Wednesday, May 21, 2008

nationalism, football, and magic

George is teething again, and an unplanned weekend was what we needed. Not that he’s bothered. In the daytime at least he’s as happy as ever. But his nights are not easy, and he’s been either in our bed or with one of us in the spare room for the last few days. Either way we don’t get a good night.

Lisa mentioned in passing that although she’d only ever wanted two children, she’d started thinking recently that three wouldn’t be terrible… I’ve had the same thought.

I wonder if this is how it happens…. Starting as a certainty that you don’t want more than two… becoming slowly seduced into it by the joys of one… thinking “oh, well, we’ll see what happens”….


We’ll probably try for a second sometime in the summer.

Not much chance of that right now, though…We managed to get a little sleep this weekend - with George between us.

It’s a well documented but unsupportable idea that nobody can ever imagine that their parents ever had sex… As children, however, we don’t realize quite what an active role we play – emotionally and physically in preventing it.

We managed to get out on Saturday for the FA cup final – cheering on Portsmouth for some reason in a local pub – Fee, a local Portsmouth fan had co-opted everyone but her boyfriend who remained a Cardif supporter to the last. Again, not sure why since he lives in America.

Before the match, the National anthem was played… and as usual only one verse of the turgid ballad was trotted out – presumably, it was stopped before everyone got so bored they forgot there was a football match on…

But apparently there’s not just one verse, and not just two either…

In fact, the UK national anthem has 14 verses (here they are if you’re interested:

These include seven standard ones, two written for Queen Victoria’s Jubilie, three for the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra in 1863 and one penned especially for the Canadians.

The verse that caught my eye though, was this one:

Lord grant that Marshal WadeMay by thy mighty aidVictory bring.May he sedition hush,And like a torrent rush,Rebellious Scots to crush.God save the King.

Written about the Jacobite rebellion. It’s not very PC… and I can see why the Scots are a bit miffed.

It seems to be a bit of a theme that patriotism always eventually turns to nationalism, racism and eventually war – however well intentioned it might start out. You start off saying how great your country is and wind up six verses later trying to exterminate your nearest neighbors because they’ve got different coloured hair to yours.

But on Andrew Marr’s history of modern Britain on Sunday, he offered an alternative view – a quote from the man who set up Ealing Studios. “the only type of Nationalism worth a damn is cultural Nationalism”

And I suppose that’s where my nationalism comes from… it’s pretty pointless being proud of your country as a thing – because it’s nothing really – just a random hunk of land. But being proud of your culture is different – it means you celebrate not what Britain is, but what of value it does – you don’t think you’re better than everyone else and you don’t defend your state when it does something stupid (even culturally) - and most particularly you recognize that other people are a part of that culture just by wanting to be.

Your family don’t have to be born anywhere in particular, you don’t have to have lived in a country all your life to be a fan of its culture. In fact, you don’t even have to live there at all.

Your culture is what you want it to be and it’s constantly in flux, so it’s too amorphous to go to war over in and of itself.

Gillian once asked Sophia – then our cleaner where she came from. She said her mother was Serbian and her father’s family was Russian.

“oh” said Gillian without irony “how very British”.

Talking of football and possibly nationalism, this week there’s some big football match in Russia between two English teams. Thousands of fans are decending on the Russian capital for what will probably turn out to be the most expensive weekend away imaginable.

Russian hotels are hundreds of pounds a night, flights are terribly expensive too and you can’t apparently even get on one unless you can show your incredibly expensive ticket to the match (I don’t know how you get to Russia this week if you’re there on business or for a holiday).

All of which makes me wonder about why events like theatre and opera are said to be elitist because most people can’t afford the tickets when football is so much more expensive.

Surely theatre and opera should be thought of as mass entertainment and football should be called elitist….

Come to think of it, why when you go to a football ground (I’m basing this on memories of the Old Wembley stadium) do you get a choice of 1 type of cold beer and a few dry pasties? Surely half the crowd will be celebrating at the end of any match – so I’d expect a choice of at least three types of champagne to be available – after all, you get that at the Royal Opera House and by the end of most performances everyone on stage is dead.

Where’s the free market – surely there’s someone out there ready to reap the benefits of 20,000 celebrating (and judging by the ticket prices – extremely rich) supporters? Come to think of it, the average music festival offers a hundred stalls selling different types of food from kebabs to hog roasts to falafels, samosas and sushi – where’s that at a football match?

Do they actively want to discourage families from attending? Sounds like it.

House rental
I realized on Friday that the rent on my house in Manchester hasn’t been being paid for the last two months. I called the letting agents – who rather worryingly didn’t know. Apparently, the guy has now told them that it was his bank’s fault because although they’d set up his standing order, they didn’t pay it.

When asked how this was, he said “probably because there was no money in the account”.

Banks are so unreasonable.

He also mentioned in passing that he wondered if I’d consider selling the property to him. Somehow I don’t think he’s serious….

The new Magic word
Saw Derren Brown at the weekend with his new brand of “non-magic” – where he constantly admits to not being a magician at all and using the power of suggestion to create amazing illusions.

And he’s very good at it – this week, allowing David Tennant to travel backwards and forwards in time, recall an event that happened in the 30’s, and predict the contents of next week’s newspapers.

All very clever stuff, but I can’t help thinking that suggestion has become the new magic.

Often, he’s doing, effectively the same tricks as (say) Paul Daniels used to, but instead of saying “it’s magic” he’s saying “it’s suggestion”. The difference is that nobody believes in Paul Daniels because nobody believes in magic anymore, but in this enlightened era where the focus of the whole of society is on our own view of ourselves (people say “believe in yourself and you can do anything” and “the power to change your life is within yourself”) we all really believe that there’s this increadible power inside our own minds.

We all really do believe in that mysterious power of the mind – partially because it offers instant solutions to all our problems from getting a better job to curing disease – and partially because science has replaced magic and religion as our faith.

But I, as always, am a bit suspicious. Is there really any difference between Paul Daniels saying “I do it by magic” whilst slipping a playing card up his sleeve and Derren Brown saying “there’s no magic, it’s all the power of the mind” whilst doing exactly the same thing?

By the way, George loves plastic bags....

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