Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning to be Patriotic

J is 18 months old.

It's probably time, we thought.

So, we decided to teach J about patriotism. We got him a flag and took him to the Proms.

Oops. Maybe we taught him the wrong kind of patriotism. The proms (after all) is not a very Australian event, but you do see a lot of patriotic people. But we discovered, patriotism in England is expressed very differently to what we're familiar with in Australia.

There is flag waving in both countries. It's just that we can't quite see a mob of Australians waving their flags to... Elgar. But to the English, Elgar inspires flag waving. Even where there is a real spitfire 'dancing' to Elgar, which was quite absorbing and thrilling to watch, flags are held aloft and waved.

Great Britain no longer insists on a single flag. It was quite confusing for us Aussies there at the flag booth. There was the St George flag, the Welsh Flag, the St Andrews Cross as well as the Union Jack. Anyone would think the Empire had collapsed (but I think any rousing rendition of 'Rule Brittania' will demonstrate that this is clearly a myth.)

Pig products are the national dish. We may have commented on this already. We are still coming to terms with it. Our fellow Terry Pratchet fans may assume, like we used to, that 'Piginabun' sold by Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler is a parody. Not so much. It's more like factual reporting. The pig products are sold unsullied by any accompaniment on a bun. It is 'pig in a bun'. And it may or may not kill you, depending on your consitution.

National music is classical. Good, well-played classical. This was a marvellous discovery. It's not that we don't appreciate country music. Well, actually it is that. Flag waving works better to Elgar than 'I Went Outback On My Horse Called Mildew and I Lost My Girl and I'm Sad, Sad, Sad'. Sure, country music has narrative, but classical music doesn't always have words. And frankly, that can sometimes be a real benefit. Especially when it's chosen and played well.

The war isn't really over. The war with France that is. Insulting anyone else is a hate crime. Insulting the French and reminding them of their loss at Waterloo again and again is a national past time. Give a slightly tipsy guy dressed in a 19th Century soldier's uniform a microphone and you'll hear the French insulted. And the crowd encouraged to boo the French. When they say 'don't mention the war', they don't mean the one in the nineteenth century. It's all about Waterloo. (It seems such a big deal I expect it is actually Cromwell's fault somehow).

The British know how to be in a crowd well. Lots of horses to see, no stand of any kind. So we do what the British do best. We form an orderly queue of sorts. Those of us at the back can't see a thing. But there is no complaining or jostling or nastiness. We all just stand there in an orderly fashion. It is much less stressful than other crowds we've experienced. It's a good national skill to have.

Artillery is a serious business. Still. The guys who operated the artillery to blast at various times in theh programme actually built the artillery. At some point, someone will possibly break it to them that this artillery is not so useful these days. (Which I guess isn't true if it is used each year for these events all around the country). We've moved onto more sophisticated ways of killing people. It is a curious thing, though. One wonders whether in 200 years, they'll have the Proms with battle tanks, machine guns and missiles. That will really put a bang into the 1812 Overture.

And the weather. As the inevitable rain came down (not that we mind it particularly), we were engaged in the care of a small boy and it wasn't until we turned around again that we saw the crowd had become a sea of umbrellas. It was a startling transformation and we should have taken a photo. Instead here is one of number of more serious umbrellas; the truly serious of course were housed in a gazebo (and almost always attired in formal wear). Gazebos could be hired for a cool $A250. We just brought along our dinky little umbrella. But then, we're from the colonies.

We won't try and further J's patriotism any further at this stage. What with the Ashes... he's probably waving the right flag anyway. JMB

Friday, July 17, 2009

English Spring

Thank you to all who kept in contact with us in various ways over the past few months. It's been a weird kind of year for us and as you may have noticed, we haven't blogged for a while. Maybe we'll be able to get back into the swing of things now...

This blog is fast becoming a comment on British weather. But we cannot let Spring get away without comment. It is one of the beautiful aspects of British life. It comes on the heels of winter, with all its sparse greyness and cold. Mostly we quite enjoy this: cold in Britain is a different experience compared with cold in Australia. Houses are heated much more effectively here, so it is easier to warm up if we do get really cold. And coats are serious, so wandering about outside is mostly not too bad.

But the colours mute and even seem to disappear into a dreary palate of brown, leafless trees against a grey, gloomy sky. And so Spring is something of a surprise. The colours come back. Spring soothes the greyness into the background with sudden pockets of pastels, while the green of summer gradually arrives. These little moments of colour startle the eye, so used to the grey brown of winter, and they give way to great splashes of colour, longer days, sunshine with warmth in it and leaves growing and unfurling in beautiful shades of green. Worthy of special mention are the daffodils. Vivids yellows dancing in the breeze are slightly breathtaking. They don't last very long, but they tease the mind with possibilities of summer.

One sunny day, Jonathan and I went for a walk intent on taking photos of Springtime. Here we ran into a slight problem. Jonathan's problem, of course, lay in my unwillingness to entrust him with the camera. It is an ongoing problem he has and one day will result in some kind of camera coup.

My problem, however, was slightly less complex. There were many photos I could have taken of everything from magnolias in full bloom to little bluebells (or whatever they are called), peeping up to the sun. But these pictures all involved a private residence of some kind. I don't know what the etiquette of this is and didn't want to find out. But churches, I decided, are fair game. After all, in this country the Church of England is still established and so church buildings are kind of public property. I, being the public, albeit the foreign public, thought it would be quite acceptable to take photos of churches for private use. I probably put a lot more thought into this than was strictly necessary. I was no doubt dazzled by so many gorgeous flowers and the sudden appearance of sunshine.

Here are my offerings. I hope you enjoy them, and although it ceased being Spring some time ago, it is never the wrong time of the year to see photos of a gentle English Spring. JMB