View from the Bridge: 62

by John Morrison


62: Flags of convenience

What a puzzled and puzzling nation we are - beset with acute paranoia and a major identity crisis. One minute we're Great Britain: a small but pugnacious country, happy to roll up its sleeves at a moment's notice to sort out playground scraps around the globe and bang a few heads together. Then we're the British Isles: an off-shore atoll separated from mainland Europe by twenty miles of water and centuries of unwarranted bigotry. The next minute we're the United Kingdom: a threadbare, down-at-heel aristocrat, still insisting on respect from the riffraff, even while the family silver is being discreetly auctioned off. To much of the world we're a bit of a joke.

Now - with the World Cup here - we are splitting, amoeba-like, into our constituent countries. We're even splitting up the flag.

In the Union Jack we have a flag that only 1% of the population knows how to fly the right way up (with 99% not giving a flying fuck either way). And the only people who drape themselves in it are drunken football fans and rabid members of the National Front. We raise the flag of St George when England are playing, of course, but what should we be singing? The National Anthem? Land of Hope and Glory? The Referee's a Wanker? The Scots, at least, are united in a song than sums up their resentful aspirations: You're Not Getting The Oil Back.

You could drop these little islands into the middle of Lake Superior, and they would hardly leave a ripple. We're not so 'Great' any more, and as for 'United', well, half of the population seems hell-bent on dividing our already fragmented nation into ever-smaller units. The Scots and the Welsh will get their parliaments. We might as well let the Welsh keep their language, on the basis that no-one else would want it. As for Ireland: well, most of us would happily unhitch the mooring ropes and let it drift off towards the Faroe Islands.

The Isle of Man will continue to enjoy its special status as a haven for tax exiles and devotees of corporal punishment. The Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire wouldn't mind going it alone or, failing that, giving some toffeee-nosed twat a bloody nose just for the hell of it. The South of England will carry on much as before: keeping schtum and banking the money.

For those who live in Milltown it's always fun to have visitors from Down South, if only to confirm all their prejudices about Life Up North. We're supposed to be friendly and open. We don't lock our doors (which makes it a doddle to slip inside and knock off a video). Southeners suggest we are chauvinistic too, but, by gum, we've got an awful lot to be chauvinistic about. To anyone who accuses us of being straight talking... rude, even, we have a ready answer. We say: "If you don't like it up here, you bouffant-haired shirt-lifter, then fuck off back Down South"... But we reserve the full force of our disdain for that most loathsome of creatures, the Professional Yorkshireman. A Yorkshire Quisling who's sold his self-respect for the Southerners' shilling, and who colludes in his transformation into a two-dimensional cartoon character. A dancing bear whose crude steps offer a basic kind of amusement. A novelty act. A skateboarding duck.

It's depressingly easy to play the Yorkshire card. You start with 'gruff, unbending intransigence' and 'mule-like stubbornness'... and just go downhill from there. Producers of current affairs programmes like to keep a few Professional Yorkshiremen on hand, in case an otherwise uninspiring debate needs stirring up by a loud-mouthed buffoon who loves nothing better than the sound of his own voice. It's a simple device, aimed at making the other pundits look reasonable and rational by comparison. Professional Yorkshiremen are used to counteract good sense and even-handedness, whenever a discussion threatens to subside towards affability and concord. They represent Yorkshire... but only in the way that a session at the Grievous Bodily Arms represents a good night out.

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