Category Archives: Patriotism

Public displays of affection

I can’t help but love the story of the British government flying the Union Jack the wrong way up at the signing of a trade agreement with China. It’s the kind of Basil Fawlty-esque commitment to getting things ever so slightly wrong that marks the UK out from the rest of the world.

Actually, it’s perhaps not surprising that nobody’s quite sure which way the flag should go, given that the last few years have seen the flag’s importance to the nation diminish slightly. With dubious right wing factions effectively purloining the Union Jack for their anti-immigration and – let’s face it – racist views, flying a British flag has become less and less common.

In contrast, if ‘loving flags’ was an Olympic sport, the United States would be the undisputed gold medallist every single time. If there’s a city block in New York that doesn’t have a single Stars & Stripes on it, I am yet to see it. From bumper stickers to billboard sized enormoflags, America loves to wave its charms in the air (and wave ’em like it just don’t care, I hasten to add).

But for some people, it seems, the Stars & Stripes just isn’t a great enough commitment to the holy principle of flag flying. Certain folk have obviously decided that they’re not truly making use of their fundamental right to pin their colours to the mast if they’re only flying the American flag.

At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that walking around my neighbourhood last night, I saw at least five banners on poles outside homes, proudly proclaiming “Happy Valentines Day”.

Now, last time I looked, St Valentines Day was a private thing between two people who love each other. Sure, you might make some grand public gesture (although the sight of one person proposing to another on a giant screen at a sports game is enough to cause me involuntary wretching), but essentially February 14th is a reminder to tell your nearest and dearest that you love them rather than giving your postmanmailman, pizza delivery person and general passers-by a virtual smooch. Obviously, you haven’t seen the guy who lives opposite us, but rest assured that the last thing I want him doing is getting the wrong idea.

Clearly Hallmark et al have tired of creating new holidays, and have decided to expand into flag creation. Next thing you know, people will be unfurling ‘Have a great funeral!’ flags, or ‘Happy Administrative Professional Day’ banners outside their homes.

Rumours that a special bong-shaped flag is being worked on for Michael Phelps’ London 2012 campaign could not be confirmed at time of going to press.

A moment of history

Today has been a proud day for United States. A triumph for the American dream, and for the ideal that all men, women and children are equal regardless of colour, gender or religion. A vindication of the dream that Dr Martin Luther King had more than forty years ago, and a redemption from eight years of leadership that has seen the country slip in the hearts and minds of the world’s population.

And when grandchildren ask me in years to come where I listened to the momentous speech following the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the country’s first African-American leader, I will be able to sit them on a lap with a tear in my eye and say, “My dear child, I was on a bus at Heathrow Airport taking me from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. The reception on the radio kept cutting out, but I heard the occasional word or two.”

Happy days.

Getting away from it all

I’ve been away for a week, sunning myself in the south of France and taking advantage of the lack of broadband to take an impromptu blog break. Fortunately, the presence of a The Special One, good friends, a big swimming pool, great food and plenty of the aforementioned sun, I seemed to get by…

The trip to the Cote D’Azur came via the wonders of Heathrow’s Terminal 5 last Friday, which may well be the quietest airport on earth – and all the more relaxing for it. Like most major construction projects in the UK, it took seventeen times as long to build as it should have done (and cost thirty four times its original budget) but it’s still a huge step forward in air travel as far as I’m concerned – especially as I’m well used to the limited facilities of New York’s JFK airport. As we slipped effortlessly away from the terminal in a taxi to stay with The Best Man and family, I felt proud to be British.

Then I saw a giant billboard for Nuts TV, proclaiming “every night, darts and fights.” I packed away the Union Jack, slipped the maroon passport back in my pocket, and pondered the day’s date, July 4. No wonder the Americans were so keen on independence.

Size matters

Life has some inescapable objective truths. A much-vaunted lie-in on a Saturday morning will always be interrupted by something irritatingly unnecessary. Public transport will work perfectly until the moment that you’re in a real rush. And everything in America is larger than its equivalent on any other country.

I think the fact that things are huge in the United States was probably the first fact that I ever found out about America. Actually that’s a lie – I think the first fact I discovered, after watching the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was that people flew around in jetpacs. Life doesn’t get much more exciting than that when you’re ten. Boston Tea Parties can wait.

