I was sat on the Train from Cambridge to Liverpool Street the other day, a journey memorable for two reasons. Firstly for being verbally harassed by an incredibly drunk, and fairly amusing Italian bloke who was gagging for a fag.
Secondly for the small town of Broxbourne.
A part of the home counties sprawling suburbia I’d read about in the paper a few months back, nothing out of the ordinary for the south east apart from the subtle emergence of the sinister BNP. Ramon Paul Johns, former treasurer for the local National Front, managed to win a council seat with a campaign based on tabloid style hysteria.
I had this in mind when my eyes were drawn to a flag, there was something very dejected about the small Union jack hung at the end of the garden. Perhaps a combination of its faded tattyness, its hopelessly incorrect proportions and the two curved bamboo canes taped together in an attempt at a pole.
Was that person simply being patriotic when he waddled down the path and strung up that grubby, pathetic excuse for a flag?
I think not, and it’s difficult to think of any other national flag from around the world, when used in this nasty context, that symbolises such barefaced racism. The Germans and Americans have new flags, post world and civil wars respectively, that don’t hark back to times that exclude huge swathes of their societies.
That’s the point here isn’t it?
Exclusion. Sad little references from the racist BNP, ignorant blokes down the pub and the likes of Dennis ‘Keep Switzerland white’ Thatcher about a time when Britain was without its much needed, and greatly celebrated ethnic infusion.
We may mock the Americans, standing around using our knowing smiles as a cover for our quite obvious jealousy, but they know how to do both nationalism and flags without looking sheepish, embarrassed or just plain ugly.
Right or wrong, the stars and stripes are flown correctly, clean and big from proper poles with no sense that the bearer is doing anything wrong apart from indulging in patriotism. Whether it makes you smile or sick or angry, most Americans are proud of their flag, and in that they all share a common belief of what it at least should stand for.
Here, its been all but abandoned, displayed ludicrously at military occasions and by knobheads whilst trashing foreign cities, or in this case as a sniping xenophobic gesture stripped of any remaining dignity or respect .
When was the last time I saw the Union Jack and felt proud? The Falklands conflict, over two decades ago (On telly, I wasn’t actually at Goose Green). At what point did it all go wrong? Or is it simply no longer relevant to our culture and society as it stands in the 21st century? I favour the latter.
So at best the sagging beanpole flag was a half hearted stab at a bit of nationalism, a local fool failing in a desperate bid to fashion out some sort of identity from the miserable suburban existence of his own making.
At worst it’s plain racism, a desperate insult to all those who willingly stood up against the very same fascist principles the BNP now encourage.
Ironic, in a nauseating sort of way.