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Verloren Hoop Fancy On:2005-04-28 17:50:20

I suppose that patriotism is not inherently evil, though it does share with religion that unsettling tendency to become what one might call an 'unregulated amplifier' or even in one's more nervous moments a 'wild intensifier'. And I should, therefore before plunging into the raging torrents of my subject this week, paddle my barbed-wire canoe in some quieter waters (if waters they surprise us and turn out to be; and if paddle, against all expectation, we chance to have) for some practice in not tipping over: so take, as an example of what I mean, a brief look at a less provocative area of wildly unregulated intense amplification, and look at the sort of person (or if we must get technical, fan) who spends, I dunnow, years learning to speak Klingon so that they can dress up in funny imaginary costumes and go to StarTrek conventions where they can then not be understood by others who have mastered Romulan or Reman or whatever it is. From the outside all we can do is to look on with compassion and ask "Why?"

And of course the answer we can give ourselves is simply that certain things tend to effect the human mind, or even spirit, in a way that instead of satisfying or stultifying, intensifies the desire for them: so that the further you get into the thing the faster you plunge on and, indeed, the more your progress sweeps along (to get back to our metaphorical canoe) in its wake other of your characteristics, so that the person who is, say, intensely religious might also be intensely good, or (and here's where the paddle really hits the metaphorical ...water) unbelievably bad, because the belief makes them unbelievably, intensely 'right'; and in the same way patriotism can lead either to extreme self-sacrifice or to the evils of 'my country, right or wrong' (or to be honest 'wrong or even more wrong').

Now the English (as we've often seen on these very air waves) have always had a strong tendency to err in the other direction (as is demonstrated by that typically English disease of ethnodeficiency), but of late I suspect that we have been outdoing ourselves in downplaying ourselves.

Take our flags and our strange attitude towards them (this too we have seen on these very air waves, but only, now that I think about it, if our very eyesight is somewhat synaesthesic). Now over here it's simple---a case of America: love it and fly its flag or leave it, in fact as I write this (sitting in the Plano Coffee Haus) I can (with admittedly a lot of moving about and squirming around to the distress of my fellow breakfasters) see four US flags and one Confederate, and note, two of those US flags (and the Confederate one) are on motorcycles belonging to some elderly Hells Angels who have dropped in for some legal addictive stimulants.

But, what do we find in England? Well today (as I write---of course, it's the other weekend for you) today is St George's Day! You know St George, patron saint of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece; and of Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and about half of Venice; and also of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry, farmers and field workers, riders and saddlers; and, finally, those suffering from leprosy, plague and syphilis (though not necessarily all at the same time)! Oh! Yes! And patron saint of England. Not that you'd notice. In fact the only thing that even reminded me was an article on the BBC website about a shopkeeper in Liverpool who has been banned from flying flags celebrating St George by local council officials who say they breach health and safety regulations. According to the Beeb the guy complained that someone in the council seemed to be flexing their powers of political correctness. After all, Irish tricolours were flying from lampposts during St Patrick's Day. But a council spokesman replied: "We are not trying to be spoilsports. There is a clear danger and an obvious road safety hazard. The flags could distract drivers, fall off and hit cars or pedestrians and it could encourage others to follow suit!" And I think that there's the nub. They wouldn't want that! Not lots of people flying our flag! What will the neighbours think?

You see unlike you, many of us (especially those of us in power) see our flags as having been stolen from the Man on the Clapham Bus (or rather from the Spokesman in the Liverpool Council Chamber): the Union flag by the extreme right-wing National Front, and even more regrettably (especially today---though less especially, the other week for you) the flag of St George by Football Hooligans!

Cheerio (sadly and definitely not patriotically) for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


A note on the title Veloren Hoop
"Veloren Hoop Fancy" I really like my titles, I often think that they are by far the best part of the essay, and that often the only justification of the essay is that it supports a good title. But they do tend to be just a little obscure---like this one. There was a tune in the early C17th called 'Forlorn Hope Fancy' by the famously miserable composerJohn Dowland which title itself derived (by popular, or false, etymology) from the Dutch verloren hoop or 'lost troop'; an advance force, perhaps you should rather call them a suicide squad, in an army, and made up of presumably rather patriotic folk.

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