I have had a number of conversations over the past couple of months with British, mostly English people, who reside here in Lanzarote, about their views of the UK.
Its quite interesting how sheltered I have been to the news from the UK without much time to watch TV or even read a paper in the morning. I have found myself becoming increasingly out of touch.
Imagine what happens when someone lives here for a year, five or even ten years.
News is brought by recently landed tourists, debates held in mini-buses or half-caught headlines glanced at as people on sun loungers have a paper by their side.
I remember learning that word fact derives from the Latin 'fac(ere)'- to make, to do. Similarly words including factor and factory derive from the same source. Although accepted, these days, as meaning something that has happened, the word fact can just as easily be used to describe something 'made' or 'tested' or 'proved'. In each one of these cases, simply placing the word man in front of the word dilutes its authority. ‘Man made’ in regard to a factual piece of information implies it is fiction. The cynic hearing the term ‘man-tested’, might point out how fallible man is as an authority and anything 'proved' by one man is dimply something waiting to be disproved by another at a later date.
On this basis I have listened and participated in debates with people who have been armed with their facts which they have been fed by news agencies, who were in turn fed by PR companies, spin doctors, politicos and promoters; each with their own bias. Propaganda therefore fuels the minibus conversations from town to the dive sites most mornings.
As I have listened to debates rage with knickers getting twisted, I have heard details of how in the UK Christmas was banned, the flying of the St George's flag is illegal, the playing of conkers is outlawed and an Englishman is not allowed to be English.
When I was in England, I don't remember it being so restrictive. I remember Christmas last year and it did not appear to be banned. I remember distinctly when I received my mail with ‘Merry Christmas’ greetings on it.
Where I live in Faversham, there is a St George's Day parade. Is that banned?
How can conkers be outlawed? Kids will always find a way of stringing a horse chestnut and trying to hit one against the other. Won’t they or will the ridiculous ‘elf and safety’ brigade really win the day?
(As a little digression, I remember a chap in my school called Julian having a tiny baby conker in his pocket which he thought was a world record for the 'smallest' – bizarre).
I suppose this kind of fear-mongering sells papers and plays on peoples deep seated insecurities which in turn divides people and creates prejudice, ultimately selling more newspapers, spreading more lies, half truths or omissions.
I am left reflecting in how modern Britain is a diverse place with several flags representing not just the geographic identities of England, Wales, Scotland (Northern Ireland which is represented on the Union flag by way of the inclusion of the St Patricks Cross), but many more flags having the possibility of being flown alongside the nations flags, in order to represent the diverse people who live in these places.
The communities I have lived and worked in have been pretty diverse. Sure, the majority of people in my community have been English, but when the odd flag gets flown, whether any one of the flags already mentioned or indeed Italian, Australian or Ghanaian, I don't internalise it as a threat to my national identity. I suppose even that I quietly celebrate the fact that the people I am living amongst are not all alike. Difference in my opinion is good, and instead of worrying about Englishness being 'diluted', I see Englishness adapting and changing as it always has over millennia.
I am left asking myself "What is an Englishman?". Since I am English, then my blood is probably a reflection of the language I speak.
The English language is a cornucopia of words, passed on, stolen or made up over the last 2000 years. English is still evolving, changing and mutating. Our language is not English (whatever that means!) after all – it is a stew pot of diverse words that have travelled to our shores and across our border from all around the globe. So how do words come to be part and parcel of what we use? The answer is new words come with invaders, migrants, tradesmen; in stories, artworks, technologies and scientific concepts; with those who hold power, and those who try to overthrow the powerful.
So what am I saying? I suppose I am saying to all those people who probably feel more out of touch than I do, "Untwist your knickers". Britain is still Britain, England is still England and both will forever be changing. If your not on the merry-go-round, its hard to keep up.
For nothing is surer, change or difference happens whatever you do to stop it and so it’s best to celebrate it. But my point is not just an attempt to say "stop being a bigot". It is also an attempt to say loud and proud that; I like St George's Day and Christmas and Conkers and anyone trying to ban any of these things are just stupid, and not worthy of any level of serious contemplation.
Now let’s talk about something else.