THERE was a time when all the
world was young, lad, when crisp curls clustered on my now bare, ruined
scalp, when a second edition of my chin had not been published and when I
was an example of imperialist obedience, who stood when the national
anthem was played in cinemas, theatres and elsewhere while disrespectful
crowds might stampede, like wildlife before a forest fire, towards the
I donít stand for much now, but when I began
bobbing up it was in the middle 1930s for good King George V. Audiences
rose jerkily, like badly-operated marionettes, to adjure the Almighty to
send the bluff, bearded old boy happy, glorious and perpetually
In the cinema, you got your moneyís worth in
anthemal terms. The music accompanied shots of the British battlefleet in
line-ahead formation firing broadsides to enforce Pax Britannica. Anyone
who objected to this explosive statement of foreign policy was likely to
get a severe dunt from a 15-inch shell. At one corner of the screen, under
an admiralís hat, the coin-recognisable, kingly profile gazes serenely
into the imperial distance. You knew where you were with a British-made
broadside, as reliable as a Rolls Royce limo, a Raleigh roadster or a
bottle of HP Sauce.
After the Second World War, the British population,
on its last legs, shakily sagged to attention and later made slightly
shamefaced tactical withdrawals when the national anthem engulfed them
like a dam burst. Nowadays, it tends to be acknowledged with either
resignation or irritation.
I STILL stand, stiff as a
rolled umbrella, for the old Queen, not as a monarchist but as a grim,
black-browed bastion of good manners. Although I stand for anthems, I
cannot stand them. I regard most as pieces of patriotic pomposity,
overblown pride, arrogance, near-nonsensical aspirations as well as a
mixture of exhortations, adjurations and impertinent demands to the Deity
with phrases like, "Let tyrants fear/tremble/flee/perish: arise, awake,
fly the flag, raise the torch, smite the foe, up with, down with, God
defend, forfend, intercede." God this, God that and "Heaven preserve us
and backcomb the front teeth of enemies."
Afghanistan has one of the
most apposite anthems. "Become hot, become more hot," it opens, "You, the
holy sun of freedom. Through the storm, we have come to the end of the
road." Next to Iraq, there are few hotter places in this anthem-singing
Now Scotland has been given the go-ahead to decide
its own national anthem, a devolved issue, say Scottish Parliament
lawyers, that could be legislated on by a rousing chorus of MSPs with, one
supposes, the public being invited to chime in.
good for us. For a country that is one of the unhealthiest in Europe,
where the population total is in serious slippage and many of those that
remain are waddling in obesity where hospital waiting lists are, despite
millions on NHS expenditure, not diminishing and where the average male,
unlikely to reach 70, is as endangered as the natterjack toad, a national
anthem for the land oí cakes and once perceived as Godís own little oil
platform, can hardly be regarded as a prime priority.
must have our tuneful toffee apple, let me say that when it comes to the
crunch and whatever interesting results this paperís readership poll on
the subject produces, I will never stand for Flower of Scotland - a
distressingly vacuous offering with a tune that evokes a drizzly,
depressing Sunday at a Scottish seaside resort with even the promenade
crazy-golf closed. Scots Wha Hae has a noble ring but sounds like a
threnody for a Rangersí defeat. Burnsís A Manís A Man, while fitting in
sentiment, suggests the expiring moans of a large ruminant and, although
jaunty, Scotland the Brave evokes the image of someone being beaten-up
rhythmically in a close.
Other offerings fail to strike patriotic chords
with me and I suggest that Scotlandís national leitmotiv should not only
be aspirational but also lift the spirits with some of the rousing
qualities of Yes, We Have No Bananas and Ten Green Bottles ...
For a modern, punitively-taxed, industrially-struggling nation with more
than its fair share of gross national products, I suggest: "Hail, great
chairman of the corporate universe. Make us a leader for righteous cuts in
council taxes and expansion of smoking-free zones, even unto private
dwellings. Draw to our shining shores foreign business investment and on
our private and public finance initiatives, let triumph crown and do not
let our shares go down."
Given inspirational rhyming and scanning, that
should give us something to sing about.