Sunday, 4 June 2017

The New Rules. Or, The Battalions of the Ordinary.



Right. Britain has had three of these outrages in short order and I see that already a set of mores is being established. The British have an odd relationship with rules. They love rules (we Britons have unspoken rules for everything, especially saying sorry when someone else has bumped into us) but at the very same time, there is a cussed British desire to break the rules. However, there are, out there, floating in the zeitgeist, a new set of tacit rules being born.

As the first shock and sorrow settles, the shoulders are straightened and stoicism reasserts itself. There is a game of Second World War bingo as the Blitz spirit is invoked, Churchill is quoted, and someone says that if the Nazis could not finish us off then a rag-tag of nihilists aren’t going to do it.

There is the first slightly inappropriate joke. The joker says: too soon? Sometimes it is too soon, sometimes it isn’t.

Donald Trump writes something completely asinine on Twitter.

Someone unexpected – after Manchester it was James Corden – captures the spirit of the nation and goes viral.

One idiot who has been at the gin talks about ‘bombing them back into the stone age’.

The police and emergency services are brilliant. There is a warming glow of national pride at the brilliance. Every time, there is amazement and awe for the people who run towards the danger.

People help. The stories of the helpers start spreading and everyone concentrates very hard on those stories, as the best kind of silver lining.

There is a great deal of carrying on. We must carry on shopping, working, going to the park, going to the pub, walking the dog, voting, watching the football, or the terrorists have won.

The left say it’s nothing to do with religion; the right say it’s all to do with religion. A few bigots with no social skills get very excited because they think they were right all along.

Everybody says something must be done. Nobody quite knows what that something is.

Hard-liners who clearly have no friends start politicising a tragedy. Good-hearted people with many friends tell them to shut the fuck up.

In America, a pundit or broadcaster or newspaper will choose an infelicitous phrase or display a tin ear or get completely the wrong end of the stick and the Ordinary Decent Britons, as one, rise up in indignation. They punish the folly with devastating irony.

Some brilliant person will start the perfect hashtag. This time is it #ThingsThatLeaveBritainReeling. The resulting running jokes revolve almost exclusively around the great British talent for embarrassment. There will always, always be an unexpected item in the bagging area.

The BBC will be magnificent.

Everybody wants to chase Katie Hopkins out of town with pitchforks. She appears not to care.

JK Rowling will usually win the internet. (Four minutes after I wrote that sentence, she just did.)

A small, faintly obsessive subset of the population breathes a huge sigh of relief when it hears the theme tune to The Archers. If The Archers are still on, then the world must still be turning on its axis.

There will be a great deal of talk about love and community and standing together. There will be someone who gets furious about this and writes an impassioned article about how sentiment is not enough. That person will be right and wrong at the same time. The people who believe in love and community and togetherness will go on believing in those things.

Those who have hastily changed their profile picture on Facebook must wrestle with the excruciating dilemma of wondering how soon they can change it back without looking callous.

Tea always features strongly, in all its incarnations. In the secret heart of every Briton is the humming belief that the cure to all ills is a nice cup of tea. I don’t even like tea and I believe this.

Those of us of a certain age will remember the dark days of the seventies, when the IRA made bombing seem a fact of almost daily life. I remember my father swearing at the nine o’clock news as yet another act of violence was reported. I thought that would never end, not in my lifetime. Yet somehow, it did.


Slowly, carefully, small seeds of hope will sprout in a million hearts. As the worst side of human nature explodes into a quiet evening, so the best side of human nature will rise to brighten the dawn. 

There is the curious power of ordinariness. Social media will be filled with responses to the latest attack, and some of those responses will be mad and some will be magnificent. But alongside that, there will be the glorious, galvanic power of the ordinary. People will post pictures of their children, their dogs, their ponies (obviously the ponies are the finest tonic), of a family trip to the local or a walk on the beach. The punters will be trying to figure out who will win the 3.10 at Listowel and the psephologists will be puzzling over the latest polls and the pedants will be wincing over every misplaced apostrophe. I quite often say that love conquers hate, because I have to believe that is true. But today I think: what really wins is the very, very ordinary. There is a defiant glory to the ordinary. The battalions of the ordinary, I think, can match any army in the world.

3 comments:

  1. "Love conquers hate." I keep thinking and saying that through even more tightly gritted teeth, trying hard to divert my immediate go-to feeling of rage...

    I'm getting ready to come to London for six days, with a friend to visit another. The last time we did this, we wandered through that magnificent Borough Market...

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  2. I think you're spot on, Tania. I'm English but I live in the US, and watching this from afar is a very strange feeling - horror at what's happening but incredible pride at the indefatigable spirit of my fellow Brits. And always with wit, and humour, and courage.

    I do love your blog, you always know exactly the right thing to say.

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