Sadly the “problem” of Britishness doesn’t just affect British people! It’s a universal problem!
We used to see it as a benefit, but times have changed, technology has evolved, and slaughter and pillage are less rampant!
Let me outline the problems I faced and see in my clients almost daily.
Did you know, that at it’s height, the British Empire was the largest the world has ever seen? It laid claim to 25% of the entire world. There’s hardly a person on this planet who hasn’t been affected in some way by the British Empire and its business tendrils! Recently there have been a slew of programmes that have looked at the subject of Slavery, especially as the lens of the “Black Lives Matter” movement has focused us on our historic responsibilities.
It’s not possible to take in Slavery, without encompassing commerce. It’s not possible to take in commerce, without taking in War, and Britain’s Army and Navel power.
It’s not possible to take in the Sacking of India, The Boer War, the destruction of the Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and American “First Nations” without looking at WHO was doing all this “Empire Building”
It’s not possible to look at all these things without seeing in the background the advancement of state, but especially of Church: the belief that the British superiority was a GOD given right.
How does that thinking go? “God taught us how to be soldiers, gave us the best cannons, helped us invent the best rifles, these other guys only have spears! Of course, were are the superior race, and we are really doing them a favour, by bringing them into the light!”
The rise of wealth in Britain created a burgeoning middle class – or explorer and officer class.
Who trained the boys who were to become Empire Builders? The Public School System.
As a young man, I was much more interested in sport, girls and drinking heavily!
I enjoyed some aspects of academia, English, Biology and History to name a few.
I was put through the public school system by a caring father “who only wanted the best for me” (A very double edged idea…) and came out the other side having escaped the worst parts of the system.
Somewhere in the middle I attended a careers advice day, a glance at my projected results (which I’d like to add I exceeded by a decent margin – Oh ye of little faith!) showed to the “advisors” that I’d be good Officer Training Corp material! It just shows you how little they cared or knew of a person. I was a lover, not a fighter! A certain percentage of children were told that they wouldn’t amount to much, and that the Army would be the perfect place for them to put to use their skill sets. I.e the fewer brains you have the easier it is to stand in front of a hostile force and take fire!
Every story we were told, was about the glory of Britain, Geography included Empire, History was soaked in it. Did I learn anything about China – just that they got a bit uppity with us, because we stole their Tea plants, and flooded their country with Opium – how dare they! Even the most basic classes of Technology, Workshop and Design were salted through with great British achievement in design and industry.
Every Wednesday afternoon I joined the Navy, in my parade dress; Trousers pleated 7 times horizontally to represent the seven seas, White belts and Gaiters “Dubined” or “Blanco’d” to death, and all the brass buckles, “Brasso’ed” till you could see your face in them!
Occasionally we’d go out on manoeuvres, camping, go to sea in battle cruisers or stay on Navel bases to boat race and shoot guns! Lot’s of shooting guns.
Tell me what child would NOT like to be given a 303 Lee Enfield rifle and a clip of live ammo!?
We had Hand Grenade training, leaned how to strip a Bren Gun and I personally became a Marksman 1st Class! I was a natural born killer by the age of 16. Thank god the targets were all paper. I was a soldier on paper only, and an Empire Builder on paper only too..
I enjoyed outward bound activities, climbing and loved the toughness of Rugby.
Could I have killed somebody at school.. maybe a teacher or two.. but that wouldn’t have really counted.. beside the school system took into account that possibility I think, the unpleasant teachers and guns were never to be seen in the same place..
It was drilled into us that we were required to model a “stiff upper-lip” – to be fair, having been sent to public school (quite late) at about the age of 10, I’d been sporting a stiff upper-lip for quite a while. It’s not natural for children to be parted from their family so early in life. That was the way of the Empire Builder though..
In my therapy, I’ve been evolving a short-hand that I call “Victorian Parenting” – all of my clients have heard me talk about it. It involves thoroughly decent parents, whom you know “love you” but who were not taught to express that “sort of thing” in just such schools as I attended. A setting where you felt safe, had all your needs catered for, but nobody ever talked of love..
