There has been a lot of fuss recently about the national anthem. About certain people's patriotism, or supposed lack of it. Those who espouse the flying of flags, the singing of anthems, and patriotism, invest these things with such importance you would think that there is only one way of belonging in the country.
Quite apart from an indisputable lack of a singing voice, and sufficient responsibility towards my fellow citizens not to want to inflict my singing upon them, I don't, and will never, sing the national anthem. It represents too many things I dislike.
Is it only me who finds the frequent reference by some Americans to America being the greatest country on earth, irksome. It recalls the kind of arrogance that had G. W. Bush saying that we were either for America or against it over Iraq, and that other less than successful war, in Afghanistan. As if there were only one view to be had of the need for those armed interventions, America's, or more precisely, that of G. W Bush and his cronies. Thus it is with the flag wavers and the Anthem singers.
My first personal objection to the national anthem is that people from all over the world feel a special bond with the place they live. I feel I belong in the country I live in, and perhaps even more so in the town I live near. But I don't want to eulogise country or town. That to me would be making an unnecessary claim for them being exceptional. I can't help feeling that those Americans who make such a din over the alleged wonders of their country sound as if they are trying too hard.
The second objection I have is to the royal family. While I have no personal animosity towards them, I think of them as the rather lack-lustre descendants of a bunch of warlords. We seem, as a country, to admire people who get ahead on their merits, but want the nation to have as a figurehead someone who has the job by accident of birth. What kind of qualification is it in the twenty first century to have tenure of a high profile job because of an accident of birth. This seems at odds to what we might be expected to admire, and they really are dull and unexceptional. Through no fault of their own, I'm sure, that is what the job they have had the misfortune to be born into, demands of them.
Finally, there is the matter of religion. Not only do I feel no no urgent desire to “save the queen” I feel no need to ask a being whose existence seems to me, on the available evidence, to be mythical, to save her either. The thought of Charles acceding to the throne with, by then, a whole hive of crazed bees in his bonnet, is not appealing either.
It has been suggested to me that the royal family represent the grand sweep of English history. But despite the parlous state of our democracy, I think we are better off voting for our leaders, than having them foisted upon us. History is not only something we look back at, but something we must make. So let us deserve the British reputation for being understated, and not irritate other nations with claims of being exceptional. Perhaps, one day, the world will be sufficiently united we can appreciate the places our fellow human beings live in, without having to make overblown claims for our own, as anthems by their nature do.
My wife has got me watching a comedy series on the BBC iplayer about metal detectorists. I regard this as a splendid find, despite its unlikely subject matter. It's a gentle comedy, and on a first glance you might feel inclined to switch it off, and forget it.
I would encourage you to stay with it, because despite this unprepossessing subject it is a gem worthy of Samuel Beckett. In fact, he is the writer who comes immediately to my mind. The situation our metal detectorist heroes are in was ably summed up by one of the characters, who, musing on a glitch in the smooth running of their pointless existences, said (and I may be paraphrasing slightly here) “We were quite happy finding rubbish, and talking bollocks.”
A self-awareness one can applaud, because what else are we doing caught in the inscrutable stare of the great puzzle of existence? As I might have said before, given that there is nothing on the planet that has a meaning other than the one we have given it, and that the evidence for a super-being who might have meaning tucked up his all-powerful sleeve is, to say the least, non-existent, a meaning of life is the last thing we are ever likely to find.
The detectorists have a sort open day in one episode. They have a variety of artefacts on display, one being a table full of ring-pulls. Needless to say this is a stunningly unsuccessful event about which even the emptiness of the hall looks a bit embarrassed.
But heroically they refuse to give in. There they are the next day, waving their detectors over ground that is unlikely to oblige with a coin-hoard of staggering proportions or beautiful object lost sometime in antiquity. There will, of course, be ring-pulls. Even better ones perhaps, for their next open day. There is the allure that one day they will find something that brings them fame and fortune, and in between there are the usual complications of love and betrayal, and life going about it's daily business in a sometimes interestingly absurd way.
I don't expect detectorists spend all that much time thinking about fame and fortune, certainly poets don't, it's hard enough just keeping things rolling forward in a more or less convincing way. The odd publication here or there, an occasional reading, and a sense that you are doing something that rises, albeit in meagre fashion, above the dead weight of existence.
These days I think of life as a process, something you can ignore, but to be really alive you must participate in, and in some way direct. I think of poetry as a way of expressing the process, taking the world apart and reassembling it so that it says something you hope means something, and hopefully leaves people with the feeling they have shared the experience with you. It certainly demands effort and awareness, and it might even entail a certain amount of progress, and, of course, the occasional ring pull. I expect this is the delusion of hope, but it's enough isn't it.