Sunday, 10 September 2006

Land of Hope and Glory

Friday morning: A ten year old eyed a clutch of CDs on my desk and enquired what they were. I was caught off guard. "Really old stuff, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't know any of these."

"Old stuff?" replied the kid, reading the name Schubert. "Like classic?"

"Yup," I smiled.

"That's okay," the youngster said, "my dad still listens to Simply Red."


Sunday morning: It is one of wonders of our age that on an overcast Spring day in a small town half a world away you can listen, live, to one of the great cultural events on an Autumn Saturday evening in London. It's the Last Night of the Proms, and BBC Radio 3 is streaming the event over the Internet.

I'm not an Anglophile by any means (even the thought of watching Coronation Street makes me queesy), but a children's choir singing the Skye Boat Song, or the massed voices accompanying Parry's Jerusalem, can turn even a cynic into a temporary fan.

The good natured flag waving and the gusto that drives people out into parks in Glasgow, Belfast, Manchester and Swansea to add their voices at parallel venues, is notable for its lack of jingoism. The days of Empire are gone, thank God, but a benign afterglow remains, hauntingly tangible in Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia.

“Ephraim's Gentle Yoke” was, of course, no such thing. The fictions of British Israelism served to validate and reinforce the iron will of the British East India Company and countless inhumanities, not least amongst the poorer subjects in the United Kingdom.

But the Last Night of the Proms isn't an elite occasion: the laughter, the stomping, the whistles and honking. There's a certain delightful irony in the way the anthems of empire have been appropriated so subversively.

Now, let me think, I'm sure I had a Simply Red CD somewhere...

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