Earlier this year, I wrote about how overwhelmingly lacklustre and uninspired this year’s St George’s Day celebrations were (click here to view). Especially the potential horror of the proposed British Day. Suggesting that this might amount to little more than standing in orderly queues followed by binge drinking all night, I rhetorically asked whether anyone had any better suggestions.
How surprised was I when the Minister for the West Midlands – Liam Byrne – responded by producing a pamphlet containing 27 suggestions no less. Let’s be honest, he wasn’t responding to me. It was for Gordon Brown, but who knows whether he’ll be around long enough to read it. As for ‘better suggestions’ though…?
‘A national event, celebrated in local areas’ – stating the obvious maybe?
“A speech by the Queen” – sorry, done on Christmas Day.
“A remembrance day celebrating the bravery of veterans” – already in the calendar for November.
“Holding street parties and neighbourhood get-togethers” – didn’t work for the Golden Jubilee, doubt it will for British Day.
“A carnival similar to the Notting Hill Carnival…concerts like Live Aid…Children in Need” – am I missing the point or haven’t these already been done?
And of course, we mustn’t forget the obligatory Morris dancing, drinking and playing football.
What seems to be apparent is that whenever politicians begin to talk about British Day there is, if you listen carefully enough, the sound of the barrel being scraped in the background. I’ll reiterate that I don’t have any issue with celebrating Britishness or indeed being proud of it, I am so myself. But having politicians tell me what to do and when to do it really does make me want to offer them a traditional British gesture: the good old fashioned ‘V-sign’.
Why? Well let me tell you.
No-one knows the true origins of the V-sign but the first photographic evidence dates from 1901. Here workers outside the Parkgate ironworks in Rotherham were captured being particularly defiant and unhappy with one young man aggressively making the gesture to the camera. Twelve years later and a photograph of a football crowd captures a fan making the sign to the away end. Again, the gesture is used in an overtly defiant way. And what many don’t realise is that when Winston Churchill began making his ‘Victory’ V-sign, he had to be told that it was rude to do it in the way he originally chose. Eventually he turned his palm to face outwards to save embarrassment. But even so, the gesture remained undeniably defiant.
The ‘V-sign’ then is without doubt the most British of gestures. From John Prescott to Liam Gallagher, Wayne Rooney to Johnny Rotten, the list goes on – and will continue to do so well into the future. More importantly though, the gesture is not only British but also extremely defiant: defiant of things we don’t like, don’t agree with, or don’t want.
And so here’s my defiance. My Britishness is personal, one that doesn’t define who I am, where my loyalties lie, or how I relate to society. In fact it only becomes problematical when someone else tries to tell me who I am, denying my individuality by recourse to stereotype. The right of all to be who they want to be, say what they want to say, go where they want to go and believe what they want to believe are sacrosanct in our democracy constrained only by the bounds of British law and a respect for others around me. This then is what being British is about and this will – hopefully – out stay any attempt to tell us otherwise on British Day.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.