The Moment My Country Left Me

Great Britain

My mother once gave me her explanation of the Union Jack.

‘It represents unity. We are four countries, not one, although we should be three.’ She never told me which one she would take out, but I assumed it was Ireland.

As a child I formed a very clear idea of what my country was. It was a maritime island, four nations standing for all that was decent and right. It was honest where others were corrupt, it had a commonwealth to protect and a royal family dedicated to duty. My grandparents had been Victorians and had an empire. My world was a post-war one where patriotism had been eroded away. It was a land of helmeted policemen who did not look like they were going to Iraq, of lollipop ladies and park-keepers, usherettes, charladies and uniformed milkmen. It was a mechanical world, of crafts more than arts, slower, quieter, a place of original thinking and fresh ideas.

I was, I suppose, distantly proud of my country. It was symptomatic of England that the same sex marriage bill passed so easily because the fox hunting bill was being read at the same time.

My innocence quickly crumbled. Empire ended, the Commonwealth broke away, the wealth gap grew instead of shrinking, the royal family was dissected by the media and damaged from within. The craftspeople disappeared and university students were kids who took media studies and then couldn’t get jobs. For a while many of us thought that members of the Royal Family appearing on ‘It’s A Knockout!’ was the humiliating nadir, but then Tony Blair lied about WMD to keep trade ties with America and I realised how morally bankrupt we had become.

I didn’t think it could get worse, but then Brexit happened. A vote pushed through by illegal means so that a handful of millionaires would personally gain from the separation. We cut ourselves off from a union worth one sixth of the global economy, leading to the grotesque sight of Ann Widdicombe and Nigel Farage chanting and waving little plastic Union Jack flags in front of EU assembly, as if it was all some kind of parlour game.

A government bill was passed to bring back pounds and ounces, a defunct measurement system based on multiplications of fourteen and sixteen. Britain was revealed as a country where the influential 1% were pathologically tied to childhood fantasies.

That was the moment my country left me. My own attitude did not change. I remained a person of Europe and the world. There was one final humiliation; Joe Biden telling our grovelling cap-in-hand Prime Minister to fuck off to the back of the queue. The US wants to get big pharma into the NHS, but it’s an issue that would lead to violence on the streets if transgressed. At that moment the US-UK trade deal finally dropped dead, proof that the ‘special relationship’ died when Britain first defied orders. 

My personal shift of focus manifests itself in odd little ways. Politically, I mainly follow what happens in Europe and the Far East now,  and realise that in the global scheme of things the UK is about as important as Christmas Island. I am largely disconnected; I use a digital world bank, my surroundings are Nordic, my clothes are Spanish, my food is Thai, and I’ve seen just one Hollywood film this year. The rest have been European, Korean, South American. My tech is not so much American as a global brand that refuses to pay its taxes. London remains my favourite city, but that’s largely based on nostalgia.

It’s ironic that I should end up writing about my home quite so much. As for my country, I feel less betrayed than disillusioned. Perhaps it’s better to be clear-eyed than living in a fantasy land of blue passports, milkmen and charladies and place one’s faith in the young, not dreams.


60 comments on “The Moment My Country Left Me”

  1. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Liz+Thompson That was good old Sam Johnson, who was addressing what he viewed as ‘self-professed patriots,’ not the true variety.

  2. Peter+T says:

    That’s Sam Johnson as in Dr .., Boswell’s Life of .., and as seen on TV in Blackadder, not the goalkeeper, rugby player or popular singer. Life was more complicated in his time, now we’re all self-professed.

  3. Roger says:

    Ambrose Bierce pointed out that Johnson was mistaken.
    Patriotism is the first resort of the scoundrel.

  4. Liz+Thompson says:

    Stu, Peter, Roger. Thanks. I was too idle to go and look it up! I tend to use Voltaire as a fall back for any semi or totally cynical comment.
    But I refuse to be patriotic myself on the grounds that I’m a citizen of the world, not a country.

  5. Stu-I-Am says:

    Liz+Thompson As it happens, Voltaire did have something to say about patriotism.

    ‘To be a good patriot is to wish our own state be enriched by commerce, and powerful by arms; but such is the condition of humankind, that to wish the greatness for our own country is often to wish evil to our neighbors.’

  6. Jan says:

    Stu no I can see that you are right in what you say here – no arguments with that.
    The thing that disquieting is would the petrol stations now be empty without the Medias imput? Playing into people’s fears + self interest is powerful stuff. Has the media done the right thing by highlighting this issue or alternatively by its reporting essentially brought about a situation?

    We have seen The impact of panic buying in our supermarkets relatively recently. Give it a month or so and we might well be witnessing the great Xmas pudding, Frozen turkey and Paxo supermarket debacle of 2021. ( Imagine the conflict in cabinet “They’ve really got us by the baubles this time”)

    The worrying bit out here in the sticks from NHS POV being that by the end of the week the lack of petrol impacts District nursing. Then do you get more admissions? Also it’s going to be difficult to get nursing and care staff into work there’s simply no public transport available at shift work times.

    It’s a difficult situation. At least the BBC had the right reporter at the petrol stations.

  7. Jan says:

    Wayne – entirely correct.

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan The problem with petrol, it seems, is not that apparently there isn’t enough fuel, just not enough specialised HGV drivers to deliver it and of course, the Road Haulage Association is making publicity ‘hay while the sun shines.’ Guess I can’t blame them. Fortunately, it looks as if the government will let in 5,000 (so far) foreign drivers on short-term visas to help, although considering the shortfall of some 100,000, this is less than a ‘drop in the bucket.’ And with similar problems in Europe, it remains to be seen if 5,000 will actually show up. Yet the government naively (perversely) still believes that enough British drivers can be recruited and trained (including the extra training needed for hauling hazardous materials) to make a difference in a short period of time. I can’t believe that healthcare doesn’t get to go to the front of the queue for petrol.

  9. Stu-I-Am says:

    ‘I’m so glad we had this time together
    Just to have a laugh, or sing a song.
    Seems we just got started
    and before you know it
    Comes the time we have
    to say, ‘So long.’

    — From the theme song for the American ‘Carol Burnett Show’ TV series

  10. John Hudson says:

    I agree with you absolutely about Brexit. My friends and I all voted to remain, because a step into the unknown (which we ended up taking!) clearly made no sense. Now it’s become like a religious cult, whose adherents still refuse to see what’s staring them in the face – that it’s threatening the Union, causing tremendous division and loss of reputation, supply disruption and possible bankruptcy of UK PLC. How long can it take before the penny drops?

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