Monday, 6 April 2009

the Mudlark

Patriotism is not the same as nationalism. The first is devotion to the land whose protection and benefits you enjoy. People who do not feel protected or without benefit do not feel patriotism. The land in question does not necessarily mean the land of one's birth.

My father and mother were British but did not consider the British Islands their homeland. My Mother was brought up a Gibraltarian, but lived over two thirds of her life in Greater London, England. Although she visited Spain she never returned to the land of her parents and what she felt about England and Gibraltar I was never able to discuss with other. Her ancestors were English and Spanish with some Italian. Her patriotism was towards Catholicism, which governed her life in every respect from the time of her baptism and until her anointing before death.

My father was born in Gibraltar and lived for over two thirds of his life there but would have considered his homeland as Malta where generations upon generation had lived. As I never knew him and did not discuss him with those who did, I do not know how he felt about being British, Gibraltarian and Maltese. He accepted the Order of the British Empire from the Queen of England, the British Islands and all her territories overseas or who recognised her sovereignty, although this was already symbolic as many had already rejected her government

I was brought up an English speaking Catholic and went to schools which were Catholic first, so Henry the Eighth was a baddy and the creation of the Empire was OK in that it brought Catholicism and civilization, especially education to savages, but I was fortunate to be impressed by a Jesuit who spoke of what men did to other men, women and children in the name of God, such as slavery, the mass slaughter of the Great War and that if we wanted to know what the Second World War was rally about we should read the reports of the War Crimes Trials, two of which I did around the age of fourteen fifteen. By original loyalty like that of my mother was to Catholicism and those who support the concept of denomination schools, should accept that those with fundamentalist faith put that faith before King, Queen, Government and country, for to do otherwise is to deny the core of the faith and its teaching. Through the studying of history I learnt the arbitrariness of national boundaries, of its realistic and racist origins, of blood feuds, and the Godless drive of power and wealth seeking.

It is very easy to be critical of those who led the Empire into the Great War and poured the blood of a whole generation of young men into the fields of Northern France and Belgium and vast stretches of Russia. It is worth underlining that in 1916 the two and half million men of the Empire who went to France were all volunteers, and they obeyed orders which they knew meant that they had a very good chance of dying or being severely wounded. There may have been some who supported involvement because it might lead to extending the territory within the Empire. There were those who saw the development of the German navy as a commercial threat to the control which the British Navy had over the trading routes, and British shipbuilding on the carriage of goods and passengers. But the starting off point was our Treaty obligation to Belgium once Germany had violated its neutrality in order to smash its ways in to France. Once the blood commenced to flow of former school and college friends, of work mates, or those from ones town or village, you could not wait to take their place, and you continued to do so, even after the reality of superiority of German training and war materials became evident. They went to war for King and Empire, for the rights of others, for their community, their friends and their family. There is rarely one motivating reason, other than the overwhelming feeling that it is right to do so, although for some, it is not a feeling which stands the test of experience.

I was thinking of such things as I walked on a cold cloudless morning to collect the next two episodes of the Great War. I had also remembered to check the address for the Myspace internet site for the latest change of ownership of a late night bar/club in South Shields, the Beach which opens next weekend. There are already some 500 "friends" most if not all in their late teens twenties and thirties. I wondered how many knew or cared about what happened in the Great War, or the Second, unless they had some relative's experience to draw on, or the present day equivalent of my Jesuit. It was therefore of interest that they were showing on the BBC History channel the rarely seen, if ever since its first TV showing of a Foreign Field which starred Sir Alec Guinness, better known for his vast array of others performances, many wartime epics or stories based on Service life Malta Story, the Bridge over the River Kwai, Tunes of Glory, HMS Defiant, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago, Cromwell, Hitler the last ten Days, or the comedies such as the recently re-seen the Card, the Captains Paradise, The Ladykillers, the serious roles in entertainments such as Star Wars, Raise the Titanic, The Fall of the Roman Emperor, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Scrooge, or the roles I lived most in spy films and conspiracies, Smiley's People. Tinker Taylor, The Comedians, Our Man in Havana, and the Quiller memorandum, and my favourite of all time, as the artist Gulley Jimson in the horses mouth. In a Foreign Filed he plays one of three veterans of the Normandy landings, an almost mute victim with the military medal, which would have been a VC had an officer witnessed and recorded, with the man he rescued played by Leo Mckern, who brought to life Horace Rumpole and just seen in Ladyhawke, the disinterested in their experience and rejecting daughter in law Geraldine Chaplin, the French lover he finds he shared with an American and most of the combatants who came into her pathway, played by Jeanne Moreau whose interview in the Actor's studio I saw recently again, and Lauren Bacall, a fine actor in her right but also Bogard's widow, who at the end of the film reveals herself as an American by marriage to a former US soldier and that her brother served in the German army and who grave they visit along with those of other comrades. This is a very sentimental film, full of well signalled twists and turn, but I love it because it demonstrated the need for the survivors of war to continue to experience their lives, but to always remember those who gave up their opportunity because of their beliefs, sense of duty and patriotism.

