Whilst I was in Australia over the winter I listened to the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) Grandstand Cricket Commentary during the Melbourne & Sydney Tests. Clearly it takes a special sort of man to be a Radio Cricket Commentator… the UK has the delightful combination of Jonathan Agnew, Henry Blowfeld and Simon Hughes (to mention just some of the current team) and of course there was Brian Johnston who held the mic for years… The Aussie team are just as eccentric but wonderful to listen to – Jim Maxwell and Glenn Mitchell know their stuff and could literally talk about anything.
During the games, the ABC Grandstand team commented greatly on the size & dedication of the English support in Australia. Yes the Barmy Army, but also distinguishing the many who travel to watch England who aren’t part of the ‘Army’. They were taken with the level of Patriotism on display and indeed were impressed & supportive of it. But then they raised an interesting statement which I’ve never dwelt on before, that Patriotism is good, Nationalism is bad… indeed, very bad.
George Orwell defined patriotism as a “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people.” – so basically singing your own praises, yet recognising that it’s what you like, not what should exist every where else.
He described nationalism as “placing it [an nation or an idea] beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” or in other words blind followership, potentially at a cost to others.
I’ve spent a lot of my life living with “nationalism” – in Northern Ireland we have the SDLP, a democratic “nationalist” party. Yet they’re clearly not real nationalists according to Orwell’s definition, due to their belief in the democratic process. The likes of Sinn Féin of course supported armed insurrection to over turn the democratic process, yet we never described them as “nationalists”. In the wider UK, Wales & Scotland have their own “nationalist” parties and indeed their own trouble makers.
In late January, I had the absolute pleasure to attend a Burns’ Night Dinner in Edinburgh. Now, I’ve never been to a Burns’ night, yet when the opportunity to attend one in Edinburgh, with real Scotch people running it, I couldn’t say no. I was even asked to take part by being involved in the ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and was told that I had to wear some tartan. So with my newly acquired Bow Tie in place, I headed off to the ‘Stac Polly’ restaurant for dinner.
The evening started off with the “Selkirk Grace”, a simple prayer to say thanks for the dinner about to happen. This is followed by the “Address to the Haggis” which is perhaps the most famous of the Burns’ poems (well, it’s the only one I know of!!). It also ends with the cutting of the Haggis (I managed to record our version and I’m still trying to get it online). Funnily enough, this was not when we got to eat our haggis, as we were still TWO courses away from the main!!
For starter, I had a Smoked Salmon dish which was then followed by a Smoked Haddock Chowder. This second dish was something I’d never heard of before, but it turned out like a thick chicken soup with pieces of grilled meat in it. It was rather tasty actually. It was then time for the main event, the Haggis, Tatties & Neaps. Haggis (as a non-Scot) is perhaps the most bizarre of British foods, in that it’s (well to me at least) terribly spicy. Forget all the worry about it being full of offal, or the fact that it’s supposed to be cooked in a sheep’s stomach, the spices are definitely the wired bit!!
After dinner, we had the “Immortal Memory” – a short Burns’ poem of the speakers choosing before the “Toast to the Lassies” and the “Reply to the Toast to the Lassies”. When our team were organising this and looking for volunteers, I originally declined saying that I’d like to see the whole thing done by Scots… but in the spirit of adding an (shall we say) International flavour to the event, I got wrangled into sharing the “Toast to the Lassies”, as Andy & I shared a verse about.
Now… up until this wonderful evening, if I’m being honest, I’d never seen Scotch patriotism. I have many wonderful Scotch friends, however, in my experience, the definition of being Scotch is too often paraded as not being English, or being what ever will annoy the English most – living examples of the Nationalism that Orwell despised. I had an awful tour guide to Loch Ness once who spent most of his day moaning about the “neighbours”. I guess this year, on Burns night, I discovered a side to Scotland which I hadn’t know of before… I hope I see more of it.