When I first saw this I thought for a minute that it must be a parody of 1970s awfulness because every element — the song, the hair, the cap-sleeve t-shirts, the trousers, the starburst lighting — is so perfectly, dreadfully naff. But sadly it’s all too real. I remember New Edition dancing on Seaside Special but I must have blocked this from my memory for the sake of my sanity.
I know that strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government, and that supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony, but this does get me all misty-eyed and patriotically-roused every single time.
Given the recent news I tried to squeeze a Richard III joke into this post but came up blank.
I went out with this Spanish girl for a little while back when I lived in London and one night she asked me why British people say “sorry” all the time. I just joked that she only thought it was strange because “you foreigners are so rude” but I knew what she meant, we do seem to be perpetually apologizing for one thing or other, even for things that aren’t our fault (eg: saying sorry to a person who bumps into you). It’s as if we’re apologizing for our very existence.
The online forum British Problems lifts the lid on that part of our psyche and the way our politeness and self-effacement can reach neurotic extremes, leading to a dread of being a bother or making a fuss, horror of committing a faux pas, and hypersensitivity about what strangers think of us. In such a state, everyday life becomes a treacherous minefield of awkwardness and embarrassment.
And we wouldn’t be British if we weren’t hyper-aware of class: There was a working class family in Waitrose. I can’t tell anyone about this in case they think I’m a terrible snob.
It’s ironic that a people who once conquered and controlled half the planet should be like this. We never felt awkward about taking over another country, yet here we are worrying about inconveniencing a bus driver. Though I still think it’s preferable to the other side of the coin.
Download: The British Way of Life – The Chords (mp3)
Googling around the internets for the Remember, remember nursery rhyme I came across this longer version with a second, rather blood-thirsty verse I’d never heard before.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
’twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed ol’Pope,
A farthing cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down,
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar,’
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head,
Then we’ll say: ol’Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!
Ah, the good old days, when kids would sing songs about setting fire to Catholics.
Download: Light My Fire – Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll & the Trinity (mp3)
I don’t often feel homesick these days — my life here is perfectly wonderful, thanks — but I really did this weekend when the medals starting flowing. I swear I got a bit teary-eyed watching the victories of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Andy Murray and the others. Not just tears of joy but sadness that I’m not there to be part of the atmosphere. It’s like the city (my city!) is throwing the best party of my lifetime and I can’t make it.
Download: Go For Gold – Girls At Our Best (mp3)
Barmy, inspiring, eccentric, populist, radical, proud, noisy, audacious, funny, sentimental, and a bit of a mess at times.
Perfectly British then.
Download: England’s Glory – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (mp3)
Someone asks the question “How are British people taught to expect failure and disappointment?” and gets a lot of responses, including this rather pithy formulation:
“Many American kids are told that they might grow up to be the President. No English kid is told that he might grow up to be King”
This isn’t true of course, there are, oh, three English people who were told as kids that they might be King one day and their names are Charles, William, and Harry Windsor. But I assume it was meant to be a comment on the inherently undemocratic nature of the British Constitution (if we had one anyway) because they won’t get the job by working hard at school and going to a good University, it will be because hundreds of years ago one of their ancestors married or killed someone — or both. You don’t vote for Kings as Monty Python said in The Holy Grail, which is terrible and probably has no place in a modern democracy and all that. They do have nice costumes though.
But it got me wondering, why aren’t English kids told they could grow up to be Prime Minister one day? In my experience it’s not an ambition instilled in our kids the same way that “you could be President” is an almost cliched dream for Americans. I know our countries have different histories but it’s not as if being Prime Minister is an out-of-reach, pigs-might-fly ambition these days. We might have an Eton-educated toff in No. 10 at the moment but the other recent occupants — Blair, Major, and Thatcher (boo! hiss!) — were all from fairly middle-class backgrounds so it’s perfectly reasonable to think it possible that even a kid from a council estate could become PM if they were clever, driven, and power-mad enough.
So why not? I know us Brits are a glass-half-empty kind of people who think excessive ambition is a bit vulgar but I can’t imagine that in today’s more aspirational, fame-obsessed England old attitudes like “don’t get ideas above your station” and “know your place” have much currency — I would hope they’d been chucked in the rubbish bin along with the tugged forelock.
I could be wrong and English schools are now full of wannabe Blairs and Camerons which, on the one hand is a good thing (ambition!) but on the other hand, what sort of kid would want to be like those bastards? Maybe that’s the problem.
Download: Ambition – Subway Sect (mp3)
Makes me want to go out and invade a foreign country.
(It was St. Crispin’s Day on Tuesday in case you didn’t know).