By the time I was a child, the 60’s were starting to change things a little, my Mum showed love, my dad a little bit. I knew deep inside that he loved me dearly, but he would never have used that phrase.
This was the evolution of parenting, where some people’s parents were well enough off to not have to have BOTH parents working. There was a window for the middle class where for a while, the value of a father’s wage was enough. This window albeit scaled down worked in many working-class settings too.
Houses were cheaper, aspirations lower, and the cost of living not so fierce. It was often possible, for a while for a working-class father, in a decent “job for life” to be the only worker, whilst Mum looked after the family.
Thank god for “Women’s Liberation!” Life for some mothers must have been hell. To be trapped at home with the children, a never-ending cycle of washing and cooking. In the late 60’s women broke out – something that had been developing since the Second World War, when so many women had become used to freedom, wages and a working life. The right to work, what an important thing. The right to be useful, something we all crave at some level, finally it was becoming commonplace for women too. If you wanted to express yourself in that way, then it was right and proper that you should.
The only downside was, “what was going to happen to the children!?”
In Africa, where I lived in my 20’s, this had been a model for quite a while. You lived in a large village, where everybody farmed in a communal way. The elders educated the children, and all children were just part of the communal family. When people came of age, they went to the City to work, and earn money. Inevitably they would meet and marry, and the offspring of this union would be sent back to the village to be hand-reared by caring people, who had all the time in the world for children and their education. Children became well balanced, not ignored or molly coddled.
Where did our Grandparents go!?
Well, the working revolution broke families in a way that only wars and migration had done in the past. There was a time in the UK where families on average seldom moved over 15 miles away from where they were brought up. From the age of 12 onwards, I was rarely closer than 30 miles from home and the bulk of it between 350 or 3000 miles away!
My children never had any Grandparents to interact with regularly..
The need for both parents to earn a wage, the aspirations for a better life, the desire for more stuff, it broke the family bond irrevocably.
To return to the story of Britain, as it’s now unfolding.
We are predominantly a white race, run by “Gammon” (A lovely bit of slang to describe middle aged white politicians..) It’s clear to see how difficult life has been in the UK if you were a person of colour. For me, it was drilled into me that I was white and Scottish. I knew I was privileged. Even being Scottish was something to be teased about when I lived in England, I can’t imagine what life must be like for people of colour.
It’s impossible to really understand how deeply this “master race” idea was drilled into young white men like me. I was very glad to have lived as a young man in racist apartheid South Africa, to have been able to gain some small perspective on how disgusting and unfair a system could be. I was lucky to have a few left-wing friends, who were fighting the system from within. As an “Empire Builder” it would have been all too easy just to roll with the system and ignore the worst excesses of life in that country.
I was certainly no freedom fighter, but my eyes were opened from the long held “master-race” ideals. My father instilled in me the importance of treating everybody fairly, no matter what.
I hope I did my best at this time, I tried.
I find it interesting that people of colour in the UK prefer to be called British, rather than English, Scottish etc.. It’s very telling. As a nation, we have been slightly rehabilitated by starting the movement to abolish slavery, fighting for European freedom, and of course giving the world the Beatles.. (Sorry, I couldn’t really think of much else to redeem us as a nation.. I supposed, Our legal system, engineering prowess.. oh dear…)
In the name of commerce, a few men made themselves astonishingly rich, and the world was plundered. 3 million slaves stolen from Africa, the invention of concentration camps, 10 million Indians starved to death as food was taken to feed the British army, countless millions of children and men “ground” through the mincer of the “Industrial Revolution” to power Britain’s glorious empire.
It all brings us back to what makes us tick.
The stories that I have been told, by religion, by family, by school and by society shape me. Though it may not sound it, some I’m still proud of..
The nurturing I have received has softened all these edges. I was lucky to have been brought up by a relatively liberal and enlightened man. My father didn’t really believe in religion, and had a pretty dim view of war, nation and politics. His healthy scepticism taught me to question everything too.
I escaped the excesses of Britishness. I was one of the lucky few.
There’s a new trend these days. That’s to be an over-caring father.
