Chalfont St Peter village fete, 1953. Coronation flags flutter across the lush lawns of the local manor. A vicar smiles and solicits pennies for Black babies. Cubs and Brownies skip merrily around a large Maypole, threading ribbons round it. Bonny mothers in proper frocks smile benignly at their tiny tots, cavorting with such wild abdomen round what none of us realise is a colossal willy. A pretty piece of Paganism, which rather runs counter to the soft Christianity peddled in our infant classrooms.
Ah, proper British values! Charming, White, feudal, deferential – the best of all possible worlds. The prime minister seems to think so.
He wants it back.
But wait a minute. It was also a world replete with sexism, racism, snobbery, secondary moderns, private education, hypocrisies and savage repressions. Our curtain-twitching street could sometimes resemble a David Lynch movie. Quiet desperation ruled. The English way. Or British?
Whatever. It just might be a vote winner. We must “not be bashful about being British” and must peddle “British values” in a “muscular fashion” in our classrooms. Yikes! Like what? He lists some. Like the Magna Carta, whereby the bully barons – or Bullingdon Boys – seized power off the clot King John and the plebs had about the same rights as a parsnip. Like “football”, “fish and chips” and “fairness”. Well, they’re alliterative – but don’t we already have enough hooligans, obesity and the most grotesque inequalities since mad King John? Like “tolerance” – as in his “Go home foreigners!” vans? Rather mixed messages!
Where will these patriot games end? Will Dave Mania be compelled to wave union jacks throughout my lessons? Must my tutor set salute Dave’s oleaginous visage? I had all this teaching in America. We’d begin the day with stars and stripes. It’s coming our way.
We’re already waving flags like billyho – for wars, anniversaries, jubilees and Baby George. Sexism, snobbery and racism are blooming like tumours and the model for the Govean academy seems to be a minor public school in the shires of 1953. It’s worse than that fete. I don’t want that back. I was that cub.
I prefer the fabulously various streets of Ladbroke Grove. I don’t want to peddle anything other than universal values like kindness, empathy, decency, grace, courtesy and equality. The only British culture I want is our lovely mash-up mix – like, say, William Blake, Zadie Smith, Tommy Cooper, Shane McGowan, Steven Gerrard, Polly Harvey, Dizzy Rascal, Alan Bennett or the greatest Englishman – Samuel Johnson.
“Patriotism” said the good doctor, “is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. Go Sam!
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.