Proud of my country?

November 21, 2022

I’m conscious of John of Gaunt’s pride in his country, and find myself thinking what can I be proud of in today’s England (or Britain)? I’m proud of the NHS, battered and constrained as it is, and hope it endures to look after me in my final years. I feel a great sense of loyalty to it: my mother trained as a children’s nurse as it came into existence, and made sure we had all that it offered to keep us healthy as children, all the jabs, the free orange juice and rose hip syrup and codliver oil.

My father was an exile from Poland, and after the war ended nobody wanted him and his comrades any more: they were foreigners, taking away jobs from the British etc etc – where have we heard that one recently? Reluctantly he and his mates were allowed to remain, all sorts of obstacles were put in their way, they were used and exploited. Nevertheless he was loyal to his adoptive country and eventually took British nationality.

My memories of my younger days are of a country that provided work for almost everyone, benefits (paltry, perhaps) for those that needed them, grants for students rather than loans, and offered supplementary benefits, as they were called back then, even to students who did not find work in the holidays. There were very few people living on the streets and no foodbanks. There was unemployment and poverty, but not the outright misery and destitution as we see nowadays.

Although I regarded it as my right, I had eight years of state support through my studies, and I recognise the value of what the country invested in me; equally, I can see that I paid it all back over the years through taxation and through service as a teacher.

Back in the past housing was affordable and rents were controlled: one income would support a family, even my father’s meagre wages, supplemented by overtime and some moonlighting. And although he always loathed them, trade unions were able to defend the working people and ensure a reasonable standard of wages, working conditions and pensions.

I remember grand projects: Concorde, Intercity 125 trains, the struggle to join the Common Market which became the European Community and then the European Union. All of my travel as a student was made so much easier by our membership, and I was glad of the new-found freedom, and the ability to encounter other peoples and cultures.

Like any old codger, I’m waxing lyrical about the days of my youth. But I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and Reagan’s cruise missiles and I did not feel as endangered then as I do now under the rule of incompetent liars. I lived through the so-called winter of discontent in 1978-9; it wasn’t that bad and there certainly wasn’t the feeling of impending doom that many of us are currently fighting off.

I have seen so much that was not perfect but that was decent enough, and certainly far better than we have now, deliberately demolished, destroyed and sold off to other countries through the greed and rapaciousness started by Thatcher and her cronies. I don’t need to ponder why there is a housing crisis, a shortage of homes: I remember what she did. I don’t need to bother my head with whether Johnson or Truss was a worse prime minister, as Thatcher scoops all the awards there.

There are many good things in the history of our country and these islands; there are as many dark pages, and the difference between us and a country like Germany, for instance, is that we do not wish to confront and recognise that dark past; we are waylaid and misled by those who think that our past glories mean we are automatically entitled to a glorious future… We are a small island off the coast of Europe, that Europe can ignore without too great a loss; it’s not the same the other way round.

More than anything I have an image of a country with its head in the sand, ruled by an aristocracy which has embedded itself deep in our national psyche over a millennium; we invented a form of democracy a couple of centuries back and think it’s still fit for purpose; we are collectively unwilling to face the challenges of the future, whether they are economic or meteorological, and we allow rich and vested interests shamelessly to play to the darkest sides of people in order to hang on to their privilege.

I have very mixed feelings about England and Britain. It’s my home, for better or worse. There are things I have been grateful for; there are things I love, but increasingly there are things I truly despair about.

Advertisement

One Response to “Proud of my country?”

  1. etinkerbell Says:

    We find faults in our countries when we love them dearly. 😉

    Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: