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The Label Fell Off

3 Mar

Recently, following a criticism about “expats living in warm countries meddling in British politics that no longer affect them“, I have been reflecting on the labels used to describe those living outwith their own countries.

Let’s start by examining the term ‘expat’ (expatriate) which was used in such an obviously denigratory sense by the critic.

The term “ex-pat”, which is only applied to folk from the UK (or former predominantly white colonies) who are living abroad, has a casual arrogance about it that hint at colonialist and racist undertones.  It typically refers to those living abroad long term who intend to return to their homeland at some point (often unspecified) in the future; or, as is so often the case in Spain, folk who have a home in both the host country and their country of origin, between which they alternate according to season and/or family ties.

Unfortunately, for I am sure that they are lovely people, the expats I have encountered here in Spain almost all adhere to a nauseating British stereotype, which was already well out of fashion in England in my infancy.  Given their intention to return to their country of origin at some point in the future, their interesed  in the current politics of their homeland is both pertinent and permissible (given that they can continue to vote for the first 15 years of their residence abroad – a privilege which the Tories would like to make lifelong) and should be encouraged rather than curtailed.

Although I now eschew the label ‘expat’, I have been one in the past. I was an expat all the while I was living in England (some 35 years) – something only Scots are fully likely to understand – never feeling settled or really at home there and always harbouring a secret longing to return home to Scotland. It is bewildering, given the much vaunted myth of the heterogeneity of the UK that I feel far more at home living in Spain than I ever did living in England!

Moving on to migrant, which is a term used to describe a person who moves abroad for reasons of work, which I did not when I left in 2008. In fact, I was unemployed for the first few months I was in Spain, having given up a good job (and turned down another offer of work) in London in order to emigrate. Yet, I have to also confess to having been a migrant; first, in 1980, when I moved from Sussex to Belfast in search of work, and again, following the completion of my bachelors degree, when I was willing to migrate to any part of the country for work, but ended up migrating to London because of my first wife’s PhD.

So, if I am not any longer an expat or a migrant, what labels are apposite?

It would be more apt to call me a partial émigré than either expat or migrant, as part of the reason I fled the Benighted Kingdom (as Cammie, Clegg & Co have made it) was to escape just that political eventuality. The continuance of a virtually unfettered Tory reign of terror against the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable in British society while lining the insatiable pockets of their ultra-wealthy pals, combined with the government’s rising xenophobia, is one of the greatest deterrents to ever returning to the land of my birth, where they have but negligible electoral support. Yet, when all is said and done, émigré (even if just partial) is too flash and fussy for me.

My personal choice would be for the simplest descriptions; either ‘immigrant’ or ‘emigrant’ both of which are felicitous to my circumstance. I am not ashamed to be an immigrant, despite its pejorative connotations for the small-minded. It is, after all, a factual description as I have immigrated to Spain; but I am equally comfortable with the term ’emigrant’, given the long tradition of emigration from Scotland to all parts of the globe; I am a Scottish emigrant who has chosen to permanently live in Spain.

So, when relabelling this particular person, please stick to the straight talking terms immigrant and emigrant.

The Myth of Santa Claus

23 Dec

Let’s start by stating a simple fact: Santa Claus is an entirely American invention and cultural export which has been popularised through American Literature, Hollywood film and advertising (eg Coca-Cola™).

The modern Santa Claus has nothing to do with the Dutch Sinterklass (Santa Claus coming from low German) and little to do with the much older Father Christmas tradition. Most of Santa Claus’ attributes were contrived from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St Nicholas” (a hotchpotch of largely unrelated anthropological data).

Yet, the popularity of Santa Claus owes as much to politics (the desire to reduce English cultural influences following Independence) and the national spirit of consumerism as it does to the schmaltz of Hollywood Christmas films and Moore’s poem.

If we contrast Sinterklass (St Nicolas) with Santa Claus, though both are said to bring gifts to children (as do the Three Kings in Mediterranean countries), they are completely different.

