If he can persuade the mist to rise The Sun will blaze today, in startling blue. The clouds caress the Earth with softest dew, yet can’t resist the Sun, so strong and wise. Three hundred thousand times the Earth’s mass flies a ball of plasma we still misconstrue. The ancient Greeks (Oh! Could it still be true?) called it a God, amongst us in disguise. Assigned a character, desires, and thought, it’s something I relate to. Humans do. It proceeds round our spinning galaxy, an accident. To it, our lives are naught. it gives us life, and stories all anew: A God, a star, a metaphor, all three.
It delivered a free tabloid to 22m households in England. Friends, disgusted, circulated an address to send the rubbish back- unstamped- but if it ever prints something which does not disgust me, it will challenge anyone content to suck at its poisonous tit. Is there anything worthwhile in this free Sun? What does it find to love in England?
The front is 117 faces. Almost all are white, though there is Mo Farah and Daniel Sturridge, a footballer. Ed Miliband looks like an idiot, though so does Nigel Farridge. The Queen and Duchess of
Cornwall Cambridge are prominent. There is Brian Cox, the astronomer, and Johnson Beharry VC. It promotes Noel Gallagher to National Treasure status. I am suspicious, but find it unobjectionable.
Page 2 and 3- What makes us proud of England? HM the Q, and three women voted “favourite English rose”- pretty women, oddly enough with their nipples covered. Our greatest historical figures are Churchill, Brunel and Shakespeare.
What a Sunderful world, it says: “Grab your copy of Saturday’s Sun and get behind our boys as they take on the world’s best in Brazil”. I would hardly associate The Sun with Englishness, though I suppose it is English- the “Scottish Sun” has a couple of pages different, insulting the Scots.
This being the Sun, there is of course something to disgust me: Rod Liddle writing Obviously, the best thing about being English is not being French. Or Belgian. He probably wrote the column more quickly than some would read it, this lazy confection of prejudice and cliché. “Downbeat irony” is very English, he says. There are some white middle-class liberals in London who think it is a bit much to be proud of being English, and would dob you in for committing a “hate crime”.
No, actually. Nationalism is being proud of stuff you have not achieved, and hating people you don’t know, but I take delight in being English (and Scots, and European, and Quaker…). It is part of my identity. The Atlantic slave trade and the Industrial Revolution are my heritage. I find enough to admire, in the past and now, to be able to face the world with cautious optimism.
Anything which gives human beings something in common, the start of a common interest and common good will is a good thing. Englishness is as good as any other thing, for this.
The picture is Britannia Pacificatrix, painted by Sigismund Goetze just after the First World War and hanging in the Foreign Office. Looking at all that imposing architecture in London- the galleries, the British Museum, Whitehall- it seemed that if I identify with this Britishness it gives me confidence, but if I did not I would find it oppressive, and feel tiny and of no account here. I want to identify my own Englishness, to take pride in what I take pride in, and not to be dependent on others’ views- certainly not The Sun’s.
Still, I can use it to protect my laminate floor from muddy shoes.
There was The Sun, lying in the train, so I had a look. I turned two pages, and avoided the page three girl.
Two articles caught my attention. One was two pages, with large photos, of a woman who eats 5000 calories a day, much of it fast food, but remains a size 8- she wants to develop “womanly curves” but cannot put on weight. She wakes in the night with cravings and will eat burgers and chips. The other was a woman who had been burgled, and met her burglar as part of a Restorative Justice programme. She felt she had managed to communicate her distress, and been heard by him, and gained some understanding of his. Now she wants to be a mentor for such criminals, bringing them round to something better. What would you know? It was in The Sun, not quite as disgusting as you might have thought.
-“Do you mind if I have a look?”
-Not at all, I found it there. He leafs through the sports pages: lots and lots on the football, and then more quickly through the front half.
-Ha! Look at that! What kind of story is that?
He passes it to his companion, who also expresses derision. What? Four lines at the bottom of a column say that a “poll” has found a certain percentage of children under 3 have tried curry. Well, interesting enough, worth four lines and a tiny headline, though I could not remember the percentage an hour later.
H was disgusted that I would even read the thing. Well, I would not buy it, but am interested to read it as a cultural artefact. She would not even do that, though the positive piece on restorative justice gained grudging respect: she has enough in her life, and tries to avoid negative things. So I came up with an answer, which felt right at the time:
I also watch “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena” on Pick, the Murdoch channel. I spend most of my time in my living room, and seek to come to accept my own feelings. So having something which disgusts me is useful, as practice feeling the disgust without fear of the feeling. I want to be able to be in touch with feelings, not shut them down. So, say, reading the Sun or watching a sword go through a neck and gouts of red stuff splash about (such detailed special effects it has!) helps me do that.
H herself is irritated by the advert on the Tube which talks of “internetting”. That’s not a word! Well, no, but you understand what it means. And while the old word “web-surfing” means more or less the same thing, originally “surfing” meant moving between websites, perhaps by links, whereas now we spend most of our time on particular social or shopping sites. I myself am irritated by the use of a £ sign to replace an E in a word. It is an L, standing for Liber, as in liber, sestercius, denarius; and by the reversed N in the advertising for UиcLe Vaиya which we went to see. That и is put in to make it look Russian, but is an “I” sound rather than an N. Ignorant, illiterate, wrong. Yes, I too have other things to get angry with.
Vicarious disgust to get used to the feeling, so I may feel it and not shut down; and disgust at something not particularly disgusting, I suppose, and something I certainly may not influence. I try to laugh where before I would get angry with such solecisms, but being an emotional being is difficult, and if I were paid to work I might need to rely on coffee, alcohol and suppression just like everyone else. Suppression is the problem, though: I will do a lot to avoid that. It kills me.