Tuesday, June 5, 2012

There's A-Jubilation, A-Sweeping The Nation...

We've had a few days off the tour over this long weekend as it seemed a tricky time to try and get anyone's attention. (We start again tomorrow.)

Mrs Gorman also had a bit of time off - just the Monday - but even so, enough for us to try to take advantage during what is a pretty busy time for us both.

So, when my radio show was finished on Sunday I scooted off to meet Mrs G at a train station and we headed off to Lewes. (As readers of DGvsTRoTW will know, I like it there)

Our train passed over the Thames on the Cremorne Bridge at Chelsea where huge crowds were gathered to watch the flotilla go by. From the comfort of the train it didn't look like a particularly fun day out. The river and sky seemed to be matching shades of grey while the crowd - who had nothing much to look at yet - looked like a cold, wet shivering mass of red, white and blue.

When we arrived in Lewes we found a sunny day waiting for us. It was dry the next day too. We ate and drank well, we played Toad in the Hole (not a euphemism), we walked up a mountain and generally had a fun and relaxing time. As we left on Monday we witnessed our first three drops of rain... but when we got back to London we found the capital was dry once more. We definitely had the best of the weather.

Our motivation wasn't to avoid the Jubilee - we'd have barricaded ourselves indoors and turned the TV and radio off if that was the goal - but it was two days of fun that were completely uninformed by the Jubilee. Which is fine by me because I find it impossible to get into the whole worshipful side of things. I just don't get it. (I don't mind in the slightest - as I've travelled around the country these last few weeks I've loved seeing all the red, white and blue and I'd love it if the public buildings stuck with it when the Jubilee and the Olympics have passed... but enjoying the side-effects and the pageantry isn't quite the same as enjoying the motivation behind it all).

I don't know many people who are ardent royalists. I don't know many people who are ardent republicans either. I don't think most people care all that much. I think most people think the idea of changing things would be all a bit too complicated so while they appear to be a relatively decent bunch we might as well just keep on having them as not... after all it does seem to bring in the tourists etc etc.

I tweeted something along those lines a couple of days ago, saying "never before have so many people celebrated so loudly something they're not all that bothered about really" (or similar) and was most surprised by the reaction.

The majority of people who replied seemed to think they were being contrary when they said things like, "Actually, I think you'll find I'm celebrating the fact that we've got two bank holidays!" - which, of course wasn't contrary in the slightest and only served to underline the point I was making.

But others were angry and told me off. If I didn't appreciate the Queen, I was told, I was welcome to go and live elsewhere. Why wasn't I being patriotic? What was wrong with me?

I had no idea I was being unpatriotic. I don't feel unpatriotic. Far from it.  I just don't think loving your country and loving your monarch are the same thing. It's certainly possible to do one and not the other. And to be perfectly clear, not-loving your monarch isn't the same as hating them. An absence of love doesn't imply the presence of any hatred. I don't have any dislike for the Queen at all. I'm not convinced her job should exist or that anyone should have power bestowed on them by accident of birth but that doesn't mean I dislike her. I hardly even know the woman.

The truth is simply that I feel about the Queen exactly the same as I do about any other 86 year old woman I've never met. Y'know... I wish her well. I'd offer her my seat on the tube if I saw her standing. I'd hold a door open for her if I saw her approaching. I'd carry her bags and happily help her cross a road if the need was there... it's just that I'd do these things because she's an 86 year old woman rather than because she's the Queen.

"Would you rather we were a republic or a dictatorship?" asked one twitter correspondent, as if by offering up two such unimaginably awful alternatives I would finally come to see quite how lucky we are. Well the answer is that if push came to shove and it was easily arranged I'd rather be a republic, thanks. But as it's not easy I'll happily go along with the status quo.

But under any system I'd find the idea of everyone celebrating an individual's existence - be it a President, a Dictator or a Monarch - equally odd. I suppose the Republic is the one least likely to demand it of us. (And that's another reason to prefer it)

But for some, patriotism seems to be fundamentally intertwined with royalism. Our troops pledge an oath of allegiance to the Queen, not the nation - and even our National Anthem is about her rather than the country.