Sinterklass is a bishop (with a basis in real history), who supposedly lives in Spain whence he arrives on a steamship; he rides through the streets on a white horse during the day, and is aided by a black servant Zwarte Piet; he distributes his gifts on 6th December (the feast day of St Nicolas).

Santa Claus is a magical being with no historical basis, who supposedly lives at the North Pole, where he is aided by an army of elves; Santa rides a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer during the night of Christmas Eve and, mimicking Father Christmas, he distributes his gifts on 24th December.

Likewise, despite the much more ancient Father Christmas having been assimilated into the modern Santa Claus as though they were one and the same, contrasting Father Christmas’  original form with that of Santa Claus highlights significant differences between them.

Father Christmas was a personification of Christmas who was traditionally associated with adult revelry and drinking (showing his older pagan origins); with beneficence of feudal landlords to their tenants; and, later, with charitable giving to the poor. He had absolutely nothing to do with children or gift giving.

Santa Claus, who is seen as being not so much the personification of Christmas as of the “magic of Christmas”, is entirely associated with gift giving, and especially gift giving to children through the filling of their Christmas stockings. Some organisations (eg the Salvation Army, Rotary Club) dress their street collectors in Santa outfits in the run up to Christmas in an attempt to increase giving.

So what we have, in our time, is a Santa Claus who is a corrupted amalgamation of much older traditions, moulded by materialism and forged by infantile fantasy.

Santa – an anagram of Satan – only encourages selfish greed and (ever more elaborate) lying. His purpose, guised as a generous, harmless old man, is to divert attention away from the Christ Child and the mystery of the Incarnation.  Yet, without Christ there can be no Christ´s mass, just a celebration of the Winter Solstice, in which the rebirth of the sun is substituted for the birth of God’s only Son, with overindulgence and the accumulation of often wholly unnecessary possessions being the order of the day.

The Magna Carta Myth

15 Jun

As children, we were taught that, by signing Magna Carta, the ‘bad’ King John was forced by his Barons to give essential liberties to his people.  So entrenched in the British psyche is this popular version that few batted an eyelid when David Cameron alluded to it (inter alia other gaffes (see here) in his jingoistic closing speech to the party faithful at their 2013 Conference. And that is what people all over the UK are going to be told they are celebrating today –  an iconic British achievement – the first ever granting of fundamental human rights.

But that is nothing more than an English myth foisted upon the populace by lawyers in the late 16th century (almost 400 years after the event), who craved the return of a non-existent “Saxon golden-age”, in which they believed had existed a constitution that had protected individual English freedoms that had remained in force until it had been revoked by the Norman invaders.  This myth that Magna Carta was at the heart of the foundation of English Law was further perpetuated by the 17th century jurist, Sir Edward Coke, who used it as a political tool in his attempts to curb the “Divine Right of Kings” claimed by the House of Stuart, who were not only Norman, but worse still, Scots!

Yet the facts do not support the Heatherdown and Eton version with which the juvenile Cameron was infused.  The bald truth about the original Magna Carta of 1215 is that it was essentially a failure.  To see why we have to debunk another myth and look at what really happened between June and September 1215.

John Lackland was not as bad a king as the English historians (and Disney) wish to paint him.  Much of the opprobrium heaped upon him was due to his regency of England during the time his popular brother, King Richard Coeur de Lion, was away on Crusade.  These crusades had to be paid for (and did not come cheap), so it fell to John to raise the necessary taxes, and later to fund his brother’s ransom.  But that does not mean that he was a good king.  Though he was an able administrator, he was justly criticised for  abusing his feudal rights and imposing heavy taxation to pursue a needless war with France, which he lost.  This led a number of Barons (aristocracy), with the support of the Church, to rebel in protest.  The rebels had achieved some miltiary success, including the capture of London, and were John to avoid an all out civil war, he would have to negotiate with his Barons.

