Near the beginning of the coronavirus state of alarm in Spain, my younger son said, “I’m ashamed to be British.” He was reacting to a news report about a group of bare-chested youths in Union Jack swim shorts, dancing drunkenly on top of cars in Benidorm. They were chanting abuse at the police; none were wearing a mask. The police acted with remarkable restraint, choosing only to pepper-spray a few of the worst offenders. Nevertheless, the incident was broadcast on the national news.
Their behaviour reminded me of the theatre scene in Spielberg’s Gremlins movie, the one where semi-demonic, pointy-eared creatures with multiple facial piercings and bloodshot eyes sing and jiggle about to Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’. It was a classic comedy moment, made all the more surreal by the Gremlins’ ability to simultaneously smoke multiple cigarettes whilst knocking back neat vodka, as popcorn rained down like confetti.
Last week, I found myself revisiting those sentiments after spending an evening with a professional couple visiting from Madrid. During a discussion about differences in the handling of the pandemic, the woman told me that she believed British people looked down on Spaniards; they acted as if they were ‘special’ and above the law. I was surprised and found myself defending my Britishness. I wondered if she had been exposed to a badly translated episode of Fawlty Towers, where Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona had allowed his short-sighted pet rat, Dominic Cummings, to escape into the hotel kitchen. It was either that or she too had seen the British Gremlins footage from Benidorm.
I recall being sceptical as to whether or not drunken Brits in Benidorm was a new phenomenon and worthy of the attention of national news. In truth, there have always been problems at popular Spanish holiday resorts. However, it felt as if the media had decided now would be a good time to remind the world about how awful the Brits really can be. By implication, we were the new bad boys of Europe, de facto Gremlins, only less adorable. It is an image that would play well to a right-wing political climate.
From my own observations, British people have nearly always been welcome in Spain, even if we do not see eye to eye on everything. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement: come to Spain and help out the local economy by getting out of your tree on cheap booze and sun. In return, Spanish law enforcement will put up with our bouts of Gremlin-style behaviour, have ample opportunity to practise their martial arts chokeholds whilst the coffers of the coastal economies are replenished. It’s a win-win formula except that the rain clouds are gathering.
My son’s outburst came about because he was worried that he would be discriminated against in the street. “If they see I am British, they will have a go at me.”
I was doubtful. However, discrimination against people speaking Spanish on London transport has been widely reported in Spain.
I wanted to explain that he should not be ashamed to be British. Being British isn’t something one achieves through academic virtue nor from hard physical exertion; it is purely an accident of birth. However, there is a difference between being British and being patriotic.
I have been reading many ‘I’m ashamed to be British’ tweets on Twitter lately. They mostly concern the negative reporting of a perceived migrant invasion. At one point, there was near 24/7 TV coverage of small boats overloaded with asylum seekers, including women and children, fleeing persecution from war-ravaged countries. It played to the appalling vulgarities of the Britain First campaigners and that belligerent slack-jawed, swivel-eyed loon, Nigel Farage. The message was simple: don’t worry about the 30,000 plus needless deaths in care homes due to coronavirus mismanagement; don’t worry about the holidaying, work-shy Prime Minister missing the first 5 COBRA meetings at the start of the pandemic, nor the corruption over Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, helping his mate avoid millions in tax on a building project; ignore the scandal over PPE acquisition and the incredible clusterfuck overseen by dimwitted Gavin Williamson of a discriminatory, class-ridden, A-level grading system; don’t worry about the millions of taxpayers’ money wasted on useless ‘Track and Trace’ or that shambling oaf, Chris Failing-Grayling, resigning from the Intelligence and Security Committee, presumably due to the absence of the former; don’t worry about the new penis-extension paint job on the Prime Minister’s jet, dubbed ‘Clown Force One’, another 800,000 spaffed away, when it could have been done for less than half, or not at all. No, don’t worry about any of that. Instead, LOOOOOK! MIGRANTS!!! They are invading our beaches! When Sir Winston Churchill, a man with whom a terminally deluded Boris Johnson likens himself, was quoted as saying, ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’, he was not referring to sending the Royal Navy to confront desperate asylum seekers in rubber boats.
Around the same time, Sky News reporters were sallying forth on their own boating jollies, their mission: to hound dinghies in the channel and bellow at their terrified passengers through megaphones. This depressing behaviour was passed off as news, even though maritime law dictates that they must come to the aid of any vessel where the occupants are in danger. Not a chance! Those light-fingered little blighters could pinch our Pret A Manger avocado and pine nut sandwiches. Even the organic latte wouldn’t be safe!
Farbeit from me to point out to Nigel Farage, Priti Awful Patel, as well as the potential Russian asset in No.10, that there but for the grace of God, go you and I. Your privately-educated, capacious arses are only British, due to an accident of birth. In Johnson’s case, it wasn’t as if he did anything clever. He was born into money and a first-class education; although a letter to Johnson’s dad from his housemaster at Eton, suggests that it may not have been money well spent. Oh, to be ‘free of the network of obligation’! If only he could have known…
So there you have it. We should not be ashamed to be British. However, I am ashamed of this gas-lighting Tory government masquerading their corruption as somehow being ‘patriotic’. Johnson only looks after his own, stuffing the House of Lords with his Brexitty cronies, sticking two fingers up at the Russia Report by making the son of an ex-KGB agent a lawmaker. There will be no pay rise for nurses nor carers, but there will be lucrative contracts, funded by the public purse, for his mates.
So why does any of this matter? In common with many, my family used our EU freedom of movement to live and work in Spain, but Brexit has removed that opportunity for UK citizens wishing to do the same in future. And yet, greater union was an idea embraced as far back as 1946 by Sir Winston Churchill who said, ‘We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.’ After World War II and the scourge of Nazi Germany, it was obvious that the UK and EU needed to work closer together. Now this union has been thrown on the bonfire of nationalism. The UK is in danger of breaking up as it slides back into the pit from which our grandparents fought so hard to free us. Despite this, I cling to the hope that those who masterminded the cheating and manipulation of the referendum, will eventually be jailed along with the reckless Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, who willfully introduced coronavirus-infected patients back into British care homes, whilst telling the world he was throwing a protective ring around them.
In charge of getting Brexit done, there is Boris Johnson, a one-policy Prime Minister who is so verbally accident prone, that he was forced to hide in a fridge from the world’s press during his own election campaign.
Perhaps history will judge him more kindly. To this end, I propose a replacement statue to sit upon Colston’s empty plinth in Bristol: a bronze unicorn, cast from unused parts from the Longbridge car plant, a gleaming monument to self-serving abject twattery. There, sitting astride this magnificent beast, contemptuously snorting and rearing its hooves in subjugation of the little people of the UK, are Johnson, Hancock, and Williamson. A group of ethnic minorities with ‘piccaninny-watermelon smiles’ could gather to listen to readings from Johnson’s poetry, including his rare Vogonesque prize-winning missive about the Turkish president having sex with a goat. The grand finale could come when Mandelson’s ‘tank-topped bumboys’ lasso the statue before dragging it to the harbour’s edge and heaving it into the water, whilst we all sing ‘Rule Britannia!’ from a flotilla of dinghies recovered from the Dover refugee landings. At the base of the monument, a plaque:
In memory of Alexander Boris-the-Spaffer Johnson and his cabal of tax-dodging cronies, who killed 60,000 plus Britons, but at least he got Brexit done.
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