Nationalism, Patriotism, Feelings Of Home And A Piece Of Paper Certifying Citizenship
Today is almost something of an anniversary in that my very first letter to you was written and sent on 20 February 2017, and also a day of celebration, if you like, as I see that only one other person of the many I wrote to, when I first got back to letter writing, is still with us. Perhaps, for some, not much of a record, but I see it in a different light as letter writing, this form of contact between two people living indifferent worlds, is no longer an accepted means of friendship, more of an exception from what is considered normal. But it is the exception which excites the most interest, which provokes the mind and has people looking, talking and thinking, while the normal, the everyday, is just whisked along without a second thought. It is the everyday, boring and mundane things which we need, and desire, to avoid to make our lives interesting and enjoyable, and I most certainly count letter writing, and our correspondence, within those parameters. And looking back over the time spent writing, I am also surprised at how quickly it has gone by, how much water has passed under the bridge, how many changes there have been. Some things have passed us by almost unnoticed, and others have cut their way into our lives and made themselves more than obvious, including those which are of lesser good, less desirable, but part and parcel of our lives today.
Although, I’m not really one for anniversaries, otherwise I would be all misty-eyed, reading back through my journal, which I started thirty years ago in August, and coming up with a memory for almost every day of the year. That sort of thing happens when you get to be my age: you’ve lived through so many different events that almost every minute of the day can be linked to an experience from another time. And now, in my old age, I can look back and see where I made all of my mistakes, all the wrong turns that I took through life and be grateful for them, as much as regret one or two. I would, a year ago, have been inclined to say that young people today have no idea of the battles that we went through at their age, but that has changed: today the younger people, the new generation coming up to voting age, is going through something that we never had to, which we would never want to and, I hope and pray, they will win this battle.
Winter has finally hit us, and there are rumours of a massive wave of snow heading in across the sea, over the United Kingdom and then heading into Europe. Called “The Beast from the East”, there have been warnings across the UK for people to get home early and get indoors. It will be interesting to see what happens later on, and I shall watch it from the comfort of a chair in my relatively warm library through social media. My neighbours pond has been frozen for the last few weeks, and the weather we have now definitely calls for the wearing of warm clothing and mittens, but it makes a change. For weeks we had rain, and now the air is clear and fresh and, aside from the usual people who find nothing pleasing in life and their surroundings, everything is as it should be. I would quite happily settle down, in the evenings, with as glass of red wine before a warm hearth wearing slippers and a smoking jacket to read my books, but the previous owners took all the stoves out and blocked off the chimneys, so I have to content myself with the red wine and a good portion of literature. Regular exercise – hurrying to the post office so that my nose doesn’t have time to freeze off – is also enjoyable, although I am sorry to have to open my post box some days, as there is a gaping emptiness of late. Even those people who would normally send me bills at this time of the month seem to be avoiding me. I always find it sad when people give up, when they withdraw into themselves and leave a chance of conversation to fade into mere memory, which is why I was so pleased to receive your latest letter, and see that you’ve not disappeared from the face of the earth, as some seem to do.
Another thing that I fail to celebrate each year, since I was about six years old, is the annual addition of another year to my age. I can see how it is important for some people, but when the only congratulations you receive come from your mobile telephone provider – and they forgot last year too – then it is definitely time to call a halt. And by the time you get to my age, counting all the years is difficult and hindered by too many memories. I sometimes, when asked, have to think and calculate what my age could be, but perhaps that is just because I am getting forgetful, and less that it is unimportant. I had the pleasure of someone writing to me last month who asked, since she is so old, whether I would have a problem writing to a forty-eight year old, and I told her writing to youngsters has never bothered me.
Another conversation I had, just this morning, involved the, in my opinion misguided, decision for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union and concerned, mainly, those who are now considering applying for foreign citizenship to protect their status in the Union. Many foreigners in England and Scotland have received letters from the Home Office telling them that they have to leave the country, even those with a good, stable, vital workplace who have lived in the country for over twenty years. People living in Europe are also worried about their future, since it is not clear whether they will be allowed to continue working here if no agreement is reached between the British government and the European Union commissioners; their status as non-EU members would be changed. Many are now considering applying for dual citizenship, although this could also be difficult once the British have wandered off on their own, and are worried that their entire lives will be thrown into disarray. I’m lucky in that I applied for and received dual citizenship back in 2005, when I was first nominated for a political position in the county council, but with the date for this ill-fated separation fast approaching, there is real fear that it could be too late. Our conversation, however, was more on whether a person could simply give up their citizenship and adopt – or be adopted by – a different country. It was difficult, and I suspect that I did not succeed, to explain to one person, a self-described “Humourless Femnazi”, that there is a difference between nationalism, patriotism, feelings of home and a piece of paper certifying citizenship. The signing of a piece of paper does not remove all connections to the place of birth, to family, to life and experiences, to memories and a feeling of being at home. Sometimes, sadly, such conceptions are difficult to put into words which other people can understand: there are those who equate nationality with everything to do with a country, and forget that nationality is an accident of birth whilst emotional ties to a place are built up over many years and are a very personal matter not ruled or controlled by a piece of paper.