To this end, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langdon, drew up a Charter of 63 clauses outlining the Barons’ demands, which was presented to John on the island of Runnymede (which was close to both the rebel base at Staines and to Windsor).  Though both parties signed and sealed the Charter, neither side kept to the agreed terms.  The Barons refused to surrender London, while John immediately appealed to Pope Innocent III as his “spiritual overlord”.  The Pope responded by first suspending Langdon from office and excommunicating the rebels; he then declared the Charter “null and void forever“.  His letter (dated 24th August), which  arrived in London in September, was the spark that ignited the 1st Barons’ War.

John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his 9 year old son, Henry III. Henry’s regents reissued the charter – minus most of the progressive clauses – in 1217 as a bribe to the Barons to accept the Treaty of Lambeth.  It was reissued it in 1225 in exchange for taxation but, given that both versions were issued during Henry’s minority, its validity was questioned.  It wasn’t until 1297, when Henry’s son, Edward I reissued it that it had any real bearing on English law.  Yet, by 1350 – ie within just over 50 years – half of the clauses had fallen out of use.  By the end of the 19th century most of it had been repealed or superceded by new laws.  By 1969 only 3 clauses remained in force in English Law (Note – they have never had any effect in Scottish or Irish Law):

Clause 1 (1, 1297) – Guaranteed the freedom of the English Church.  (However, this was given an entirely new intrepetation during the 16th century by Henry VIII.)

Clause 13 (9, 1297) – Confirmed the liberties and customs of London and other boroughs.

and

Clauses 39 & 40 (29, 1279) – “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.  To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” (This was blatantly broken in the case of the trial of Charles I, who as a “free man” was denied trial by his peers).

Despite the claims that Magna Carta introduced “due process” into the law (a system that was dropped by English law but retained as a fundamental aspect of American law), it only applied to a small minority of the populace and mainly benefitted the nobility and clergy.  Despite the fact that trial by jury was introduced by Henry II for civil cases during the preceeding century, the importance of Magna Carta is how later law-makers, ignorant (accidentally or wilfully) of its original meaning, anachronistically reinterpreted it to suit their own period and agenda.  Furthermore, while clause 29 it still is on the statute book, it has in large part been superceded by Article 5 of the Human Rights Act, 1998 (which ironically Cameron, in a fit of English nationalism, wants to repeal!).

Magna Carta, even had it successfully remained in statute, would have had absolutely no effect outside of England and Wales.  Foreign influence was not even achieved by the Magna Carta of 1297 until the 18th century when the fledgling United States used the century earlier misinterpretation of it as a foundation for their Constitution.   It was this same mythologised version that inspired the UN Declaration of Human Rights, rather than the actual document drawn up by Langdon.

So is it really a great British achievement, as claimed by Cameron, that is being celebrated?

Despite its being garbed in the Union Flag and dressed up as British, Magna Carta was written long before the creation of the United Kingdom (long even before the Union of Crowns) and has never applied to Scotland or Ireland (despite their being in political union with England and Wales).  Thus, the answer has to be a “NO!” as resounding as that to the openng lines of the English Hymn, Jeruslem:

And did those feet in ancient time
walk upon England’s mountains green:
and was the Holy Lamb of God,
on England’s pleasant pastures seen?

What is being celebrated, in true English style, is a monumental flop, which under some jingoistic delusion has been transformed into a kind of fabled success that sets England above the rest of the world.

Weird Weather

5 Jun

Let me start by saying I work in a wine distributors in a small city.  The city lies on the Castillian meseta but within a stone’s throw of the Sierra Gaudarrama.  Usually, the weirdest weather we get is snow in June (and that only but once in a blue moon), but today was perfectly normal; warm (28ºC) and sunny with a scattering of puffy, white cumulus.  So the weather phenomenon I experienced this morning came as a complete surprise.

It started while I was out in the bodega, stacking a pallet for this morning’s deliveries.  As I was immersed in selecting the boxes of wine listed on the delivery notes, I heard a strange sound.  I couldn’t work out what it was it, so I went out into the shop to investigate.

My first thought on entering the shop was that someone was cleaning our window with a high pressure hose as that is what it both looked and sounded like.  Naturally, I rushed to close the door to avoid the inevitable flood. But as I got closer I could see that it was sand that was blowing in, not water.