What’s the point of asking a 2-year-old child what they want!? “How do you feel darling?”
They can barely express themselves, the desperately need your guidance!
Don’t seek their advice for heaven sakes!
There is then, a sweet spot for parenting, that’s a blend between family and schooling.
I think our Scandinavian friends are getting there.
It should be the DUTY of a father to have to spend time with their children.
It helps to open a man’s heart. It helps to develop and temper a man’s impatience.
I don’t believe that any man or woman should be financially penalised for childrearing.
It should be written into law that all mothers and fathers HAVE to take time off work.
If it just became the norm, like a form of National Service, then we’d all just get on with it.
What would be the cost? £100,000 per child?
What would be the benefit?
In the UK, the biggest burden on our precious NHS is Chronic Illness. (Cancers, heart problems, obesity etc..)
So many of the clients I’ve seen over my working life have had shockingly bad starts to life.
Parents who were too selfish to care for them well, parents who were too busy to care for them well, latch-key kids, kids who’s only solidity was themselves.
We’ve really started to make school a more humane place, bullying is slowly becoming eradicated. But home is still where so much of our personalities are formed.
I don’t want policing of parenting; I want parents to be given the chance to perform well.
I want adults to be able to take their foot off the accelerator of modern life, and reveal the true joy of family life, that so many of us have discovered during the recent pandemic.
So often the people who have the most difficult start, turn out to be massive over-achievers who burn themselves out, trying to prove a point to god-knows whom, usually dead parents..
I believe that if the government were to invest in our Children and Parenting now, that the benefit to the NHS in future years would be HUGE! The bill for Chronic Illness in the NHS must run to billions of pounds per year. A preventative health programme, with health education in schools (NOT funded by drugs companies , by the way…) would pay huge dividends to the state.
It’s unfortunate that we no longer have Statesmen in Parliament these days, we have untrained rich boys, who are ill fitted for anything, and who are still trained in the Empire Builder model that become outmoded with the decline of empire from the 60’s onward!
We have always needed REAL people in Parliament. A recent Prime Minister was valued at £30m before being voted in. Did he ever work a day in his life? Did he ever want for anything? How does a man like that become a successful parent, or a successful politician? God alone knows..
We live in a society that’s being asked to value black lives. I think the question is bigger, I think we should be asking to value EVERY life. I think that every system in nature is self-regulating.
We are now beginning to have “normal” family sizes – I meet very few people who come from a family of 11 children, which used to be a common thing a few generations ago.
It’s time for responsible parenting to become a thing, and for nature to slowly bring the human population from it’s world-ending 7.5 billion people to something we can sustain, without having to look for another planet to ruin..or run a euthanasia programme!
I think most of us felt the value of this three month hiatus, on our families, and on our personal health. (finances not withstanding)
Some people were put under astonishing pressure, and we should never be caught with our pants down again. I don’t want to be out clapping for our NHS heroes, I want an NHS that works really well, no matter what’s thrown at it.
I don’t want stories of haggard Doctors and Nurses who have been such heroes, I want it to all be in a day’s work for them; for there to be enough Doctors and Nurses, with enough equipment, so it doesn’t feel to them like a World War One dressing station on the Somme!
I want them to be treated like their lives matter! I want them to work 37.5 hours a week, be paid really well, to feel safe at work, and to feel that pandemic or not, they can take a year off to look after their babies, without thinking that they’ll be left behind and scorned in the next round of promotions.
Above all, I want the next generation, and the next, and the next to inherit a world that I’m proud of, not one where 1% of the Gammon, own 70% of the wealth, and the rest of us are conned into believing that we are lucky to have a job, as we work ourselves into a grave for their profit.
Finally, I attest that if we show our children a loving life, and allow them the space to develop and learn on their own, in a safe environment. That the country will become a better place to live in, and the balance of payments will become much easier to handle.
If you put good information into a child’s life, then they will become healthy balanced people, who really will make this country great once more. This time we could become the envy of the world, without putting our Imperial boot on their necks, just leading the way with a new line in enlightenment!