Maybe it’s something to do with the desperation of my advanced years, but I recently experienced an irresistible urge to raise a flagpole in my garden. It just seemed the right time to assert my identity. Friends, neighbours and passing strangers all needed to know just who is the fascinating person living in that house over there, who to salute respectfully, who to smile or growl at, who not to mess with …
The problem came in deciding exactly which flag I was going to hoist on said flagpole. If I opted for the estelada my Catalan friends would be effusively appreciative, but it risked offending those from every other quarter of Hispania – foremost among them a Cantabrian wife. Raising a Spanish flag would, of course, result in an exact mirror image of potential applause and insult.
Looking around, I spot on neighbouring flagpoles the odd flag with a footballing link, predominantly those of Barça. Though I always favour Barça over the Antichrist Real Madrid, my own football allegiances here are more with the small guys, like Eibar, Celta Vigo or – dare I say it? – Espanyol.
I actually hail from Manchester, though my team is neither the mighty City or United, but Bolton Wanderers, late of Premier League, but having slid dramatically downtables, narrowly avoiding bankruptcy and now spluttering along ignominiously among the minnows of League Two. To hoist a Bolton Wanderers flag would surely only invite universal scorn and ridicule unbecoming of my worthy persona.
The general assumption on flag-raising is that one should hoist one’s national flag, but that for me has sadly become a non-starter. I am an Englishman and a Briton, but both the English flag with the cross of St.George and the UK Union Jack represent an image that in recent years has increasingly become tarnished and tawdry.
Since the 1970s, extremist right-wing groups have comandeered the England flag for their parades and demonstrations; inevitably it was taken up by their foot-soldiers, the football-hooligans who duly mewled and puked their way across Europe. For sensitive souls like yours truly, the flag of St.George would mark me out as a ‘Little Englander’, so I have to reject it.
As for the Union Jack flag, what is most disturbing is the shameless insistence of our current UK government to ‘wrap itself in the flag’ at every conceivable photo-opportunity. Just as every dubious decision announced by the Trump regime was framed against a Stars and Stripes backdrop, so Boris Johnson and Co. have learnt to surround themselves with Union flags to justify their every action as being ‘in the national interest’.
Famously Dr. Samuel Johnson (definitely no relation) declared in 1775 that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’. Mark Twain then clarified the context: ‘patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.’ Well before Brexit, Johnson was clearly aware of the powerful symbolism inherent in the national flag and its potential exploitation for political ends. The much-posted image of Boris the so-called ‘Clown Mayor of London’ sitting astride a zip-wire while clutching two tiny Union flags was at the time derided by serious journalists as ‘excruciating’, ‘ludicrous’, ‘humiliating’, but in reality it was cleverly staged to cement a link in the mind of tabloid readers between Johnson and ‘his’ nation.
Post-Brexit, it now seems protocol that every interview with ministers be conducted in front of one or preferably two Union flags. Never mind the corruption, lies, cronyism and incompetence, the message is that the Tories are acting for Britain. The Sun, Express, Mail, Times and Telegraph, even the BBC, will all duly reinforce it.
As you might have guessed, I am one of the 48% pesky remainers. So why not a European flag? Sure, I am pro-Europe, just as I am pro-Manchester/England/UK, but as a world-citizen where does one draw the line? Sadly there is no flag for Earth or for the Milky Way galaxy.
So the flag now fluttering proudly over my garden is not any of the above. In their heyday French pirates used to fly a simple red flag, the ‘Joli Rouge’. Given their renowned flair for foreign languages, the British duly translated this as a ‘Jolly Rodger’, added a skull and cross-bones, transforming it into the most feared flag of all. It signified a total defiance of the status quo.
Pirates have traditionally had something of a bad press over here in Spain, none more so than our great Plymouth hero Sir Francis Drake, whom Spanish historians summarily dismiss as a real baddie. But let’s get the record straight: given the nasty, dangerous nationalism surrounding us, today’s pirates are right to resist, protest, challenge.
You never know, one day I might just go the Full Monty and acquire a Cornish accent, an eye-patch, crutch, ‘pieces of eight’ and a parrot on my shoulder. What’s more, if you really wish to take issue with me, please feel free to visit and walk my plank.
Also by David Rouse: London, Madrid, Covid-19 and populism and Tribalism and polarisation, from Brexit to Catexit
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