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The last refuge of the scoundrel. Or, dear old Blighty is good at something.

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Monday, 21 January 2013
Snow comes, stealthily, in the night. I stomp down through four white inches and dole out extra hay rations for the horses. They are amazingly warm and chic in their new rug technology. When I was young, rugs consisted of a bit of jute, or the familiar thin green of the New Zealand rug. Now they are made of the kind of stuff that people wear in space. My mare’s ears just peep out of her high neck cover, and she looks so ridiculously sweet that I do not know what to do with myself.

Out in the world, people are dressing up in frocks and winning things. It is a million miles from my muddy boots and the straw that is literally in my hair. (The other day, I went round the entire Co-op with a small nest of hay tucked into my scarf. I only realised when I got home. Everyone was far too polite to say anything.) I catch a quick précis of the Golden Globes on the BBC. Damien Lewis wins, and is charming and touching and thanks his late mother, but in a humorous, ironical British way, rather than the lachrymose manner that is sometimes obligatory at such ceremonies. Daniel Day-Lewis wins, and makes a little joke about the Queen. Adele wins and is just adorable.

I find myself oddly proud. National pride is an absurd thing on its face. It’s the most random thing in the world, where you are born. I did nothing to be British; my mum just happened to be in London at the time I arrived. If I track back through my family tree, there are French, Danish and American antecedents, along with the Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English blood. Yet, almost every morning when I sit down to write, I get a little glow of delight that I am doing it in the language of Shakespeare and Milton, even though they are old dead fellas, who really had nothing to do with me.

As I watch the Brits being clapped by a roomful of successful Americans, I flush with a bizarre patriotism. Look at our lovely girls and boys, being good at stuff. It makes no rational sense, yet there is a keen delight in seeing the excellent Britons being lauded on the international stage. As always, I attempt to make sense of this in my head. But I can’t, really. I hear the old voices, sternly rebuking me. Patriotism, after all, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Nationalism has led to as many wars and arguments as religion. Lines drawn on a map get armies on the march.

Yet, however nutty it is, pride in one’s place of birth and one’s compatriots can be a benign article. It does not need to be a defensive thing, or a swaggery thing. It is not a zero sum game: all nations have their marvellous points. It does not have to be an imperial idea of mine is better than yours. I get a little uncomfortable when I hear otherwise perfectly sensible American commentators referring to the United States as ‘the greatest country on earth’. National pride can merely be a simple pleasure, so that when the British Olympians triumph, or Andy Murray wins at the tennis, or Damien Lewis is sweet about his mum, one may feel a warm wash of affection for dear old Blighty.

As a country, we are greatly prone to moaning and groaning; we are used to bad news. The economy is a mess, and the forecasts are gloomy. Only this week, John Humphrys was berating the Prime Minister over the mare’s nest that is our relationship with Europe. In the face of all this, it’s rather a relief to remember that there are Britons who are good at things, that it’s not all hell in a handbasket, that just occasionally, in a most diffident and polite manner, one may stand up and say three cheers for us.


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