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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. 

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Rothenburg, Germany. 1930s.

This was an interesting flea market find. It's the marketplace in Rothenburg, Germany. I'd seen it in the bin before but disregarded it as merely some 1950s Bavarian holiday snap. But I hadn't been looking closely enough.

See enlarged details here.... )
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Jane's spoon

I was at my friend's birthday party in an Italian restaurant the other day and got talking to Jane next to me. Jane and I agreed that we are both members of a special race of unfocussed people who are obsessed with 'random stuff'. This stuff can be anything; a story, a photo, or an object, which will absorb us entirely for a period of time before we move on to another thing completely unconnected. "My sister's spoon, for example" said Jane. Spoon? I had to hear about this. So she explained.

There is a spoon in her family which her sister habitually used as a child. Nobody can remember where it came from. It is decorated with what appears to be a medieval king processing underneath a baldachin carried by servants in 16th century costume. It has strange hallmarks on the back, one of which looks like three Christmas trees, or maybe cardinals, or maybe papal crowns. Where on earth did it come from? Maybe you can help.

Three more photos here.... )
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Acocks Green & Solihull Journal. August 1899.

.... is wonderfully indicative of character, do you not think? People who burst into a room, or rush about, are generally hasty, careless, and frequently hot-tempered. I often notice young girls who have had no care from their mothers in this way. Some go with their heads far in advance of their feet, and seem to totter along rather than walk. One longs to make them hold their heads up, chins in, waists in, and chests thrown out, and to put their feet down firmly as if they meant to stand on them. It is real unkindness in these days of good gymnastic teaching of parents and guardians not to let their girls and boys from eight years old and upwards to go to gymnastic classes, or have an army sergeant drill them. With such neglect can they wonder if their children grow up with narrow chests, round backs, poking heads, and delicate? If the poor things suffer thus they may thank those who had the care (?) of them in their youth.

Acocks Green & Solihulll Journal. August 1899. Vol. 1 No. 5.