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14 March 2012

“Why go abroad in 2012?“ asks a new TV ad. I’ll tell you why

We're a disappointingly saccharine nation at times, steeped in our own myths of the Blitz Spirit and

By Steven Baxter


I am a wet blanket. A grumpy bastard. A buzzkill here to kill your buzz. Forgive me, but there it is. I can’t rouse my spirits to wave a plastic Union Jack at a passing royal in the rain. I can’t get over myself and triple-jump for joy at the Olympics. I can’t be alone, can I?

There’s that TV advert sprinkled across our commercial breaks right now, in which Stephen Fry and Julie Walters tell us that we’d be mad to go abroad, to somewhere WARM or NICE, because this country is going to have people CHEERING in CROWDS looking at ROYALTY and OLYMPIANS. Rupert Grint excitedly points out that the Olympic Torch Relay is going to be here, not somewhere else. And I look at it and think, I can’t be the only one who’s got a sudden urge to go somewhere — anywhere — far away from Britain for the next few months. Can I?

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I don’t mind stay-at-home tourism, by the way. That’s a good thing. The Visit Wales adverts, for example, are so much more enticing, showcasing all that’s best in a UK holiday. They ask you to hang around because it’ll be actually worthwhile, not because there’s some patriotic twaddle going on with some bloke running around with a burning stick.

Maybe I am the only unpatriotic fun vacuum of a Grinch who’s stealing everyone’s joy and delight at the forthcoming festivities, and actually everyone else is delighted at the billions of pounds being spent making sure that celebrities can get to their VIP seats in stadiums thanks to dedicated car lanes in London. It’s only me who’s peeved that Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber are making a cloying song about how much the Empire loves Her Majesty, which will be about as authentic to the cultures of the Commonwealth as a 99p frozen Vesta curry.

It’s just me. I am the only one. The best party in the world is going on in the living room, and I am tutting away in the kitchen about how rubbish it is. When the events of 2012 are looked back upon, the majority of what we’ll see is a jolly montage of smiling people waving flags in the sunshine, and people like me won’t be reflected at all. We’re a disappointingly saccharine nation at times, steeped in our own myths of the Blitz Spirit (or “wasn’t it fun when we were all half-starving and being bombed?”) and Empire. I think we want to believe that we’re having more fun than we really are. Mustn’t grumble. Come on, chin up. And all that.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t grin and bear it. There’s nothing wrong with trying to remain positive, despite the economy being in the toilet, young people finding it impossible to get jobs and millions of others struggling with debt and bills. All I’d like is a little bit of context, maybe fewer articles about how amazing Prince Harry’s blue shoes are or how he’s charmed the entire Caribbean single-handedly and everyone loves him there without question. By all means, let’s have them, but let’s have them in context.

People said of last year’s royal wedding “it’s what we do best in this country”. And if by that you mean feebly succumb to a faded sense of belonging to a Britain that never really existed, the world of shortbread tins and cheery beefeaters on fridge magnets, then yes, we do that very well — particularly to distract ourselves from the rather starker reality. So let’s have a jolly big party we can’t afford and pretend we don’t have any problems! I rather fear doing that was what got us into this mess in the first place.