National Anthems haven't always existed. They're a 19th Century thing. The Dutch were the first. Theirs seems pretty woeful too. They sing about being of German descent and pledge allegiance to the King of Spain. Little wonder Spain beat them in the World Cup Final.

The Spanish avoid any such awkwardness by having an anthem without lyrics. San Marino do the same.

The UK couldn't keep the tune but drop the lyrics because the tune isn't ours and ours alone. The same tune is used for the American song, My Country 'Tis Of Thee (which Aretha Franklin sang at Obama's inauguration) and for the Lichtenstein National Anthem, Up Above The Young Rhine, as well as for several other songs.

But the anthems I like tend to be about the country. (You'd think that would be a pre-requisite wouldn't you?)
Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.
Great Britain is girt by sea. We should definitely take that line. The word girt just isn't used enough these days. Or ever.

Compare and contrast:
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save The Queen
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save The Queen.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save The Queen!
(Many people like to go on about the anti-Scottish verse... but it was never a part of the official national anthem. It seems several new verses have cropped up from time to time to reflect the politics of the day and some have become popular. But that doesn't mean they were ever a part of the anthem proper) 

Me? I really do wish that at least one lyric in amongst all that mentioned the country and said something,  y'know, nice. I said as much on twitter and received the predictable response of "well there's not a lot good to say about Britain is there!"

Which of course is nonsense. The country is beautiful. I know - I've cycled most of it. The country is tolerant. It has the NHS. For now.  It gave the world Shakespeare and Newton and Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee. Britons invented tin cans, cats eyes, crossword puzzles, the electric motor, steam engines, light bulbs and the periodic table. It gave the world football and cricket. All over the world time is measured relative to Greenwich. We have much to be proud of in Britain. If we weren't so embarrassed by the idea of pride.

But instead of singing about our inventiveness, our tolerance or our mountains and our rivers we sing about our monarch and how we hope God will look after her. Or him. That doesn't seem very patriotic to me. Just as celebrating the Queen's Jubilee didn't. In fact it seems quite the opposite. We could just as easily devote a June bank holiday to celebrating the UK and all get the bunting out and have just as big a party without having to pretend it's about her maj couldn't we? She could join in with it because, presumably, she's patriotic too. It'd be a bit more us-us-us and less me-me-me. Or one-one-one.

I always feel rather sorry for the Queen when the National Anthem is being sung. It always looks like an awkward moment for her standing there as thousands of people sing a song about her. Surely only Simon Cowell could enjoy that. If we are going to have a monarch - and we are - wouldn't it be nice if we had a national anthem he/she could properly sing along with? Rather than the poor soul having to stand there being stared at while everyone sings about them?

Some people have suggested we'd sound a bit cocky if we had a boastful anthem and while I'd prefer it to the forelock tugging one we have now I can see the point. So I'm suggesting a middle ground. A famous tune. A dance that everyone knows. But with new words that celebrate our okayness rather than our greatness.
Woah-oh the okay UK
Woah-oh the okay UK
Woah-oh the okay UK
Knees bend, arms stretch ra-ra-ra.
It can even be adapted to cope with however the campaign for Scottish independence pans out.
You put Scotland in
Scotland out,
You do the okay UK and you shake it all about,
That's what it's all about, oi!
Not that anyone would want to leave the union if that was our anthem. And how could anyone else hate us? We'd be the first nation in the world to have an anthem that everyone else joins in with.


Emma Spreadbury said...

And The Queen could definitely join in with the 'OK UK'. She'd probably love that.

Ridiculous Times said...

Interesting comment D

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm Canadian but I feel the same frustrations and left feeling confused by the worship of one person who just happened to be born into a certain family. Here in Canada all the has been on the monarch like we are just an after thought, doesn't feel good

Anonymous said...

Oops here in Canada all the NEWS has been"

Anonymous said...

Hear Hear Dave!