When I reached the door, which I rapidly closed, I saw a mini-whirlwind (complete with vortex – about 2m high) sucking all the sand up out of the area in front of the shop and spinning it around.

It lasted less than 2 minutes and vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  The only sign that it had ever been – apart from the mini-desert that had taken refuge in the shop – was the rocky nudity of our normally, sand clad tow-away area.

That’s the first whirlwind (or dust devil) I’ve ever seen; and I got to see it right up close too.  However,  I certainly don’t want to see one any bigger than that,  at least, not anywhere that near.

The Disunity of the Union Jack

25 Sep

The Union Jack is supposed to be a symbol of the unity between the increasingly dysfunctional “family of nations” that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain.  Yet, as a flag of unity, it is deeply flawed.  It was designed (whether deliberately or accidentally matters not) to show English dominance over the “Celtic nations”, just as it was in the days of  Empire a symbol of oppression and servitude under a supposedly philanthropic (sic) British rule. It was the design submitted by English heralds, which was most favoured by James VI & I who approved its use, perhaps on aesthetic grounds or more likely to appease his new subjects.

However, many in Scotland objected to having the Cross of St George superimposed over the Cross of St Andrew (just as there was fury during the recent Independence Referendum, when BritNats placed a Union Jack in the top left corner of the Scottish Saltire – which is illegal in Scotland – to proclaim Scotland a mere colony of the UK rather than a “Home Nation”).  Instead they used a Scottish version in which the St Andrew’s Cross cut the St George’s Cross into four triangles.  The Scottish version, which was never official, was banned by law after the Acts of Union in 1707.

Yet, heraldically (and flags are governed by heraldry) the Union Flag does not combine the English flag with the Scottish Saltire as the colour used is a royal blue, which is mid way between the sky blue (or azure) of the Saltire and the navy blue  of the flag of the Island of Tenerife (which, incidentally, the English failed to subdue in 1706 and the British (under Nelson) in 1797.

Thus, heraldically, though the blue is supposed to represent Scotland, it does not (as was recently pointed out to me by the Serbian Royal Herald) as it is neither one thing or the other. It seems that it was assumed that the St Andrew’s Cross would be understood to refer to Scotland even though St Andrew is also the patron saint of Barbados, Greece, Romania, Russia and the Ukraine (only one of which has been under British rule!).

However, Scotland, receiving some kind of representation through the cross of St Andrew (though not through the Scottish Saltire) is considerably better off than Wales, which has no representation either in the Royal Arms or the Union Flag.  The English excuse is that at the time of the Union, Wales had been absorbed into England by its Tudor monarchs and, therefore, was not party to the Treaties of Union and so needs no representation other than the Cross of St George.  Yet St George is not, and has never been, recognised as having any role is Wales (other than conquest).  Wales’ patron saint  is St David, whose symbol (a yellow cross on a black field) was used informally on flags in Wales from 1921.   Not until 1959 were they granted an official flag (the Welsh red dragon), which is based on a variant of Welsh flags used since the 1480s.

Ireland is represented by the so-called Cross of St Patrick, though there is no good evidence to suggest that it was ever used prior to the foundation of the Order of St Patrick in 1783.  It has been suggested that the design was based on the arms of the powerful Fitzgerald family who, as Earls of Kildare, were Lords Deputy of Ireland and, as Dukes of Leinster, the premier peer in the Irish House of Lords. Indeed, despite a number of official bodies (eg the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) adopting it between the foundation of the order and the act of Union of 1800, it has never had wide acceptance in Ireland, outside of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy.  For most Irish people it was seen as a blood-stained Cross of St Andrew, forever reminding them of  the English imposition of  Scottish settlers in Ulster by Cromwell.    The traditional cross of St Patrick, a cross patée, which has been used for centuries, is widely used in Catholic Dioceses, but eschewed by the Church of Ireland (Anglican) which, unsurprisingly, uses the red saltire of the British establishment.

