubborn resistance to being told what to do and what to think, and an eagerness to stick two fingers up at those who try it. A piece for The Times
On a shelf in a glass case, in a room in the Bogside area of Derry, there is a yellowing cotton Babygro covered in brown blotches. The stains were made by the blood of Michael Kelly, a 17-year-old boy who was shot dead in the street just outside. “We carried him into a house,” recalls his brother John, still angry and grieving 36 years later. “The woman there grabbed anything she could to try and stop the flow of blood.” A piece for The Independent On Sunday
What has a bloke on a horse with a ruddy big lance got to do with modern England? Isn’t that crusader suit a bit inappropriate these days? And aren’t fire-breathing dragons an endangered species?
The story of Saint George and the dragon has long seemed like a barmy old myth, way out of kilter with the nation that our patron saint is meant to represent. But I have a confession to make, on his feast day. Tonight, for the first time in my life, I will raise a glass of local ale to Saint George.
Not because I’ve fallen for the far right’s lies. Quite the opposite. It’s because if we don’t rethink and reimagine the emblems of our nationhood, and celebrate what they say about us, then the far right will.
And the thing about old George is that after years, even centuries of irrelevance, he suddenly looks like a saint worth having. It’s not that he has changed; rather, it’s that we have. The English are beginning to look just like him. Continue reading “St George was Johnny Foreigner – so he’s the perfect saint for the English”