All of my life I have always felt kind of bemused when watching people talking about how much love they have for their country. I get what they are saying of course. What I have never understood is how and why people feel that way. It has always been completely alien to me. It's a bit bit like trying to get my head around why on earth anyone in their right mind could possibly want to support Man United.
Time and again I have been left feeling apart and bemused at the sight of Brits draping themselves in Union flags to celebrate a Royal wedding or the sinking of an Argentinian battleship.
I have always felt ill at ease at the idea of being British. In my younger days I backpacked my way round Africa and India and the locked down lands on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Whenever I was asked the 'where are you from' question I would answer with a lie. My preferred options were either Scotland or Australia. Either of these assumed nationalities were pretty well guaranteed to lead to a convivial night in some two bit bar in yet another two bit town.
I soon learned it was a bad idea to own up to my Englishness: my Britishness. To do so meant suspicion and dark looks. So I lied.
I have often wondered why I never came close to feeling any pride in Britain. I can't say it came from my mum and dad. They were hardly flag wavers, but they never had the kind of problems with Britain I had. In hindsight, there were a number of factors which conspired to make me a person who was the very opposite of proud of the country of my birth.
Being a Liverpool fan at a time when the rest of England either laughed at us or hated us. Chasing around the towns of the north in my old VW Beetle watching the Clash. Sitting with the West Indians in the long hot summer of 76 as Viv Richards marmalised the England bowlers under a baking sun. 'Rock against Racism'. 'Free Mandela'. Driving the seething streets of Belfast with a Brit soldier on every corner. Driving to eastern Turkey and back and seeing posters of Bobby Sands on every wall.
And travelling through country after country where the British had stolen everything which wasn't bolted down. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, India, Nepal....
And watching as the towns of the north were dismantled and destroyed by the hurricane of Thatcherism. Watching the North become a police state during the Miners Strike.
At an early age I could see clearly enough where the wealth of Britain had come from. Violence and conquest. Slaves and opium. And well covered up genocide.
And then all of sudden I became father to two sons who carry Africa in their blood. Two sons whose ancestors were once upon a time dragged from their villages and marched to the coast in chains and shipped across the Altantic to the killing fields of the Barbados sugar plantations. Sold in the market. Thrown into an utter hell.
The life expectancy of a slave sold in the Bridgetown market in the 17th Century was less than the life expectancy of a Jew stepping off the train at Auschwitz Birkenau in 1942. Yeah. Seriously.
Proud? I don't think so.
I have thought a bit about this over the last few weeks whilst watching the astonishingly supurb BBC 4 documentary about the Vietnam War. If you haven't seen it, you really should check it out though it is a hard, hard watch.
The programme gives time to many of the vets who volunteered to go and fight in South East Asia out of a profound patriotism. We tend to forget just how strong the dream of America was back in the early Sixties. Those were the days when the United States was still the shining city on the hill not just to its own citizens, but also to millions around the world. Of course much of this reputation was hardly deserved. Holywood had done a hell of a job of re-writing history in a way guaranteed to keep the city shining. The near genocide the new Americans committed as they stole the country from the original Americans was turned into epic movies of goody cowboys and baddy Injuns.
Yet despite being an a place of so much dog eat dog violence and racism, America still managed to be a beacon. For a hundred years Europe had been gripped by a murderous madness which resulted in tens of millions of dead people. In the midst of pograms and secret police raids and the savagery of Czars and Nazis and Bolsheviks, millions clung to the dream of escaping to America. The sanctuary. The Land of the Free. Countless millions yearned for the first sight of the Statue of Liberty and the towers of Manhattan Island.
Plenty of Scots crossed the ocean having been driven from their homes during the Clearances.
And then the dream died as the evening news started to show children whose flesh had been burned from the bone by napalm.
After Vietnam, there would be no more shining city on the hill. Only a bully in the playground. A miserable fifty year slide into the disgrace of Trump.
No wonder the young idealists who signed on the dotted line were so broken and bitter. They put their lives on the line to be on the side of the angels and instead found themselves a part of crimes against humanity.
In the midst of the Tet Offensive in January 1968 the Viet Cong got a firm grip on a town in the Mekong Delta. The only way the Americans were able to dislodge them was with wave after wave of airstrikes coupled with a massive artillery bombardment. When interviewed after the town had been cleared of the communist threat, the American officer in charge came out with a pretty epic statement.
"Unfortunately in order to save the town we had to destroy the town."
The rain clouds swept in from the sea and the city on the hill lost its ability to shine.
Which all brings me to my own moment of surprising patriotism - the thing I never expected to feel. A moment when I could absolutely understand where the young Americans who signed up to fight for the dream of their country were coming from.
On Monday night a hard hitting Panorama shone a pretty unforgiving light on the growing racism which is sweeping through England.
They did the statistics. The spike in hate crime which followed the |Brexit vote. And in a small aside they dropped a throwaway stat which yanked at my attention.
'In the wake of the Brexit vote, incidents of hate crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland fell'.
And a small glow of patriotic pride found its way into my chest.
They told the story of Martha and her kids. A nice Polish family on the increasingly mean streets of Dudley. She is a teacher who came to find a better life for her family only to be threatened and called a 'fucking Polish cunt' in the playground a few weeks after the vote.
Things were worse for her two sons. Much worse. As Kamil (18) and Matteus (14) were walking home from school with their English girlfriends, they were attacked by 20 frothing at the mouth racists.
"Fucking Polish cunts ... fuck off back to your own fucking country..."
They were chased and caught and beaten. Matteus was forced to the ground. He had a rock smashed into his face which splintered his teeth.
Not surprisingly Martha has had enough. It is time to go. Time to escape all the hate. Time to get away from streets where her son had a rock smashed into his face.
And then she said it. After 28 minutes of the programme she said it.
"We will move, maybe to Scotland, maybe back to Poland, but definitely from here."
And there it was.
"Maybe to Scotland"
Because we are the new shining city on the hill. We are the place where the oppressed of the world are starting to dream of finding a sanctuary. We are becoming what America used to be.
And there it was. An emotion I had never felt before. A glow of pride in my country. And for the very first time in my life, the idea of flying a flag on my lawn didn't seem so ridiculous after all. Not that I will actually do it! But all of a sudden the idea isn't completely absurd.
I feel lucky to be a part of a country which is striving to be progressive and enlightened. A country which aspires to the decency of Scandanavia rather than the brutality of Trump's America.
A country where people like Martha dream of running to.
What's there not to be proud of?
AT THE MOMENT I AM TRYING TO RAISE FUNDS FOR THE FOODBANK I MANAGE IN DUMFRIES, SOUTH WEST SCOTLAND. OVER THE COMING WINTER OVER 3000 PEOPLE WILL COME THROUGH OUR DOORS AND RIGHT NOW WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH CASH TO HELP THEM ALL OUT. MAYBE YOU MIGHT BE WILLING TO HELP US OUT BY BUNGING A COUPLE OF QUID ONTO OUR JUSTGIVING PAGE? I HOPE SO.