It has been argued that it is appropriate for the Cross of St Patrick (sic) to remain within the Union Flag as the 6 northern counties which make up the Province of Northern Ireland are subject to the Crown.  However, the red saltire is not widely accepted in Northern Ireland either. The sectarianism there means that Loyalists prefer the Ulster Banner, which was the official flag of Northern Ireland from 1953-1972, as they regard the Cross of St Patrick as Irish, while the Republicans favour the Irish Tricolour, seeing the Cross of St Patrick as a British imposition. Though it has sometimes been used as a neutral flag, neither side of the sectarian divide is entirely happy with it in that role.  Far from being a symbol of unity, the Union Flag, despite the success of the peace process, is a symbol of on-going division in Ireland.

In the Union Flag, the English Cross of St Patrick has been placed, counterchanged, into the Cross of St Andrew, further diminishing any representation of Scotland it may have had.  The resulting hotchpotch also means that 95% of the British population (and 99.9% of foreigners) have no idea whether the  flag is the right way up or not!  Thus, at least half the time it is flown upside down, which is an international distress signal.

So here we have a flag that is supposed to represent unity but which is actually an offensive mishmash that uses the wrong colour for the Scottish Saltire, uses a detested cross for Ireland (of which only a small Province  tacked on to the UK remains), and gives no representation whatsoever for the Principality of Wales.   It is noticeably absent from the flag of the Commonwealth of Nations, all but one of which were British colonies, as in some parts of the world it is despised for its imperial (and post imperial) connotations and in other parts for its once proud association with  the international slave trade.  Little wonder then that there are moves to extirpate the “bloody butchers’ apron” from their national flags, even in countries which remained colonies well into the 20th century  (eg Fiji),  just as they did their Governors General on gaining independence.  And it is niot confined to countries that were former colonies; even countries which are still under the Crown (eg New Zealand) are debating its removal.

So, if it doesn’t symbolise unity, what does it signify?  For some – a minority to be sure – it represents far-right wing British Nationalism as displayed by the BNP or Britain First; for others – a rising number it seems – it represents the xenophobic “little England” nationalism of UKIP; for others, it represents a corrupt and greedy, self-perpetuating, plutocratic elite that will hold onto power at any cost; and, yes, for an ever-dwindling number, it represents the UK and Britishness (whatever that might be).

But its advocates (who are, by definition, nationalists – British nationalists) will doubtless defend their flag on two counts: a) military campaigns and  b) fashion.

a) They will waffle on about how we fought two World Wars under the Union Jack and liberated Europe, without also recognising that it was used to invade Iraq on the basis of a lie, or that there are only a scattering of countries worldwide that the UK has not invaded (or tried to invade).  Also, they conveniently forget that it was the flag that flew over numerous slave ships and the ships of their Royal Navy escorts (both on the jack and in the top left  corner of the red and white ensigns).

b) Citing the Union Jack’s use in fashion (despite the fact that the days of 1960s Carnaby Street and BritPop fashion in the ’90s have become, like the two World Wars, nigh nebulous memories for many) they claim that it is the most recognisable symbol of Britain.  While it is true that versions, often crudely drawn, are used as decals and designs on cheap, sweat-shopped tat or tasteless souvenirs, the majority of the non-British purchasers of such garments (and souvenirs) don’t equate it with the UK (just like the other instantly recognised symbols: Big Ben, Tower Bridge and the Queen of England – notice a pattern here?), but with England, unconsciously having understood that the UK is just a euphemism for England “writ large”.

Whereas my grandfather, born in the age of Empire, proudly served under the Union Jack, both as a career naval officer and as Lord Lieutenant, I feel no pride in it; no sentiment; just mild indifference.  As with those nations, which want to remove the Union Jack from their national flags, it does not reflect my identity in any meaningful way and so is only of historical interest like, say, the flag of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

If the government (of whatever stripe) in Westminster are serious about unity within teh oft vaunted “the family of nations”  (rather than the usual uniformity – the genesis of which is a casual arrogance – they try to hawk), both the Union Jack and the Royal Arms need to be revised and modernised to reflect the diversity and the equality implied in the family metaphor.  Failure by the Union (which was so valuable that  it could only be saved through lies and threats) to do so will merely reinforce the view of the Celtic Nations that they are being not very subtly subsumed, whether they want to be or not, with even less status than a colony, into an increasingly uncaring  Greater England.