More than anything else I have been watching the changes following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the wonderful stance taken on by the young students as they fight against the entrenched party-political power of legislators in Florida and elsewhere. It is quite inspirational to watch, and to see the old white men floundering when faced with the reality of their positions and the calling out of the entrenched and privileged decisions they make in response to lobbyists and big business rather than the needs and desires of those who voted them into their various offices. One of the most telling moments of late, and there have been many, was when the legislators in Florida, watched by students and survivors from the school in Parkland, voted not to consider a motion for gun controls. I think that could have been the first time many of these young people came to appreciate that they need to use their own voices, and that the men and women voted in to preserve their best interests are not always what they may seem to be. In the meantime there is a massive, and a successful, movement against the National Rifle Association, gutting their sponsors, and a campaign to get all those students now coming into the right age group to sign up for the vote. I wonder how many of the slightly more than seventy legislators who voted against even discussing gun control will still be in office after the mid-terms.
Gun control is, of course, a very delicate subject with some people because, of course, only the bad guys should not have guns but, at the same time, the legislation to stop the bad guys getting any form of weaponry should not be passed because it is an inhibition of freedoms and rights! We Europeans find it (less than) amusing that a youngster can buy a semi-automatic weapon before being allowed to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and that the rules and regulations after purchase are so lax that a small child can lay their hands on that weapon and kill itself or another small child while playing. One of so many problems in our world at the moment, and one of many which could take years to sort out and which will, guaranteed, cause many arguments and bitter confrontations before anything is done. So many people come to the debate with a clear idea of what they want, and absolutely no intention of listening to anyone else but themselves making a debate impossible, and solutions to the problems equally unlikely.
But I tried to remove myself from politics many years ago, and return to the safe worlds of letter writing, of philosophy, of books and history. Now and then I peep out and see whether anything has changed for the better, but it never has, and so I go back into my small, safe cocoon and open another book, drink another glass of wine, write another missive to friends far afield. I wonder how many changes you will see when the time comes for you to step outside those gates and breathe different air?
I am sometimes asked why I do not go back to England – I have been, but that seems to be forgotten – or even whether I wish to go back and live there again. Few seem to be able to understand that the world is constantly changing, and going back to London, or to the village where my school used to be in North Yorkshire, can never be the same. Times have changed, the places have changed, the people who I knew have all gone. I sometimes show people photographs of this town, taken a few decades ago, by way of reply. Few of them ever recognise what I show them as being close to where we are taking, or even one of the areas that they walk across each day. I have to show them how their own world has changed, and yet they fail to see that the world I knew forty or fifty years ago (remember how old I am?) must also have moved on. Plenty of water, as they say, has passed under the bridge: just be grateful that the bridge is still there, and that we are able to cross it.
But this idea that a person who has been away, either out of the country or in a similar situation to that which you are experiencing, can go back to life the way it was, is as if the world stops and waits for them while they’re gone. We, it seems to say, are the centre of the universe, and all about us must follow our plan, play to our tune and, when we turn our backs for a moment, wait, unmoving, until we turn back again. I know a few people who are really so arrogant as to expect the world to be at their beck and call, and see them flustering, lost, when things do not work out according to the plan they have formulated, their having no contingency plan whatsoever.
A friend called me today on the telephone – I am so advanced that I have one of these contraptions in my house – and we had a quick laugh about one such person. Recently my friend wished to apply for membership of a small group, but someone objected to it and wished to exercise a little bit of power and have the application refused. My friend spoke to me, and then withdrew his application and I, at the same time, took a look at the application of this other person for a group within the group which he wanted to join. Needless to say, this arrogant person did not have his application accepted, but what really amused me was that he complained bitterly, and has demanded a meeting to discuss it face-to-face, when my friend removed him from his Friends List on Facebook. Now, I know that Facebook, and some other social media platforms, are important, but demanding a personal conversation just because a person you were going against anyway removes you from his friends? I suspect that someone needs a life!
So, this was rather a hodgepodge of ideas and comments, hardly anything fitting together, not following any particular theme at all and surrounded by many distractions here. Hopefully it still makes some form of sense, and normal service will be resumed later.