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Three men posing with a tiger skin. India or Burma?

Our Prime Minster's new soundbite 'global Britain' sounds like some utter bollocks generated by one of those humorous online joke slogan generators, but there's more to it than that I fear. 

It is a calculated pandering to the English nationalist myth of oppressed smallness. The subtext is "we are small but brave and clever; just free us from the yoke of the corrupt foreigners and we will show the world just how great we are." Substitute 'foreigner' for 'Jews' or 'immigrants' and see it for what it is.

At the heart of this is the deeply held English nationalist belief that Britain isn't global currently and, more astonishingly, never has been. Yes, history-buffs, you read that correctly. In order to make this seem true the entire British Empire period has been blanked out. This may be difficult for readers outside the UK to believe, but this monumental piece of 19th century world history does not feature at all in our populist nationalist narrative. You have to understand that it never happened. Okay? History started in 1914. Everything before this was merely a series of costumed theme parks. This is precisely how my daughter is taught history at primary school. A bit of the costume stuff, dressing up as Victorians and Tudors, then two whole years studying life in the trenches in WW1, followed by an entire year of WW2. And when I say WW1 and WW2 I mean specifically Britain fighting Germany during those wars, forget Japan or any other participant. The defining feature of our nation's history is that it fought two wars with Germany in western Europe during the 20th century. Nothing else. That's our government-approved state history syllabus for our children, preparing them for the big wide world.

Politicians (and presumably that crucial voting demographic of baby-boomers) in recent decades have been very keen on this 'British history' as they call it. There's no room in it for India or Australia or West and South Africa, let alone colonial America. Ireland isn't in it either. If it didn't happen right here, or nearby, or happen directly to white British passport-holding people, it isn't British history. Possibly the only exception to this in living memory has been the Falklands War, and in order for that to become a national event history had to be re-written, making the Falkland Islanders into British citizens before the conflict (fiction) rather than afterwards (reality). In the same period Britain agreed to hand several million non-white Hong Kong citizens, all holding the same passport as the Falkland Islanders, over to communist China as a kind of human gift. That wasn't British history though, so it didn't matter.

What is at the base of this psychosis? It seems tied to the end of the British empire as a formal entity. Right up until the 1950s (when the baby-boomers were children) British people were fed the most extraordinary fictional racist propaganda concerning the empire. It was the greatest thing that had ever existed. Wonderful, civilised, beloved, and at the core of it was a quintessential English superiority; English exceptionalism. What's painful to the English nationalist is not that the empire ended but that it simply carried on without the English. That it didn't even need the English. The English nationalist cannot tolerate this. The English nationalist does not want to know that hundreds of millions of Indians live in a democracy and speak English. The nationalist does not want to know that vast London-based multinationals are carrying on business as usual in Hong Kong and Singapore. The English nationalist is not even interested that the British government continues to support extractive neo-colonial agendas in the former empire. If he were to know these things then he, personally, would cease to be exceptional and, worse still, the last 200 years of British history would have to be re-written as global and involving billions of non-white non-English overseas British. And that would be too much to bear. 

Hmmm

8/10/13 10:28
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Camera Roll-264

My 6-year-old daughter's choice from the school library. "it's interesting" she explained, and seemed a bit disappointed that we weren't similarly interested. Actually it is interesting for reasons she doesn't understand. It's a time capsule from the 1980's when Di was still alive and the public still idealised the Royals as one big happily married family. Her school seems to have made her into a monarchist and converted her to Christianity. Maybe she'll marry the two and graduate as a full-blown Papist. 
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I can't do it. I can't bring myself to watch or read anything connected with the 'royal baby'. Even the Guardian had a rolling banner making some excited reference to the royal gynaecologist. It's disgusting. Mercifully, and displaying a sense of humour, their website has installed a 'republican' button to turn it all off. To think that I used to be quite a convinced monarchist! I thought it a very romantic institution, an island of Victorian faux-medieval theatre amid the blandness. An honestly non-meritocratic institution in a society that has twisted the ideal of meritocracy into the worship of material wealth and fame. But the more I read shit like 'Hello' magazine the more I realise that this insane, overwhelmingly dominant, status-worshipping culture has simply absorbed the monarchy. It makes no distinction between millionaire entrepreneurs, politicians, drug-addled pop stars, the children or grandchildren of money (who may never have worked for a living in their entire lives), members of the landed aristocracy or the state-funded royal family. Indeed, these groups are so often inter-related by marriage that it makes no difference. All that matters is that they are wealthy and glamorous beyond our wildest dreams, the subtext being that this confers them with actual moral superiority, and how dare any mean-minded socialist suggest that this might not be the case. We're reduced to the role of moronic medieval peasants; shivering with excitement and fear in the presence of our 'betters'. I work in a hospital which is part of a one million-employee universal healthcare system which was formed after the war as the biggest social-democratic project in our entire history, yet this hospital is named after a member of the royal family, effectively a state employee too, who is considered, without raising a single eyebrow, to possess a status too high for her to ever use this same service in her life. Why is our national self-esteem so low that we allow this? Do we actually hate ourselves? I honestly feel no personal malice towards any member of this clique, many of whom were born into it and hardly had a choice, but we are as manipulated and gormless as we ever were in the previous one and a half thousand years of being shit-upon by feudal kings, popes, and lords. To hell with it. 
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Chesil Beach anglers

Chesil beach yesterday. An unearthly place baking in the sun. An 18 mile bar disconnected from the land for most of its length. Small gravel at one end increasing in size to easter eggs at the other. 18th century smugglers could guage their position by the size of the pebbles when they landed on it at night. Dozens of men, regularly spaced to avoid entanglement, silently angling for mackerel, like some religious order worshipping the sea.