It is surely time to consign this ragbag of a flag, which has such a  chequered past, to history, where it belongs.

Cameron’s BritNat Jingoism

3 Oct

David Cameron’s jingoistic closing speech shows just how arrogant he is in relation to other nations and how incapable he is of distinguishing Britain from England.

Let’s look at some of his gaffes in trying to rebut the supposed Russian slight that Britain is “just a small island that no-one pays any attention to”:

When the world wanted rights, who wrote Magna Carta?
England – 388 years before the Union of Crowns and 492 years before the Acts of Union which formed the United Kingdom. Magna Carta, which was declared “null and void forever by Pope Innocent III within less than 3 months, would have had asolutely no effect outside of England.  It was a great English flop.

When they wanted representation, who built the first Parliament?
Iceland in 930 ad

When they looked for compassion, who led the abolition of slavery?
China Qin Dynasty 221-206bc, Iceland from the 12th century and the Republic of Vermont in 1791.

When they searched for equality, who gave women the vote?
The Pitcairn Islands 1838.

When their freedom was in peril, who offered blood, toil, tears and sweat?
Britain with the support and aid of the various underground movements in occupied Europe,  (but don’t tell the Americans as they think they saved Europe in both World Wars!).  Without American funding and reinforcements, it is highly likely that Britain would have fallen and without their troops the liberation of Europe would have taken much longer.

And today – whose music do they dance  to?
That very much depends which country you are in, but there is as much American as British dance music and in Spain they also dance to Spanish music -the Clubs in Ibiza are not representative of the rest of Spain let alone the rest of the world .

Whose universities do they flock to?
America’s (more than any other in the world)

Whose football league do they watch?
Their own – they then watch selected games from the other leagues including Germany’s, Portugal’s, Spain’s and England’s – true footie fans aren’t that fussy.  There isn’t , and never has been, a British football league!

Whose example of tolerance of people living together from every nation, every religion, young and old, straight and gay?
A recent survey found that Latin American countries (with the exception of Venezuela and Dominican Republic) were as tolerant as the UK and her former English speaking colonies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand & USA). The UK has become the 4th most unequal society in the developed world under Cameron’s watch a measure he carefully left out from his list.

Whose example do they aspire to?
The American Dream – most people want to go to the USA.

Britain / UK 1 out of 10.

Of course, there was nothing in his speech about how “Britain” invaded all but 9 of the countries of the World and how those countries were oppressed and exploited under Britain’s Imperial rule.  Nor did he mention the illegal war in Iraq, preferring to talk about Afghanistan, but failing to mention just how many British service personnel gave their lives for the Bush cabal’s political ambition and American neo-imperialism.

Ironically, Cameron’s empty rhetoric, echoes that of the former Soviet Union which taught that everything worth inventing was invented by Russians.

A Pleasant Surprise

31 Aug

Last night I saw something I’d never seen before.

I was strolling alone through what was once called “the blind man’s holiday”[1], the usual walkers having long gone home to be replaced by dragonflies which skimmed low over my head and pipestrelles [2] that zigzagged their way round me in hot pursuit of the insects that shelter under the trees.  As I ambled along the path at the side of the embalse[3],  something caught the very edge of my sight.

It was a brilliant light shining through the canopy and reflecting indistinctly in the waters.  I couldn’t see it clearly until it had fallen below the treeline, when I was able to see that it was a small ball of fire with a blazing tail streaming behind it.  As I gazed, it started to break up, small pieces falling away in a shower of huge sparks that quickly faded to darkness.  Then, just as suddenly as I’d become aware of it, it was gone.

A meteor!  A beautiful meteor. The first I’d ever seen.

 

 

[1] the time of evening when it is too dark to read but too bright to light the candles

[2] a very small bat that is common in this area

[3] a reservoir caused by damming a river