Being British

December 15, 2011

A Victorian father would tell his children that the greatest blessing that they had was to have been born British.  Those were the days when the sun never set on the Empire and British standards were respected and proudly copied throughout the civilised world.  I can still remember, in one of my frequent trips to India, a Hindi mother castigating her son for speaking Hindi.  “Hindi is for peasants,” she said, glancing in my direction.  “Educated people speak English…”  Maybe she was trying to impress me but, actually, it made me rather ashamed.  I felt that the untended compliment was from a bygone generation and that the poor woman was thinking of a Britain that had ceased to exist. 

My anger at British intransigence and selfish arrogance has been brought to the boil over the next EU treaty which UK will not be party to.  Of all the EU member states, UK will not be part of it.  And they’re touting it as a kind of triumph.  The arrogance beggars belief.  This is a time when the world’s capitalist economies need to work together to sort out the mess that the bankers have created for us.  Economies are in recession, people are unemployed and any small world event, maybe in the Middle East, could push the world into a new depression.  So, while 26 EU member states decide to work together, the UK has decided that it knows better.  On its own.  If anyone needed evidence of just how much David Cameron is in the pockets of the bankers, they need look no further.  

My old friend and former colleague Naomi Gluckstein, has blogged about it as well; see .  We are both Europeans, having worked for various European institutions, and live outside the UK.  We try to be Europeans and find ourselves ashamed to admit to being British.  She says:

After David Cameron’s so called ‘brave stand’ as praised by the majority of the UK press, one can only feel depressed to see one’s country go so far out on a limb. The Brits have never understood or been interested in the EU or being part of it, they are still living in the past. The nonsense being spouted by the Eurosceptics makes me angry. The Brits are not hard workers, they are not willing to take any job to get out of unemployment, and they are happy in blaming the EU for all their woes. Over here in Euroland, if you’re on the dole it’s for a fixed period and you have to go to interviews – turn down three job offers and that’s it. It’s not perfect over here by a long chalk but at least in Belgium we’re aware of what our neighbours and fellow europeans are doing; There are no continuing silly press articles about EU regulations either. And why the hell SHOULD the Germans bail everyone out while the UK stands on the sidelines and whinges? Germany went through the enormous financial upheaval over reunification, they didn’t beg for cash to do so either, they just went on with it. The British press seems to be willing the euro to fail, aaarrgh! the whole business makes me mad!
It may come as no surprise to know that, having lived in Germany for seven years, I am rather pro-German.  That country has developed  a society that seems to know how best to react to events.  Their economy is not on its knees, they work, they have industry, they export and they play their part in Europe.  Their people do not live on credit and that leads to a national sense of responsibility that the Brits could learn from.
Learn from Germany?  Heaven forbid! 

Bah! Humbug!

December 6, 2011

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s that time of the year again, folks; Christmas is coming and the geese are starting to get nervous.  It’s time to write those Christmas cards to the people you haven’t seen for years but who ritually keep sending them to you.  It made me remember that I haven’t given our address to most of our friends so here it is:  Sesmarias Country Club Lote 4, Carvoeiro LGA, 8400-561 Lagoa Algarve, Portugal. 

Good.  That’s out of the way.  Now to today’s rant.  I hate Christmas.  I always have because I think it is a time for children and without them it’s just an excuse for a festival of excess; spend too much money, eat too much, drink too much, try to feel jolly and be forced to have a good time.  Ho ho ho.  Actually, I’m not averse to having a good time, it’s just that when the event is fixed on the calendar, I feel that some of the spontantaity is lost.  And what is it with all these bloody presents?  I don´t want anything – well, except maybe Season Three of Lark Rise to Candleford and I can order that myself from Amazon.

Joy to the world!  Peace and goodwill to all men.  Nice idea but the world is just as bad after Christmas as before it and just gets worse.  The whole of Christmas is fuelled by ritual and an unholy commercialism that sticks in my throat.  I heave a heavy sigh when I see the first Christmas decorations go up in the shops.  October, I think it was, and I’ve been in a seasonal depression ever since.  I should put up a few decorations myself but can never be bothered.  Maybe a token bit of tinsel and a sprig of mistletoe.  A mince pie or two.  Oh, bugger it.  What’s the point?  You only have to take them down again and more than two mince pies makes me sick.

As everyone knows, Christmas was invented by Charles Dickens, Coca-Cola and Bing Crosby.  Before Dickens, Christmas was a midwinter festival, the original Roman Saturnalia which had been cleverly hijacked by the early Christians.  Father Christmas was originally the German Weihnachtsmann and was green; I think Prince Albert invited him to England and introduced him the Dickens, thus was born A Christmas Carol.  Coca-Cola, of course, invented the red-cloaked Father Christmas who comes down chimneys.  For God’s sake, where did they get that ludicrous idea from?  I won’t go into the physical problems or the impossibility of visiting every good child in the world in a few hours.  At least children learn about making others believe that they believe all that crap because they get presents by doing so.  That’s a useful life lesson, I suppose; accept such a blatant untruth in the interests of personal gain.   He comes in a bloody flying sleigh as well…dragged along by suicidal reindeer, one with a red nose.  No wings.  It´s a good job no one gets to capture the real Santa because he would probably be sectioned and put in the loony bin. 

And where did the idea of cutting down a perfectly healthy tree, dragging it into the house and watching it die come from?  Another German ritual brought to England by Prince Albert (or Albrecht; his real name).  I suppose Queen Victoria might have been amused but then she didn’t have to clean up the needles.   Bing Crosby is responsible for the rest, that sugary confection of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and all that shit.  But I guess it all helps to sell stuff and that’s what it’s all about.

The only bright glimer is the chance to listen again to some great Christmas music.  The nativity parts of Handel´s Messiah are wonderful but, for me, the best is Bach´s Christmas oratorio, a collection of four seasonal oratorios that say more than all the jingle bells and winter wonderlands.

In Catholic Portugal, Christmas is not a great thing; the modern Christmas is a northern European invention – back to the midwinter festival, but there’s no midwinter here; the bougainvilleas are still in bloom, we never get frost, let alone snow.  As I write, it’s 20 degrees outside and sunny.  Nevertheless, we will still put up the wreath on the door daring the elements with ‘Let it snow!’ 

Then there’s that dreadful dead period between Christmas and new year.  I hate that as well.  What is there to do except watch repeats on the telly, watching other people having a good time, and getting pissed.  Well, there are other alternatives.  Writing for one; I’ll be doing the rewrite of Flight Into Darkness after a long furlough.  Should keep me off the wine for a while, at least. 

Then bloody New Year.  Invented by the Scots as an excuse to drink more whisky.  Say no more.  Normally, there is a 15 minute firwork display from Portimão but this year local government austerity has reduced it to one minute.  True.  Don’t blink. 

Sigh.  I wish I could take a hibernation pill that sends me to sleep on the 24th December and lets me wake up on the 1st of January.  Now, that would be a nice Christmas present.