Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Column, December 4, 2007

THERE comes a time in all our lives when the person we most need at our side is Sergeant Wilson.
He’s the quietly-spoken chap from Dad’s Army, played by John Le Mesurier, the reasonable foil to Captain Mainwaring’s pompous bluster.
If you’re of tender years and have yet to had the pleasure, I suggest you scan the Christmas TV schedules as chances are the BBC will be repeating an episode at some point.
Anyway, when Mainwaring was about to embark on yet another scheme guaranteed to end in disaster, Sgt Wilson would usually quietly intone: “Do you really think that’s wise Sir?”
He was invariably ignored and disaster ensued but if only the Captain had heeded his words of warning.
And that’s what I mean when I say we all need a Wilson at our shoulder. I’m sure we’ve all done things, said things, embarked on madcap schemes, only to wish that someone who had retained a nodding acquaintance with sanity had urged us to get a grip and stop.
If only Sergeant Wilson had been about when someone at the Victoria Centre declared: “Those kids are carolling too loud, I’m going to call the police.”
If only there had been someone there whose idea of what Christmas is about extends beyond jingling tills. If only someone had piped up: “Do you think that’s really wise.” Perhaps a finger might have paused before dialling for the cops, perhaps the Scrooge-like complainants might have had their hearts melted by a piping chorus of Silent Night.
But no. No Wilsonesque words of wisdom and so, yet again, the idiocy of a minority tarnishes us all as we are portrayed as a nation of miseries who never pass up a chance to spread gloom.
I mean, asking children, little children, to stop singing so loudly. What in God’s name were they thinking?
In most shopping centres you visit nowadays you are assaulted by piped music in every shop you enter, so to go somewhere where children were carolling is a rare treat.
Instead of praising them for their lovely singing, it’s bah, humbug and turn it down.
There are certain questions in life to which there is only one correct response.
When questioned as to whether your wife’s new hairdo suits her, it, naturally, most certainly does, and if anything it makes her look younger. Hesitate for a millisecond in answering and you, my friend, are dead in the water.
When asked by a police officer if you know how fast you were going, the correct answer is not: “Yes I do, and I don’t care what your little radar gun says.”
If a primary school child asks if you enjoyed their carols, the correct response is, yes you did, followed by a healthily heavy drop of loose change into their collection bucket.
Probably, on reflection, best not to dial 999.
Didn’t some little voice inside their head say: “These children will have their hopes and dreams battered enough by critics when they’re older, let them have their day in the limelight without calling in security.”
Centre manager Sue Nash admitted the situation could have been handled better. Surveying the headlines it has attracted, worldwide, it’s fair to say Ms Nash has discovered her own talent for understatement.
Still, the children have done well out of it. A heroes’ welcome when they went back this weekend – and no call to the cops. And an expenses-paid trip and an invitation to perform and a generous donation to school funds from the Savoy Hotel in London, where the spirit of Christmas is apparently still alive and breathing.
Those shopkeepers who complained ought perhaps to examine their consciences and realise that, for the most part, they are hawking their wares to parents and grandparents who take a dim view of killjoys who criticise kids’ singing.
And the tills will be jingling elsewhere.

DO I want the Welsh flag represented on the Union Jack.
At this point a pedant is already cracking open a sheaf of Basildon Bond to pen a missive informing me that what I’m referring to is the Union Flag, as the Union Jack flies only on a ship. They’re wrong, they’ve been interchangeable terms for centuries, so let’s move on.
Do we want the Welsh dragon on there in some form, as Wrexham MP Ian Lucas suggests?
Though I’m sure he means well, I would suggest most certainly not, for a few reasons.
Firstly, I don’t want to go where I’m not invited. When the Principality of Wales was absorbed into England there was no suggestion then of representation on the flag and I see no reason to rewrite history.
It has been suggested that the British national anthem should be rewritten for the same reasons, because verses that talk about “rebellious Scots” don’t go down too well north of the border, even if they are rarely, if ever, sung.
It’s sanitising historical fact, the Scots were, and still are, rebellious and taking the verse out of the anthem will not make them any less so.
Secondly, there is no way in the world the English are going to swallow a flag with a bloomin’ great dragon in the middle of it. At best we would be relegated to some corner, somewhat like we are geographically.
Thirdly, by allowing the rest of Britain to use a dragon we are diminishing its value as our symbol.
We are one of only two countries in the world with a dragon on their flag – the other being, my gift to pub quizzers everywhere – Bhutan. So why diminish what is an instantly recognisable brand by watering it down in some mish-mash with the flag of the Union.
And by absorbing it into the flag of the Union it might be suggested that there was some sort of union between us, when there never was. We were conquered, or rather some would suggest that attempts are still being made to conquer us, and we have merely been pausing for breath since the time of Owain Glyndwr.
Putting a dragon on the Union Jack carries with it the implication that we are one big happy family, when we are not. We are always going to be the awkward neighbours, the mountain people, with the strange language and forever, our own flag.

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