Best of British?

Sometimes it's hard to understand something you've never experienced. Up until two weeks ago my only clear recollection of an earthquake was on a simulator in London's Science Museum. That didn't prepare me for what flashes through your mind when your house actually starts shaking, like it did as we were watching Man City dump Man Utd out of the FA Cup. Last night as I lay in bed, trying to drift off to sleep, the house shook again. These quakes, while big enough to show up on the websites that monitor these things, were nothing compared to the quakes we've seen destroy communities around the world in recent months. I know that my little experience cannot really help me understand the tragedy, and terror, of those situations.

This morning we woke to a day where around the world people have joined in celebrating one of the best things about the British: their ability to do pageantry. Rowan and I watched the Royal Wedding thanks to the streaming on YouTube, although by all accounts local television was full of it too. This afternoon I was looking at some of the reporting on the BBC website. Over a helicopter image of Westminster Abbey the voiceover declared: “The seat of Kings for a thousand years.” We shouldn't overlook the fact at least a couple of Queens have been crowned there in that time, but oversimplifications aside, Britain has experienced an incredible stretch of continuity when compared to many other countries.

Since just before moving to Mostar, a book called Bosnia: A Short History has sat on our shelves. Despite its optimistic title it's a daunting brick of a book that remains unfinished. Nevertheless, I'm all too aware few countries in the Balkans can come close to claiming that kind of continuity over the last hundred years, let alone over a millennia. I often wonder what it feels like to be born in a country that no longer exists, like so many of our friends here were; their parents were quite possibly born into a different country still. (I know I'm probably guilty of a little oversimplification myself.) We live in a city steeped in history. Yugoslavia was born here and it lives on in the memories of many, but it is a past that will only slip ever further away. Listen long enough and you hear more nostalgia than pride in the present, or hope for the future.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have no desire to experience a tremor that really rattles the Richter Scale to better understand what it feels like. Neither would I want to live through the break-up of my homeland. Both must bring with them an unwelcome insecurity. Even though I wouldn't say life here is dangerous I think do about things I never considered back in Britain. I know the UK is not without its issues but it still has a lot going for it. Days like today help highlight this heritage. When it comes to why we shouldn't take British history for granted I think Christine Amanpour summed it up well in this tweet: “Amazing to see Will & Kate tie the knot. Not empty pomp but richness of history & continuity. Uplifting sense of security in troubled times.”

Sometimes I'm tempted to think this security, or stability, that forms part of my background is an unfair advantage, but none of us decide when or where we are born. We are, however, responsible with how we share the good things life have given us with those who haven't had the same opportunities. A day like today serves as a timely reminder that those of us who were born British shouldn't take the benefits that has brought us for granted.


Anonymous said…
Excellent piece, thanks for writing!

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