Good to see the Royal Princes out in public this week, even though the occasion was a sad one: their granny’s funeral. I’m reminded of the ancient Chinese fable in which a young and foolish man goes to an older, wiser one to ask for the secret of perfect happiness.
“Easy.” says the sage. “Grandfather dies, man dies, son dies.”
“What?” says the young one. “Three deaths? How can that bring perfect happiness?” “Because” replies the old man, “that’s the right order to die in. Any other order and you’re in trouble.“
We were reminded last weekend of the thousands who died ‘in the wrong order’ on the Normandy beaches in 1944, as their still living friends and colleagues marched or shuffled or were wheeled past the salutes and the speeches and the gravestones. It was dignified and, at times, moving. But it didn’t seem to go much beyond that. Where was today’s youth? Where was some representative of the third generation currently benefiting from the extraordinary sacrifices made 60 years ago? What was there to connect the old, old men with anything relevant to today? It’s all very well saying “We will remember them” but soon, unless we’re careful, we won’t. Prince William and his brother could have been the ideal ambassadors to highlight that connection across the generations and make D-Day count for their contemporaries. In doing so they would have set an example to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. They’d have also been a useful contrast to the modern-day crusaders setting off to Portugal with their flags of St George, in the misguided belief that their ‘invasion’ of Europe is somehow worthy or useful or in a “noble tradition”. It is none of these things. Proved by the tacky parallels with June 6th 1944 The Sun is trying to draw, it is just a glorified publicity stunt to make a sporting fixture look more important than it really is, and in dubious taste to boot.
As for the flag phenomenon, there’s something more to this than football. It may have started innocently enough, and was still just about acceptable when Jonny Wilkinson was doing his bit last winter. But now it’s bordering (and that’s much too close for comfort) on fervour, and not just nationalistic fervour, but BRANDING fervour. I remember when the only time you ever saw St George’s flag was on St George’s Day, April 23rd, (also, conveniently, Shakespeare’s birthday). The rest of the time we were a United Kingdom with a splendid uniting flag – the Union Jack. I was always proud that despite the grim and bloody centuries of butchery which led to the various Acts of Union, at least we ended up with by far the best flag.
But now, like ignorant Maoists, shrunken, shrivelled and thoroughly diminished by devolution and the overkill of media propaganda, the British hordes claim “Englishness” as a virtue in itself and plaster the simplistic, provocative and frankly divisive red and white totem all over their cars, houses, faces and children. That dull rumble you can hear? The countless ancestors who fought and died for the Union spinning furiously in their graves.
The only people sport keeps physically fit are (a) the people who play it and (b) those who enjoy regular riots and fights as a result of their ‘love’ of it.
Given the imminent onset of Wimbledon and the Olympic Games as well as this football thing, the rest of the population can expect total atrophication of brain & body over the next couple of months. Or we fight back and ban anyone under 60 from watching. Yes, when we’re old geezers, too tired to think for ourselves anymore, that’s the time to sit on the sofa enjoying complete passivity. Until then I’m going to find something better to do than waving flags.