I Can Give It Up Any Time I Want To

One of my favourite Tweeters said this recently:

           “Last Night of the Proms. How the Nuremburg Rallies would have looked if Goebbels had been born in Reigate.”

He’s absolutely right, of course. The Last Night of the Proms, despite being positioned almost diametrically opposite St. George’s Day in the calendar, is the true highlight of the Daily Mail-reading, Classic FM-listening middle Englander’s patriotic year.  It is replicated up and down  the country on a regular basis; hundreds of unsuitably-dressed people flock to these events with their Lakeland hampers and Waitrose scotch eggs, and spend the evening shivering and secretly wishing they were at home watching Ant and Dec with a Lamb Rogan Josh and some Stella.  They wave flags too, just like the real thing, but that’s mainly to ward off the hypothermia.

When I was younger, it was my oft-stated ambition to go to the Last Night, not least because it often falls very close to my birthday. This was never likely to happen anyway, given the entry requirements and the fact that I live 200 miles from the Albert Hall. But in any case, as I’ve got older, the whole thing makes me feel more and more uncomfortable. There’s a growing sense that it isn’t about great music. Elgar himself viewed his Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 – Land of Hope and Glory – as “a damned fine popular tune” but I’m sure he’d be the first to acknowledge that it’s no Cello Concerto.  ‘Rule, Britannia!’ is, frankly, dreadful, although the dramatic soprano in me thinks it’s quite fun to sing.  And it’s blinkered, jingoistic Empire-building nonsense:

            “The nations not so blest as thee

            Must in their turn to tyrants fall

            Whilst thou shalt flourish great and free

            The dread and envy of them all

            …

            All thine shall be the subject main

            And every shore it circles, thine”

So let’s get this straight. In verse two, all the other nations, hapless halfwits that they are, are busy blundering into the arms of wicked empire builders who just want them for their oil reserves and coconuts. By verse five, we’re ruling the waves and owning any country lucky enough to have a coastline.  Why would Britons ever actually be slaves, when it’s much more fun to have some?

I’d like to think that the Last Night was just a fun celebration of Britishness, a kind of British Fourth of July. But every year I find myself watching it and wondering just how many of those people in the Albert Hall would consider voting for the BNP, and it’s usually at that point in the proceedings that I realise there’s a strong chance that I might actually hate being there because I’d have to listen to my fellow concert-goers’ ill-informed witterings all night.

So every year, I decide that this is going to be the year I don’t even watch it on the telly.

And then, every year, I end up standing on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand, bellowing Jerusalem across the living room with tears running down my face.

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~ by somethingblonde on September 11, 2010.

4 Responses to “I Can Give It Up Any Time I Want To”

  1. Usually by this point of the year we’ve had an unpleasant rash of prejudice about the proms. This year it appears to only be “comedian” Holly Walsh making a fool of herself on The Now Show in July, comparing the Proms to – ready for this? – a BNP rally.

    Seriously – you could hear every rustle of the tumbleweed blowing through her set. Perhaps it’s just that I haven’t run out of toilet paper and needed a Daily Mirror that I’ve not seen anything else about it this year.

    You know, I’m pretty sure that the proms is NOT anything like “a BNP rally”. Picture the scene – two skinheads having a conversation:

    “Oi, you slag!”
    “What is it, you slag?”
    “The intricacy of the last night’s Chopin was a beautiful thing to behold.”
    “Yeah, and the LSO’s orchestration of the Mahler moved me to tears”.

    Stupid woman. Mind you, surely not as stupid as the legendary comment a couple of years ago by Mad Maggie Hodge that not enough black people went to the proms. Yes, the ex culture minister said that. About a series of concerts where musicians from around the world perform world music, enjoyed by people from around the world.

    Again, I don’t really think she though that one through – I wonder what her solution was? Round up a load of black people and force them to do what some white people in charge wanted them to do?
    I’m pretty sure that was tried a few hundred years ago and turned out to be A Bad Idea.

    And then we have bloggers saying that because a proportion of people who do one thing look the same colour as people who do another, somehow they’re all the same homogeneous group.
    If you get the chance, ask one of these people if they realise that by extension of their logic, Notting Hill Carnival would look to them like a southern US prison. Not so cool and liberal now, are you? Oh, what’s that – prejudice only cuts one way? Well of course!

    I wish you all a great Last Night.

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    I’d like to think that the Last Night isn’t like a BNP rally. But it’s a sad fact that the rise of the BNP is a big part of my problem with it. For me, they have blurred the distinction between genuine patriotism and blinkered xenophobia to such an extent that I can’t see people expressing pride in their country without wondering whether at least some of those people might have less-than-tolerant attitudes towards others. Griffin and his unpleasant mob have pretty much destroyed our ability to be patriotic without having assumptions made about us. Because I make those judgments myself, I know that I would also be judged, and so the whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable. I wish it wasn’t so.

    And, let’s face it, the words of Rule Britannia really don’t help 😉

    I hope you enjoy it too.

    • Are you really telling me you’re not able to distinguish between a tiny political party and millions of people enjoying music from around the world?

      If you follow your logic to its conclusion, then all blacks are muggers, all muslims are terrorist and all people who fly the nations flag are racists. You’re surely not suggesting that too, are you?

      Come on – you can write whole properly formed sentences, so you’re clearly not a Daily Mirror reader. Think for yourself, think like an individual, not Mad Maggie Hodge.

  3. No, I’m not telling you that. Of course I can. And I don’t think I ever said otherwise – or if I did, that wasn’t my intention. But the sad fact is that those stereotypical Daily Mail reading middle Englanders do exist, and I suspect that they’re growing in number. I also suspect that most of them love the Last Night, and it’s that association that taints it for me.

    But yes, I’m well aware of the logical flaw. “All Daily Mail readers love the Last Night” isn’t the same as “All Last Nighters read the Daily Mail.”

    Hey, they’re doing some Wagner now! 😉 *tongue firmly in cheek*

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