I've just been full of antipathy all weekend. I don't mind HMQ, she doesn't much affect my little existence. The only thing I object to is having her reigning OVER us. I don't want to be reigned over. I don't want to be expected to bow worshipfully if I ever meet her. Listening to some of the over the top people on phone ins telling me how grateful I should be was just nonsense. Then there were the people telling me that compared to the £9bn Olympics the Jubilee os costing nothing. Well its costing my little company £10,000 in lost revenue. Grrrrr...

Anonymous said...

I wasn't bothered about the Jubilee celebrations at all - not out of any disrespect for the Queen, I just don't get the whole pomp and pageantry that surrounds them. Watching two hours of HM taking a boat ride up the Thames didn't sound all that riveting; especially as Auntie Beeb managed to stretch the whole thing out by bringing in every kind of pundit, analyst, historian and correspondent short of Alan Hanson :)

As for the anthem, it is rather pointless. The Queen's perfectly capable of looking out for herself - if anyone needs God's help more than the Queen, it's David Cameron... and quite possibly Roy Hodgson. Given that as a nation we probably worship football more passionately than the monarchy, a terrace favourite like "Hi-Ho Silver Lining" could be a good candidate. You'd have everyone joining in with that one - even the French :)

Anonymous said...

I think Billy Connolly had the right idea with his proposal for a national anthem using the Archer's theme tune, I might even stand up for that one!

Anonymous said...

The whole POINT to the Jubilee, or state funerals or other big-deal British events, is the pomp and pageantry. Only the British can do it right. A good reason to be proud!

Andy said...

I've always been a bit ambivalent when it comes to the monarchy. I'm not the sort of person who believes in birthright but I've yet to hear anyone suggest an alternative that would be more palatable so, for the moment, I'm happy to stick with what we've got. I did attend one of the beacon lightings this weekend and quite enjoyed it, but I suspect that was due more to the social aspect than the jubilee. There is something about being with a group of people on a hilltop away from the distractions of modern life (well, most of them) spotting the other beacons in the distance and knowing that under each one is another group doing the same as you.

I do however, agree with your sentiments regarding the national anthem. As an atheist it has always made me feel foolish singing "God save the Queen" and the second verse would be so much better if it said something positive about us rather than attacking others.

Dave Gorman said...

Anonymous said: "The whole POINT to the Jubilee, or state funerals or other big-deal British events, is the pomp and pageantry. Only the British can do it right. A good reason to be proud! "

Oh I don't know... I think North Korea makes a good fist of it.

In reality, so do most countries. Pomp and pageantry is everywhere. Ours might be identifiably British - which is worth having - but the idea that other countries just can't do pageantry doesn't seem quite right to me.

But that pomp and pageantry could be directed at anything. If, instead of us all pretending that the Queen was more deserving than other equally deserving old ladies we'd celebrated the UK... or the Commonwealth and we'd all had two days off and been encouraged to have street parties the pomp would still have been there.

The Queen could have hosted a party outside her gaff too. That would have been her joining in with a patriotic celebration instead of us all celebrating her. Just as much pomp. Just a bit more patriotic - more about us as a nation and less about her as a monarch.

TTBA(v)JD said...

Would the okay UK be the only national anthem in the world to have actions? I think it would be!
But where did you get the oi at the end from?!

I've always thought it must be awkward for the queen to have people singing about her everywhere she goes. If people sang "send ro victorious!" at me, I'd feel very sheepish and wouldn't quite know where to look. I'd much rather join in with the singing, with something that wasn't about me.

Anonymous said...

I was really keen on the idea of a national day, even having a public holiday on St George's Day. That was until I moved to Australia. Sadly, far too big a proportion of the population use it as an excuse to get ludicrously drunk. Draping onself in a flag when drinking seems to very quickly turn to hatred of immigrants and there has been plenty of violence as a result.

The sad thing is, I could see the same thing happening in the UK and it would be really upsetting to see our country's flag used that way.

To hit the sweet spot where we can be proud would be great, but if it's a choice between quietly proud or vociferously ashamed, I'll stick with the former.