But when you’re a kid in Britain, it’s instilled in you from an early age that everything – and by ‘everything’, I think I essentially mean ‘vegetables’ for some reason – is enormous. With brussel sprouts that are bigger than cabbages, and cabbages the size of snowballs that have been rolled through crisp and even white stuff for three months, America is truly supposed to be the land of plenty. The fact that cars and houses are bigger too is presumably as a result of a desperate need to transport and store these aforementioned vegetables once you’ve bought them from supermarketsgrocery stores the size of, say, Yorkshire.

Of course, while a few things are bigger than you’d get at home (I really don’t want to think about the genetic engineering that took place to create the aubergineeggplant I saw yesterday), most things are the same size as anywhere else in the world. Unless you’re eating a pastrami sandwich in Katz’s Deli, obviously.

But there’s one area where the United States really does believe that size matters. Forget your giant hot dogs, superking beds or 100 storey skyscrapers. After all, when it comes to all those things, there will always be somebody who’ll go one inch, foot or floor further.

But when it comes to the size of your flag, only the very biggest will really do for Americans.

Wherever you go in the US, you are confronted by the stars and stripes. I swear it’s easier to find purple squirrels than a street in Brooklyn that doesn’t have a single American flag hanging in it somewhere. Such pride in belonging to America is in direct contrast to being in the UK. Hanging a Union Jack outside your house there would be tantamount to an admission that you are either a) a card-carrying racistmember of the BNP, or b) the Queen. (*waves to the Queen, just in case she’s reading*)

But when it comes to public organiszations or commercial outfits flying the flag, clearly some kind of memo went out making it clear that any bonus payable to the boss of the enterprise would be in direct correlation to the size of flag flying outside the establishment. The entrance to the Midtown Tunnel in Manhattan has a flag that could conceivably be used to provide clothes for every child in Indonesia, and still have material left over for a couple of normal size flags for every man, woman and child in America. A flag flying on what appeared to be a 300ft flagpole somewhere between Atlanta and Chattanooga last weekend could have been used to cover up the hole in the ozone layer. And even your standard everyday City Hall-type flag seems to be bigger than most British villages.

Most of these flags appear to be made from one single piece of material, which is a pretty astonishing piece of engineering. A symbol of might, and a rallying call to Americans everywhere to unite as one under a single gigantic banner.

The irony is, of course, that most of these flags are probably manufactured in China.

Still, with the rapid expansion of that country and the equally speedy economic collapse of the US, that should at least make it easier from a logistics point of view when the red five starred flag of the People’s Republic is flying above civic establishments from California to Maine.

Send us victorious

My attempts to immerse myself into American life continue apace. This week, I took The Eldest to his (and mine) first NBA game when we travelled to the ‘world famous’ Madison Square Garden to see the New York Knicks take on the Charlotte Bobcats. To say it was a clash of the titans would be a gross exaggeration. Both sides have lost twice as many games as they’ve won, and languish at the bottom of their respective sections of the leagueconference. It’s like Fulham playing Derby County, only with more armbands and less booting of the ball into row Z.

It’s kind of difficult to take the teams too seriously, given their respective names. The NBA contains Wizards, Timberwolves, SuperSonics, Raptors and Pistons. Call me old fashioned, but I like to see my sports teams with descriptors such as Town, City, United or Rovers. The Knicks’ full title is the New York Knickerbockers. Sure, maybe they trace their moniker back to Dutch settlers and their propensity to wear a specific type of pants, but that doesn’t mean I expect to be watching the Swindon Shell Suits or the Louisiana Legwarmers in years to come.

Actually the game itself was pretty enjoyable, especially given that the Knicks won by almost 25 points. But, like the ice hockey game I saw last year, it has to be said that the occasion was particularly without atmosphere – even a match between Chester and Mansfield, attended by 3000 people or less, can produce more chanting and singing than an NBA game it would seem.

Then again, that’s probably not surprising for a sporting occasion at which vendors walk around selling candy flosscotton candy.

