By The Duke, 22nd June 2016

How to be British: An Idiot’s Guide

Unanswered Questions about the EU Referendum

Unanswered Questions about the EU Referendum

A few weeks ago, Air Force 1 arrived on the shores of the UK, with the actual President of the United States effectively telling us that we’re screwed if we vote to Leave. Since then, he-who-should-not-be-named (the one with the blonde rat attached to his head), the media, and any other misfit capable of grabbing hold of a microphone is embroiled in a discussion about ‘what it means to be British’, why Europe is a disaster, and especially the resolute desire to keep Johnny Foreigner off our shores. A few weeks ago, as I wandered aimlessly around Copenhagen, I found myself asking all the same questions, and so humour me as I attempt to waffle my way through a picture of the night that started the conversation, at least in our house.

Aptly timed, just in time for the EU Referendum, and to remind us all that Europe is a place of tone-deaf death metal bands; a few Saturdays ago, I dived into my bed with a huge smile on my face. First and most importantly, I secured a small victory – I managed to escape the torture of watching the Eurovision Song Contest (or at least so I thought). The second victory was that in spite of the cough and sniffles my wife had been exaggerating for the last two days, she seemed to be in the mood. Awesome.

For a change, my timing was perfect – it wasn’t yet late enough to be accused of the 2am tap-tap-tap, and we had nothing to be up early for the next day. And so The Duchess braced herself for my trademark I’m-in-bed-with-an-actual-naked-woman teenage-like grin, and I offered to take the aches and pains of the week away with a massage.

Now I must add here (must to her ferocious objection I am sure) that my wife is a recovering Catholic, and in bed, I can often hear the reincarnated spirit of her priest, sitting on her shoulder, providing her with reasons to stop my advances. I know this, and most of the time I am bloody talented in sidestepping the little bugger on her shoulder.

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But sometimes I can be a real idiot, and I let my guard down. I should learn to keep my mouth shut. But that night I was feeling particularly cocky and I gloated about ‘missing’ Eurovision, inadvertently reminding her about said event.

So no sex then. Thanks iPlayer.

For those of you now rolling your eyes, I have to point out that the issue is complex – the timing for ‘snuggles’ has to be perfect. Not too late (heaven forbid I tap her on the shoulder past midnight on a ‘school night’), not too early. Eurovision lasts for three hours, even with skipping the shit bits (which IMO is the whole damn thing), and of course this year they had to go and change the way the results are announced to ensure that we can’t even think about the much-more-important-sex until right to the end.

A quick and panicked calculation in my head took us to 2:30am before we could even get started and so back to the complexity I mentioned. We have to assume so many things like whether she will stay awake, and whether or not the Edam-pop of Northern Europe, and the death metal of Eastern Europe will kill the mood. It would also require a complete change of tactics (and I have a limited repertoire) – 2:30am massages lead to sleep, not sex. In case you’re not yet asleep yourself, I’ll skip the awkward part and just reassure you that yes, I persisted, and yes, she fell asleep after a dreamy “you have magic hands”, and no, it didn’t happen.

Eurovision

Fuck you Eurovision.

Anyway, back to the original point. It seemed that sex was for sure off the cards, so we decided to stoke the other part of our relationship that gets us both excited. A good healthy debate. I ranted my way through the entire programme.

Forgive my passive racism for a moment as I put aside the fact that half the countries competing aren’t even in Europe “and I’ll give you €100 if you can point to Kazakhstan on a map”, but the whole embarrassing show got me to thinking.

At this stage I should probably offer up an admission, I’m a perpetual nomad.

My wandering days started at an early age when the county I was born in was erased from the map – no, not some apocalypse, just a council wasting time with boundary changes, and a bunch of councilors who would have benefited from more honest parents early in life. Later, a perpetual nomad became a perpetual ex-patriot, and here I am in 2016 living between two countries and traveling to countless others in between. To put it into context, my kids have to use a passport to get to school, and my office, my actual place of work, is around 2500km from my house. First world problems, huh.

Enviable is the word – more than 20 countries in five years is my magic ‘travel’ number, but aeroplanes are no longer something I dress up for, or get excited about, and holidays are better spent at home. When I get home, my wife jumps for joy looking forward to adult conversation and ‘date nights / going out’ – me, nope, I just want to sit in silence in my man-cave rocking back and forth enjoying the quiet.

The more I see of this planet, the more confused I get about the concept of home. I sat with my Scottish relatives a few weeks ago and found myself constantly apologising as I talked about ‘England’, when I meant “Britain” or the “UK”. I also managed to idiotically point out that I hadn’t realised I was English until I went to Scotland – and I took ten minutes to explain that it was definitely their fault (on behalf of the whole of Scotland) because before then I was definitely British. On the rare occasion that I visit ‘home’, I barely recognise it – England, is, in so many ways a foreign land to me now. I quickly forget how well people queue, how much they complain, and how rules are such an important part of life.