Read more... )
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Axminster

I saw someone wearing a deerstalker hat in 1989, and I thought that was the last one I'd ever see. But no! I spotted this gent in Axminster. He may the last deerstalker wearer in Britain. Three cheers for him!
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River Thames at Newbridge, Oxfordshire.

It hadn't occurred to me that we'd be encountering the River Thames so many times on our trip to Oxfordshire. I always associate it with my early childhood in west London. I want to be scattered in it after I'm dead, just like the pieces of bread I used to throw to the swans. Doesn't it look serene here at Newbridge? But the camera is a liar. The traffic noise was deafening and I had to scuttle across during a traffic-light change in order to get this photo. Ironically, nobody in any of the vehicles thundering over the 13th century bridge ever sees it. In our terribly self-important, motorised society it is reduced to nothing more than an inconvenient bottleneck and hump in the road.

The river further downsteam, in Buckinghamshire. )
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A mysterious faded photograph I found in a flea-market in Brighton today. Note the old lady and her maid in the doorway.
Big version here.... )
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There's a little election here today because one of our town councillors died, so I went over the road and did what 1.3 billion Chinese people can't. It turned out there were two seats up for election, not one. Maybe two councillors died. I don't know. Was there a car crash I didn't hear about? I'm confused. One seat had a white ballot paper, the other lilac. Jana nearly deprived me of my democratic voice by putting the lilac slip into the white box.
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Another old photo I found in Brighton today. It appears to depict a parade of WW2 auxiliary fire service vehicles and personnel. Maybe this was taken on VE Day.
Cropped detail here.... )
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Methwold fruit colony, Norfolk.

Here's a little curio I bought off e-bay from a chap in Malta. The back is stamped with "H. Freund, Fruit Colony, Methwold". According to this website the Methwold fruit colony, in Norfolk, was a utopian 'back to the land' experiment founded in 1889; a fruit-growing co-operative of middle-class urbanites seeking a simpler life. The 'colony' lasted until the first world war but ultimately failed because it couldn't break even. One journal at the time, the Cable, reported enthusiastically that at Methwold:

"...a new order of things has been inaugurated. The land there is being taken possession of not by the country folk, but by clerks and tradesmen from London and other large centres of population....It points to the fact that agriculture is man's natural occupation and that, in many cases, the love of it is inherent"

I assume that this photograph depicts some of the original colonists, inside an unusual double-exposed frame of painted grape vines.
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Stafford

Photo found today in an antique market in Brighton (UK). The 16th century 'ancient high house' in Stafford, on the same street as this photographer's studio. It still exists but the nice Victorian shop fronts visible here on the ground floor have now been removed to restore its original medieval appearance. Always a dilema with building restoration; how much do you destroy to make a structure more 'authentic'?
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This made me laugh when I found it in the antique market in Brighton yesterday. I love his flamboyant neck-tie and the upbeat birthday message on the back.

I've been Googling his name and found out quite a lot about him. His firm issued metal tokens which could be exchanged for surgical trusses. Some of these have cropped up on ebay and in a 1955 edition of the British Medical Journal. I think he may have been connected with the still well-known Sheffield silverware firm Mappin & Webb. Even more pleasing, it seems some of descendants emigrated to the US and Canada, and he is described on a family history website compiled by one of them from a tape recorded oral history related by their grandfather. It includes this nice little family anecdote:

"In Manchester [John Reynolds] didn't find anything interesting so he walked south to Birmingham. There he called on a man named John Mappin who dealt in surgical instruments hoping that he could get a job. He was told that there was no work for him. As he stood interviewing on the front porch, the gentleman's daughter, age eighteen, was standing in the hall. She overheard the conversation and was able to get a look at the young man, my grandfather. John Mappin had thirteen children in all. His daughter in the hallway was rather frustrated at the time since she and her sister had arranged to have a double wedding with two young doctors. Her young doctor, however, had recently left this world due to an attack of small pox. She thought John Reynolds did not look too bad so as he was walking away, she climbed out of a window and ran after him. She caught up with him and they both walked back to Liverpool and had eighteen children."


Coincidentally, one of my own great-grandfathers was a silversmith at a firm on the same street.
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Wild rain storms giving way to blinding sunshine at regular intervals. Confusing.
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It was only when I scanned and enlarged these two photographs, and examined the clocks in each one, that I realised the people in them were engaged in the same ritual, though in different decades and settings.
See the second one here... )
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I just liked the hat on this one.
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A slightly fed-up looking family at the beach one sweltering late 19th century summer. They might be at Brighton. That looks like Brighton gravel behind them.
 
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I'm pleased when I find sequences of photographs like these in junk shops. I found these in Brighton.
Two more here..... )
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I found these in Brighton. I can't quite make out the place name. Linchfield? The lower photo is taken in a hops field, which leads me to guess at a south eastern English location.

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