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A thing of beauty

Charlie Brooker sums up Britishness with t3h excellence:

I was born in the 70s and grew up in a tiny rural village. There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him “blackjack”. The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.

We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can’t remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He spoke with eerie, measured anger. He’d fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone “different”, that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called “the Nazis”. Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were “different’ wasn’t merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial. And if he heard of anyone – anyone – using racist language again, they’d immediately get the slipper.

Corporal punishment was still alive and well, see. The slipper was his nuclear bomb.

It was the first time I was explicitly told that racism was unpleasant and it was a lesson served with a side order of patriot fries. Or rather, chips. Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That’s what I understood it meant to be truly “British”: to be polite, and civil and fair of mind. (And to occasionally wallop schoolkids with slippers, admittedly, but we’ll overlook that, OK? We’ve moved on.)

Hating furriners, wanting to kick out furriners, being jealous of furriners – all of that nonsense is as foreign, un-British and generally despicable as it gets.

  1. May 18, 2009 at 7:00 pm | #1

    Always tricky using irony, er, I assume your final paragraph was ironical?

  2. May 18, 2009 at 9:43 pm | #2

    Hating furriners, wanting to kick out furriners, being jealous of furriners – all of that nonsense is as foreign, un-British and generally despicable as it gets.
    I agree with the despicable part. But how come Britain gets to self-define based on the one short period during which they stood against the oppression of furriners, rather than the numerous centuries during which they were oppressors-in-chief?

  3. May 18, 2009 at 9:46 pm | #3

    Oppression sure, but we never *hated* them – white man's burden, etc…

    Or a more serious answer: to the extent that British values exist and are worth celebrating, they're the ones above. To the extent that they exist and should be condemned, they're the ones the BNP have. And the BNP can't get away with using the positive associations that the first sort of values carry to promote the second sort.

  4. May 19, 2009 at 4:44 am | #4

    I see, no irony then. Well, in that case, can anyone explain to me why I should like/ care for/ care about/ be friendly to, any particular bunch of foreigners 'en masse'? Of course, there are often many reasons to dislike/ be wary of/ avoid/ and sometimes kill, foreigners 'en masse'. Mr. Brooker's fabled headmaster did a fair bit of the latter so what on earth he was pontificating about beats me!

  5. Gerhard Guff
    May 19, 2009 at 6:32 am | #5

    See, Charlie Brooker's headmaster was intolerant toward Nazis – which actually makes him a Liberal Fascist.

  6. ajay
    May 19, 2009 at 11:43 pm | #6

    Well, in that case, can anyone explain to me why I should like/ care for/ care about/ be friendly to, any particular bunch of foreigners ‘en masse’?

    …because they're people? You know, your fellow human beings? People just like you, except speaking a different language and (apparently) a bit nicer?

    Of course, there are often many reasons to dislike/ be wary of/ avoid/ and sometimes kill, foreigners ‘en masse’. Mr. Brooker’s fabled headmaster did a fair bit of the latter

    The distinction between a defensive war against aggression and a deliberate act of genocide is just lost on you, isn't it. Ironic, given the subject.

  7. Neil
    May 20, 2009 at 12:07 am | #7

    But can't you just picture some smartarse little shit in that assembly piping up with "Yeah, but sir, you didn't like the Germans and I don't like coons. What's the difference?".

    Shortly before he starts bawling "Waaaaah! You can't hit me, my daddy's a governor!"

  8. May 20, 2009 at 8:30 am | #8

    "…because they’re people? You know, your fellow human beings?"

    Indeed, 'Ajay', and one of the main characteristics of human beings is that they kill and harm each other often for not very good reasons. So I repeat, "can anyone explain to me why I should like/ …"?

    And in 1939 no aggressive war was being waged against us, only against Poland. I can understand the strategic reason for *us* declaring war on the Germans who were, er, "You know, your fellow human beings"!

    It's a confusing old world, 'Ajay', and if I were you I would lay down in a dark room and try and think things through a little more clearly.

  9. Gerhard Guff
    May 20, 2009 at 8:55 am | #9

    "Why I should you like any particular bunch of foriegners [sic]?"

    "Treat people well on your way up because you might meet them again on the way down." – well worth remembering for the next time you're begging for some migrant orderly to come and change your bedpan (they can lip-read, you know dear).

  10. May 20, 2009 at 9:44 am | #10

    Duff, how unpleasant to encounter you again, you racist little prick.

    I like Jim's comment. You can't deny that the British Empire was constructed from the trampled corpses and stolen resources of fuzzie-wuzzies. One of the big things about being British is profound contrition for our appallingly brutal history. That ability to forego defense of the indefensible, irrespective of jingoism and nationalism is something I am quite, proud of. You take your average janner from Plymouth city centre on a Saturday night and ask him who created the slave trade and he'll tell you who.

  11. May 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm | #11

    'Gerhard', I assume you are of German origin and thus your inability to copy a quotation correctly is understandable but you really must take more care if you end it with the word "sic" lest you end up looking silly? Sillier? I can only give you 'E' for Effort, I'm afraid. Read my next paragraph and you will see how to do it properly.

    'Little Willy', fancy treading in you over here! However, in the interests of accuracy (not always high on your priorities) it is *you* who confesses that "my penis is smaller than the Caucasian average" so calling me a "little prick" smacks of a desperate attempt to spread the shame of your disability around to others. Naturally, our sympathies are with Mrs. 'Punk Science' on this delicate matter.

    May I add that your summary of British imperial history is as accurate as your global warming science! Need I say more?

  12. Neil
    May 20, 2009 at 8:02 pm | #12

    You know, you could replace this Duff character's comments with the sound of a swanee whistle and it'd make no difference to their content or sentiment.

  13. ajay
    May 21, 2009 at 8:23 pm | #13

    Neil, I must disagree with you on that one. I rather like the sound of the swanee whistle. However, given that Duff clearly lives his entire life in a feverish state of hatred and fear of his fellow man, I can, in the words of Iain Banks, wish on him no worse fate than to be exactly the person he so obviously is. To be a misguided, misanthropic cowardly bigot is his crime; it is also his punishment.

  14. May 22, 2009 at 6:17 am | #14

    "Misguided"? Often.

    "Misanthropic"? I try not to be but experience …

    "Cowardly"? Possibly. I have been tested in some ways but never the ultimate way.

    "Bigot"? Well, everyone's a bigot to anyone who disagrees with their opinons or beliefs.

    "Crime"? None of the above rank as a crime in my mind, but then, I'm not a bigot!

  15. Neil
    May 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm | #15

    Exhibit A: "everyone’s a bigot"

    Exhibit B: "I’m not a bigot!"

    How did you reach this beatific level of muddle-headedness?

  16. May 23, 2009 at 1:17 am | #16

    Neil, permit to help you. What I wrote is an example of 'ironic paradox'. Now, for your homework go to Daddy's big Oxford Dictionary and look those words up and then report back here. Off you go …

  17. Neil
    May 23, 2009 at 1:46 am | #17

    Fwoooooooo-weeep! Woooooo-wooooop! Fwip!

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