04 June, 2006

Up country?

Ever since I was hit in the face by a 40mph England flag I have felt decidedly ambivalent towards the cross of St George.

It happened during Euro 2004. I was walking home along a busy-ish road when a car sped past adorned by numerous England flags fluttering manically in the wind, one of which then proceeded to detach itself from its inevitably weak moorings and bash me in the mouth.

I wasn't hurt in any way, which was just as well not least because if I had been I'd have had no idea who to consider suing for injury (the Queen? The entire electorate? Myself?). The car was driving so fast as it was I didn't have enough time to note the numberplate or for them to realise what had happened. Suffice to say the minute I got in I threw the flag in the dustbin - an act for which I'm sure I would currently be hung, drawn and quartered in the United States.

Actually I've felt ambivalent towards the cross of St George for far longer than just two years. Not to sound like a joyless old warrior, but I well remember the days of the early 1990s when there was a far-Right scare in this country fuelled by the re-emergence of the National Front (which had recloaked itself in the rotten mantle of the British National Party) and a growing number of instances of fascist activity across Europe, paralled by the pursuit of ethnic cleansing across the former Yugoslavia. In our school there was an associate and all-too brief spurt in popularity for the Anti-Nazi League, with distinctive yellow and black stickers turning up all over the 6th form common room and on the front of our clothes.

This crucible of components starkly dramatised the age-old controversies surrounding the ownership of national flags, in this instance both the English and the Union ones, culminating in many a cry to "reclaim" both from the clammy clutches of the far-Right. What promptly happened was indeed a reclamation of the Union Jack, but not by the people for the people, but by Noel Gallagher for his guitar and Geri Halliwell for a low-cut dress. The England flag, meanwhile, ended up being hurled around in both triumph and despair during Euro '96, before disappearing completely from public view during the early years of the Labour Government and, how quickly we forget, 'Cool Britannia'.

At least the latterday trend for festooning your car with cheaply-made, poorly-fastened plastic flags helps better identify almost invariably dangerous and demented drivers. Giant-sized replicas draped around pissed people's shoulders is another matter.

I always feel uncomfortable when I pass by people wrapped in the cross of St George. The connotations and undertones are just too raw for me to ignore. Yet these things are always relative. I remember one of my elderly relatives, now dead, refusing to speak to me for months after furiously berating me for wearing a black shirt.


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