For the second time in a day and the third in a week, I could not resist watching a film staring Alec Guinness, just as sentimental and full of patriotism. The Mudlark, created from the definition of Henry Mathews, work on London Labour and London Poor 1851 (the year of the Great Exhibition) in which he describes the children eight to fifteen and the older people of both sexes who in a ragged and filthy state scavenged along the banks of the Thames, often stealing from barges and who if caught would be given short prisons sentences or sent to reform school, In the film the orphan Mudlark in question finds the portrait of Queen Victoria 15 years after the death of Prince Albert and when her seclusion stretched the patience of her Ministers, who feared for the Monarch and the stability of the nation and who quickly reclaimed the genuine love of the people when she participated in public engagements once more. The film is based on the make believe concept that the Mudlark makes his way to Windsor, accidentally enters into the fuel storage cellar, and falls also behind a curtain at a private dinner party in the presence of the Prime Minister, and is discovered and taken to the Tower without meeting the lady whose picture he had liked because she looked kind as he wished a mother had been to him. The Prime Minister aided by the Queen's trusted friend, John Brown use the escapade of the Mudlark to bring pressure on the Queen to fulfil her public duties. It is noteworthy that three monarchs who appear to have put their commitment to their country and their people before their personal interests were Queen Elizabeth 1st , Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth 2nd .

This has been something of a preamble to the main cause for espousing patriotism (but not nationalism) this week, weekend, has been the triple opportunity for Englishmen to excel and become world winners in sports which are close to the public heart. The national game is Football although we have shown no special position for forty years and there is no immediate prospect of a resurrection. The defeat in Russia signalled a reality which we will not accept, that the players are not good enough, so we will when the reality of failing to qualify for the European only event take the scalp of the manager, who anyone in the North East who followed the fortunes of Middlesbrough knew lacked the magic, the special one, the it or the x factor, however good a theorist and private man he is. It is why we did not even try Brian Clough or Terry Venables as English team managers

The problem with our present day establishment and media is that they have failed to accept that for the nation to survive, let alone win internationally, we need charismatic creative shaper leaders, who will get it wrong from time to time and whose personal lives may be something of a mess, and where there is need to provide a framework to guard and remove the guardians, if they are about to lead us into another Somme or Suez without adequate preparation and ability. The difference between the political leadership at these two events and World War 2 was one man, Winston Churchill who surrounded himself with those who he trusted as being able to do the job required. He was the right man for war but a potentially dangerous one for the peace.

The second opportunity for world winning success also ended in defeat but this time it was heroic and where lady luck decided we had had too many rolls of the dice on this occasion. It was nearly very different if one young man had a better sense of direction and kept his legs together. I do not know enough about the rules to decide for myself if the prolonged judgement of the man charged with deciding on the video replay got it right or wrong when we appeared to scored a try which if converted would have given us the edge, and which according to the live ITV commentary was declared valid according to the internationally agreed rules. Reports for the Mail on Sunday were definite we were robbed, with Sunday Mirror along the same lines explaining that the cruel decision devastated but for the Express, it looked as if we scored. I enjoyed most reading Brian Appleyard's adventures in the Sunday Times on line. However there were admissions in the media that we made mistakes, that the South Africans were the better team throughout the Rugby World Cup Tournament, and on the day, and anyway the Australians and the New Zealander's did not. There was also the reality that Lazarus is only reported to have risen from the dead once, but it would have been good for moral and for Gordon Brown, if we had because it would have deflected attention from a revelatory book based on interviews with Tony's loyal Cabinet members Stephen Byers, Alan Milburn, Tessa Jowell, Patricia Hewitt, Lord Falconer, Charles Clark and David Blunkett. More than thirty senior Cabinet and Downing Street figures are listed as having provided information.

The reported response of Prime Ministers Brown's supporters , if accurate, is the best example of pot calling the kettle black and political hypocrisy which confirms my doubts on the fitness of those concerned to hold public office, allegingly accusing those involved as attempting to settle old scores without regard for the effect on the present government and political party. According to the book it is said that Mr Balls regarded Mr Blair as a moron and called upon my Brown to drive him from office, once allegedly stating that he had bottled it, although the article says this was a comment recently made after Mr Brown decided not to call a General Election. The book paints a picture of the Prime Minister as foul mouthed and prone to losing his temper. If so this makes him a dangerous man to be in charge without a guardian or two, but could be just the man to take the decisions which will enable the UK to survive and retain some economic and political status in the world, but he will need to quickly get rid of those who are not up to the task of ensuring that policies are applied with principles and put into practice, and then evaluated. But then Louis Hamilton could save the weekend from being one of disaster, although my attention will be directed on the fate of Sunderland at West Ham. I am patriotic OK but my loyalty is to my present homeland and interests.

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