Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Let's celebrate Englishness in school

My cousin Sally is over from New Zealand, which involves a great deal of robust exchanges, mainly about child-rearing.  Sally is scary but absolutely right.

One of the things she asked me is whether the children have to sing patriotic, morale-boosting songs in school, like they do over there.  In other words: is there an English equivalent of 'It's Cool to be a Kiwi'?

I asked my ten-year-old and he couldn't think of an equivalent, and I must say I can't either.  After all, we English do have an aversion to That Kind of Thing, and I'm not altogether sure we are right to have.

Certainly, the American hand on heart at school assembly, while they are saluting the flag, rather sticks in the throat - and is wholly unEnglish.  But still.

I wondered about this when I was an an overwhelmingly Canadian wedding at a pub in Peckham.  At a late stage in the proceedings, everyone started singing 'O Canada!'

I wondered afterwards whether, if I had been at an English wedding in Toronto - or New Zealand for that matter - whether we would have sung 'God Save the Queen'.  I came to the conclusion that we might have, but with more irony.

I am a Liberal, after all.  I am wedged into a political tradition that scorns patriotic fervour, in a nation that finds this kind of thing embarrassing.  I had an article in the Guardian yesterday about Richard III and got what I deserved among the comments below the line for writing with any pride at all about even this rather distant member of the royal family.

But I have a feeling that, taken to its current extreme, this is not really liberalism - it is just world-weary cynicism.  It is post-modernism.  It believes in nothing and ends in a kind of nihilistic surrender to the forces of intolerant people who do believe something.

Let's imagine for a moment that the Scots vote after all for independence, and somehow navigate the nightmares and frightening side-effects of breaking up a union that used to be an empire.  Perhaps then the English will start celebrating what is great about themselves.

Because as long as we have things to be proud about - and we don't have to revel in those aspects of our history that nobody could be proud about - then it seems to me to give us confidence to celebrate it, and to give our children confidence by doing so.

But, and here's the rub, we have to stand for something as a nation - and it has to be more than getting richer or excluding foreigners.


James said...

Having experienced the singing of that type of nationalist dirge as a English child living in Australia and New Zealand, I really can't imagine anything worse.

Nick said...

The problem is that God Save The Queen is a terrible song, and no fun to sing. One does see British people abroad and at home singing Flower Of Scotland and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on certain occasions, possibly because they're seen to be more about the people singing the songs than asking some deity to protect someone else. Maybe the solution is to promote the use of Jerusalem more?

Lidl Janus said...

I agree with Nick (said by anyone for the first time in four years). "God Save the Queen" is a terrible, terrible song, but it's of a piece with the general terribleness of British national symbols anyway. The Union Jack doesn't have rotational symmetry, so plenty of people fly it upside down without knowing it, which is stupid. And the national motto refers to the divine right of kings. But of course, the collective British psyche seems too stick-in-the-mud to accept any sort of drastic change, which means the problem will persist until, I dunno, someone's burnt every flag, scraped the edges of every pound coin and wiped every recording of the national anthem.

"Jerusalem", though, is also terrible and not a solution; it's a song about whether Jesus visited Britain, for fuck's sake, both irrelevant to secular culture and weirdly Dan Brown-ish.

I guess, if David's right, this means we surrender to ISIS sooner or later.