Friday, 24 June 2016

Exeunt Britons

I was buying old postcards the other day. Late 19th century, early to mid 20th. It's not something I do very often, but there's this strange affinity I've had for more than twenty years now. I like broken images and I like broken words. Polish gardens from 1908. Hungarian greetings from 1927. Soviet streets from the 50s. French inscriptions, undated. There's life there which once existed and shines through even now, more than a century later. And if there are no words, I'm still as enchanted as I was on the day when my father showed me the flickering flame of his cigarette lighter. The frayed feel of the postcard is unmistakable. 

It was a flea market, filled with hundreds of men whose masculinity looked wasted from a mile off. I don't really mind that; the most interesting men you'll meet all have childish eyes. However, they were not children - they were obsessed. And while obsession is responsible for some of the greatest achievements as well as works of art, their obsession was way too nerdy. A bit narrow-minded, if not actually robotic.

Mistaking me for a fellow collector, they kept asking what sort of postcards I was interested in. Paintings? Cities? Buildings? Dogs? "Old ones", I offered. "Okay", said a guy who looked like a benevolent mobster. "But all of these postcards are old". Which, again, made little sense. "I guess I'm looking for the ones that will look good to me". After all, there are millions of things you like that way. Reason has nothing to do with love. 

Which is all to say - I like Britain aesthetically. I like Britain as an idea. In a world where Catalonia wants a separate state, to have four countries within one is wickedly old-school. I admire the cheek. It's a bit like my British friends (mostly from the north of England, granted) saying that the Queen is a parasite leeching off their taxes, and I just grin to myself: "Well, you will not hear me complaining". Rather, you can occasionally catch me humming the lyrics of "Here's To Old England" by Luke Haines.

That said, I was all for Scotland becoming independent. After all, it was a beautiful narrative that had so much history bubbling underneath. Again, aesthetically - it would have been the right thing. Alas, this was not to be, although suddenly it looked like certain legs had too much clay in them.

Ironically, today it feels like certain legs are all clay. Today, when Britain voted OUT for the sake of quixotic integrity and equally quixotic independence, I try to imagine myself as a Northern Irish citizen. Which has nothing to do with their footballing heroics and everything with the fact that last night the clear majority of Northern Ireland voted IN. 

In truth, it's not that easy to imagine myself as a Northern Irish citizen. I was in the country just once, in Belfast, and mostly for political reasons. The politics looked typically gloomy, the weather likewise (worse than in Swansea) and the brightest memory was the famous wall on which I scribbled a somewhat appropriate title of the great Spiritualized instrumental: "No God, Only Religion". Which is to say, I can't imagine myself living there. But I can easily imagine the hurt feelings inflicted by 'Great Britain' not giving a damn about my opinion. Or that of the country I live in, for that matter. 

So now you foresee not just a new Scottish referendum but one in Northern Ireland as well. It would actually be spineless and weak not to have one. However, there's one thing: they will be nothing like the Scottish independence referendum from 2014. Aesthetically, they will just look ugly. 

P.S. Too bad there were no postcards from old Britain in the flea market the other day. I would have bought one, so as to have something to look at while listening to Belle & Sebastian's immortal "Fuck This Shit".