This is our truth, tell us yours
As a woman who had experienced, through her father’s family, the stigma and oppression of racism, my mother took great care to ensure that her children were able to pass as British and Welsh wherever they went.
She was not alone in this. Her mother took her to cymanfa ganu, even though she spoke no Welsh herself, so her children would fit in, would pass as Welsh.
In amongst the records of cymanfa ganu, the sheet music learned and rehearsed around the harmonium, there were the way stations of Britishness that had to be marked, and first amongst them was the Last Night of the Proms.
Being my mother, she insisted that we learn the words, their meaning and the metre, so we would not be the slack jawed fools at ritual moments who gape like goldfish as they pretend they know the words. There is no more glorous rebuttal of Britishness than the blank faced ignorance of a crowd of halfwits in a park watching a BBC outside broadcast while waving the Union Flag or St George’s Cross as they try to work out why the orchestra is playing a second verse of God Save The Queen. Mam and my dear, lovely nana would never let their part African descendants be so exposed or so incapable.
Amongst the brazen, badly understood tunes that the Last Night features is Rule Britannia, and its coarse lyrics in praise of imperialism. In amongst those tawdry lines is a short reference to a charter, a charter of the land, an idea that is a brutal poke in the sys to anyone who talks bollocks about Britain’s unwritten constitution.
The first charter was, of course, the great charter, magna carta to its friends, signed by a king on the brink of being overpowered by his barons. By the eighteenth century, charters were the means by which the king signalled which powers should be transferred to the boroughs and cities, the ports and forts which made civilized life possible.
If it is to be possible to rule Britannia in future, new charters are needed, new agreements that confer power on communities and citizens to shape and change the world to fit our needs. This should be our watchword.