Waiting for the start of the game, I was struck again by the determination of Americans to celebrate their national identity and patriotism. Sure, the person who was wheeled out to sing the national anthem was merely a local radio personality, but she belted it like there were 90 million people watching her at the Super Bowl, and had her fellow Americans whooping and hollering before she’d even got to “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

It’s a mighty contrast to the occasions on which Russell Watson or Hayley Westenra step up at Wembley or Twickenham to sing “God Save The Queen”, where the reaction varies from indifference to contempt. “The Star Spangled Banner” is a rip-roaring barnstormer of a tune in comparison – even an American Idol reject could sing it and get a standing ovation.

Fortunately, Scottish comedian Billy Connolly has got a few ideas about how the British can up their game when it comes to the national anthem. “The Archers” may not mean much to Americans right now, but you’ll all be humming it by the time of London 2012.

Land of my fathers

Reading David Hepworth’s blog today, I was struck by a real moment of homesickness. Not because of friends and family, who clearly I always miss being away from. But strangely, considering that I could never be considered particularly patriotic, it was all because of a national anthem.

The Rugby World Cup starts this weekend, with the hosts France having already been beaten by Argentina. I’ve seen a handful of rugby matches in my time, but when it comes down to it, I’m no desperate fan of the game. More specifically, it’s the supporters that I don’t like, particularly the unique brand of smarmy England rugby fan who thinks the world revolves around him.

Admittedly, I’m a Welshman at heart, and with that comes certain responsibilities. Not least of which is supporting the Welsh in any sporting endeavour against the English, whether it’s a game of football or a particularly vindictive game of tiddlywinks. Of course, such commitment brings with it a certain amount of disappointment – the Welsh don’t often beat the English at anything. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the recent revival in Welsh rugby, we’d have been drowning our sorrows for many a long year.

But one place where we truly beat the English is with the national anthem. The Welsh anthem “Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (translates as “The Land Of My Fathers”) encapsulates the passion and commitment that the Welsh have for their rugby team. It’s the ultimate barnstormer to send the troops into battle, while the English struggle even to identify an anthem from the turgid ranks of “God Save The Queen”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” or the marginally more acceptable “I Vow To Thee, My Country”.

As David identifies, there’s always one rugby player who is so caught up in what it means to sing the anthem and represent Wales, that he can barely spit the words out. Fortunately, there’s fourteen other players who sing it so hard that the veins in their neck threaten to burst.

If you want to understand what passion is all about, take a look at the Welsh national anthem below.

In part 654 of Great Lines That You Wish You’d Written, David sums it up perfectly:

“If Planet Earth was going to have one national anthem to play before its first game against Mars, this is it.”

We interrupt this game for a display of patriotism…

I wouldn’t call myself a baseball fan – in fact I’m not sure that I’ve even sat through a whole game in my life. But burning some calories at the gym tonight, I found myself strangely gripped by the Yankees vs Red Sox game on the TV above my head. So much so that I even turned it on when I reached home to catch the last three innings.

In the middle of the seventh innings – the seventh-inning stretch, I think it’s called – just before the Yankees were due to bat again, everything suddenly came to a halt to honour servicemen in action across the world, with a ‘rousing’ rendition of “God Bless America”. Apparently Major League Baseball directed teams to play the song before the bottom of the seventh inning at every game following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. They scaled back the request a year later, saying teams only needed to play the song on Sundays and holidays, which remains the case to this day.

Not for the Yankees though. They still bring everything to a halt two and a half innings before the end of every game, and even use ushers to prevent people moving during the performance with the help of the odd chain or two. It’s like Manchester United playing Liverpool, and the game being called to a halt for five minutes for a performance of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. And fans being stopped from making their way down to the concourse to buy a steak and kidney pie.

They say that the temporary break in proceedings can offer a competitive advantage to the Yankees, with the opposing pitcher unable to warm up while the performance takes place. It certainly didn’t harm them tonight – the Yankees won 4-3 in the ninth innings.

PS They say Americans will never properly ‘get’ football soccer because there are too few goals. But baseball is this country’s national sport, and yet so little ever happens. The Red Sox didn’t even score until the sixth innings, and there were only three home runs in about three hours of ‘action’. Maybe there’s a chance for Beckham and co after all?