On a recent trip to Denmark, it was clear to see that the rest of the world has a thing or two to learn about ‘following rules’. I outwardly hate socialism, but these guys deserve a huge pat on the back. The sheer happiness they have even though they are brainwashed to follow the most ridiculous rules from an early age is astounding. You really haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed a drunk rule-follower. The one thing you do not expect to see when you are so drunk that you can’t say your name, is a group of barely-conscious drunk Danes all waiting for the green man to cross the road. Even at 3am after 12 hours of drinking, those fuckers stand still and wait for the solid green man to tell them to cross. I feel like Attenborough watching a rare species when I see it.

Green Man

Back home in the UK, I have started to realise that everything good we ever had that may begin to identify us culturally has been given away, or apologised for. Yet, we have had a huge impact on the planet (good and bad, thanks Captain Obvious), and so inevitably with only one or two exceptions, the entirety of the Eurovision set list was in English. The Swedes presenting it spoke English – even the beautiful Italian modern operatic performance was half English, half Italian.

Aside from the whole concept of civilisation (not to be underestimated so thank you Greece, Rome and Egypt amongst others), pretty much anything useful in the modern world started life in Britain, or by British people – the list is endless – language, politics, law, telephones, trains, pretty-much-every-major-sport (for American Football see Rugby, and Baseball checkout Rounders) – yet we either apologise for it, screw it up, or just do it really badly.

We can’t even use English flags for fear of being considered racist. Yet you have dementors like Trump (read: chipmunk wearing blonde hair extensions) sucking the soul out of us all by threatening to build walls and stop Muslims from entering their country. Genius.

Humble Britain used to be the master of the confidence trick – a tiny little island who conquered most of the planet at one time or another. We are like the proverbial Yorkshire Terrier. But, to eek out the analogy, imagine that same Yorkshire Terrier apologising for barking loudly, legislating against itself and creating a law against barking, and as if that wasn’t enough, it then compensates its neighbours for the noise by giving away its food, bowl, lead and collar. We have either legislated ourselves out of, or made a taboo of, everything we ever used to be good at.

At one point we were smart. Britain shipped off the criminals to build Australia, and now we can’t even get a visa to go and work there. Think on it – America is now famous for “Freedom” (using our language, law and politics), Germany for the efficiency of their rail network (yet we came up with the idea), Football is played well by pretty much everyone who isn’t British – we even invented computers and the internet (Charles Babbage and Sir Tim Berners Lee) yet we take no ownership or pride in any of these things. We can’t make a train run on time, and we are terrible at every major sport (see how we call Andy Murray British when he wins and Scottish when he loses).

My point is definitely not “we are terrible at everything”, my point is we should do what everyone else does – stop apologising, and get in their faces and take pride in what we have achieved. There is a massive difference in the success of the psychology of “I could” to “I will”. One leads to failure, and the other leads to more-often-than-not success.

Britain had its first female prime minister two decades ago, we now have our first Muslim mayor for one of the world’s largest economies. If you scaled up Britain to be the size of America, India or China, we would be the world’s largest economy by a country mile (and even now we are number 6).

Which brings us neatly back to the Referendum, and it is probably the reason we are having the whole Brexit debate at all.

europe

Insecurity. There, I said it.

We’ve spent centuries being conquering heroes, and we’ll spend the next two centuries apologising for it. We are like the beautiful teenager who thinks she’s ugly because of one lonely pimple. We get asked to go to the dance, but we don’t turn up.

Whether we stay in the EU, or leave (should we tie up some barges and move the island a bit further away?), it will make no difference whatsoever. Why? Because Britain has no identity, scattered industry and actually, the only reason people actually want to leave is to put a halt to freedom of movement – immigration in short. It’s the big fat, spotty, stinky elephant in the room.

I find it particularly sad because there is a long list of things that could give Britain some sense of pride in achievement and cultural identity, at a city, county and country level – whether you are British, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or (gulp, am I allowed to say it…) English. Yet, I challenge any English person to name five things that unite all the counties of England culturally.

Try it, you won’t be able to. Anything you come up with will either be from another part of the union (thanks Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), or it happened in 1966.

Victorian Britons created hundreds of miles of underground trains (which again, everyone else copied and did better) in an age where steam was the height of technology, and yet today it takes 18 months and three-hundred-squillion pounds to add a new entrance to an existing station. The whole thing is bonkers!

Britain became great by breaking rules, pushing boundaries, being pioneers and having a conquering spirit.

Now I’m not suggesting we start up the empirical engine again, but removing a little of the nonsense and getting back to being a little less bureaucratic and a little more industrious could cure the whole thing.

When I travel, the first question people ask me is “where are you from”. And being British, I say England and then spend the next five minutes apologising for it. Go figure.

(Note from The Editor: Many thanks to The Duke for braving a house full of women – and his wife The Duchess, to share his views on the topic. Expect to hear more from The Duke, it seems he shares his wife’s love for a good debate. To read more from him, you can check out his authors page here.)

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