I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

We all seem to have become addicted to Victory - But Is it Speed or is it Smack?

Well it has to be said that we’re all feeling pretty good about ourselves. Oh what it must be to own a Union Jack factory. Every hour on the hour we are told how fantastically blessed we are to be British. Twenty six million of us tuned in for the final ceremony which took a lead from the Jubilee and showcased our dizzying array of celebrities to an audience of billions.

Ah the joys of a good old fashioned feel good factor. And in this regard we are doubly blessed for we have had a summer of two moments of rampant national feel good. First we were able to take to the streets in our millions and chomp away at Tesco drumsticks served up on paper plates to cheer our monarch to the rafters. How we all waved our little made in China Union Jacks. And why not! It’s not every day that the offspring of German immigrants can so categorically make it to the top table. And stay there. For fifty years. So let’s wave away. Nothing like a good balcony scene. And course we all knew in our bones that we were witnessing something really big because the big guns of Celebland were wheeled out. When McCartney, Barlow and Elton John and the much worshipped Beckhams turn out, we know that there are huge events afoot.

Then of course it was the Olympics. And once again the celebs strode the stage and King David sped across the night-time waves of a neon lit Thames. Before the games we were maybe just a tad unconvinced with the whole thing. Would we make a complete dog’s dinner of it? Would we look like charity shop types in comparison to regimented massiveness of Beijing? Would our magnificent array of National Treasure celebs be able to pull things out of the fire and make a watching world gasp with awe? It was a helluva big ask for a struggling nation, but of course we are tremendously good at this kind of thing. Adversity is Us. When Hitler kicked our arse like it had never been kicked before we merely got the kettle on and planted spuds.  

And so as the magical fortnight unfolded we heard more and more of the Blitz spirit. As oars wielded by magnificently committed women from small, unnoticed towns splashed home for yet another gold medal, we were reminded time and again of those glory days when we sang music hall songs in the caverns of the London Underground whilst bombs made in the Ruhr rained down on the city above. I guess the Germans must wonder how long all of this will keep going for. I mean it’s been seventy two years since St Pauls had its epic photo shoot in the midst of a burning city. I never get the feeling that they are particularly bothered about it. They’re just used to it I suppose. I thought the fly past at the Jubillee was rather telling. The Queen has notched up fifty years. As in 1952 to 2012. And 1952 was of course 7 years on from the end of the war. So it seemed a tad strange that we decided to fly a Lancaster bomber over Buck Palace. I don’t recall the venerable Lancasters ever having much of a role to play between 1952 and today. They were of course pretty integral in the firestorm that did for 20,000 entirely innocent civilians in Dresden. But what the hell. Old habits die hard I suppose. Whenever something goes right for the country it is always taken as an excuse to go all dewy eyed about bashing up those wicked Krauts. I was wondering if we might get a glimpse of some Sea Harriers which very much did their stuff over the South Atlantic in the very heart of the Queen’s reign. But I guess that would have been pushing it a bit with the all the diplomatic tensions surrounding the Falklands at the moment. And South America is a backwater no longer. They buy stuff. So it's best not upset them. Hot blooded Latino types might not be quite so tolerant of this sort of jingoistic posturing as the Germans.

All of a sudden 29 has become a magic number. The top of news is all about the number 29. Those wonderful, magnificent Gold Medals forged in the spirit of the Blitz. How can we fail to be proud to be British on the back of 29 golds? How many did the Germans win? Or the French? Or the Aussies? Or the Argies? Or even the Russians! Go stick that where the sun don’t shine Mr Putin. We got 29!

Take a step back and it can seem a little strange. Why on earth does the country suddenly find a way to feel so good about itself simply because an athlete we have never heard of wins a medal in a sport we have never had the slightest interest in watching?

I certainly wouldn’t have the front to be critical about this kind of bizarre behaviour. As a Koppite of 40 years I was there on that epic night in Istanbul when Liverpool showed their very own Blitz spirit and came back from the dead. I have never met a single one of those eleven players who were drawn from all corners of the world and paid ridiculous salaries for kicking a football around. And yet any Liverpool fan who was there will tell you that it was the night of nights. 40,000 of us made it all the way across Europe by hook or by crook, and the men in red conquered against all the odds. A Spaniard was our leader and a Pole from coal mining stock made the match winning save but who cared. We were all as one. We were all a part of it and we made our voices lift the clouds of the Turkish night. Did I get anything out of it myself? Nope. Just a maxed out credit card. Did it mean a lot? Be serious. Will it always mean a lot? Come to Anfield and ask. Istanbul was and always will be the very greatest of nights. Which all means that I would have to be a supreme hypocrite to smirk at the pensioner in Rochdale who puts a Union Jack in the front window of her terraced house when a privately educated rower from leafy Rickmansworth wins a gold medal.

Let’s face it we seem to have a deep, primordial need for victory. Maybe like much of human behaviour it all goes back to those long lost days when we lived in caves. When another gang of fellow Neanderthals turned up there was never a doubt as to their intentions. They were looking to kill every man, woman and child in the cave and then steal all the food. This was the time when the champions of the group were required to take a step forward. To be Olympians. To be heroes. They would collect up their clubs and enter the life or death fray. So no wonder we are hard wired to feel a deep seated satisfaction at the feel of victory for once upon a time it genuinely was the be all and the end all. Was the feeling of a win in such a life or death struggle Smack or speed? Hard to say. I have never been to the wire and so I can only guess.

This is yet another of those generation questions. In my half century, the only time I have ever witnessed anything approaching such a national life or death event was the war in the Falklands. And yet the biggest threat we all faced then was a calamitous crash in national pride. Actual bodily harm was down to the under equipped and soaking wet squaddies who were shipped south on the Canberra to slug it out.

The 29 fevour has got be to wondering how it must have been when the news made it back home from El Alamein? That have been a remarkable time. This really was very much the real deal and then some. For three years Hitler had appeared to be genuinely indestructible. His armies absolutely marmalised everything in their path. And there he was. In Calais. A mere twenty miles away. And nobody was under any illusions as to how things would be if he managed to make it across the Channel. It would be a nightmare to end nightmares. Hindsight kind of makes us look back on those days with the idea that it was always odds on that we would win in the end. No way would it have seemed that way at the time. Everything was in the David v. Goliath zone, and Goliath was in Berlin and he was a force of nature. Word must have spread across the country that our lads were lining up to take on the Africa Korps. Now this wasn’t just any old army group. This was Rommel. As in Mr Never Lost a Battle. As is completely unbeatable. So just imagine what the national mood must have been like on November 4 1942 when the news hit the airwaves that we had defied all the odds and gone and won. It must have been fantastic. For three long years the Nazis had been undefeated and they had left millions of dead people all over Europe. They were a constant nightmarish threat. It must have seemed as if that would last forever. In our heart of hearts, we must have felt that it could only be a matter of time before Hitler’s stormtroopers came goose stepping their jack boots up our High Streets.

And then it all changed.

We won.

For the very first time.

And we won big.


I guess that must have been a Mo Farrer moment times about a thousand.

And was that euphoric feeling of the Speed or Smack variety. Who knows? But it must have been truly something. I’m going to get unashamedly arty here. This is the last line from King Lear. In typical Shakespeare fashion it kind of says it all.

‘The oldest have borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long’

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