I've been drawing the view out of our window over Christmas and New Year. The view takes in the corner of our neighbours house and garden, an edge of the Crossflatts estate and the hills beyond. I finished it today by painting the red cross onto the England Flag that sits in the middle of the picture. I have to say, I didn’t enjoy doing it much. That bit. That bit of red and white doesn’t sit well with me.
When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, an England flag meant the NF. I never felt comfortable around a St George cross. I never wanted to wave one and I doubt I ever will. I find that connection with fascism and racism very hard to dislodge from my brain. But, I know that for lots of people an England flag does not suggest racism or popularism or fascism. For them it’s about pride and saying ‘this is home’. That doesn’t make sense to me, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real for them.
I have been thinking about that a lot while I have been drawing this picture and thinking about what to do about the flag. For a while I thought about leaving it out. Making the tree bigger. But I decided I couldn’t do that…
I don't understand flag waving but the last 18 months have surprised me, because I have realised I am more patriotic than I thought. I have watched our nation tearing itself apart in denial, in anger, in pain, in a fantasy of nostalgia and it sickens me. It angers me. But it has also broken my heart in a way I could never have predicted. It turns out I also love this bit of earth I was born into and onto. I do not love a flag. But I do love home. Bradford. Hills. Shitty rainy days. Rudeness excused as straight talking. The never ending Odeon saga. Billy Pearce. Brown people, black people, white people. Anarchists, hippies, horse trainers and curry shop owners. A silver pool. Grit and beauty. Minarets and Church spires. Polski sklep and Betty’s tearoom. Sometimes minted, but more often poor. Bradfordian’s are forever telling each other that Bradford is shit. But never in earshot of anyone who hails from Leeds. Never ever that. And the cherry on the icing on the cake? There is always a fuck-off-massive-hill to slog up if you want to get anywhere. Literally and metaphorically.
I love all of that. And what could be more English/British/European/Planet like (delete as appropriate)?
I find myself wishing there was a flag I could wave. Not the St George Cross. But a flag. The feeling of unfurling a flag and saying ‘this represents me and mine’. I begin to see the attraction of that act.
But then flags and markers are never so important as when we are lost.
Whether Brexit comes, is cancelled, is postponed, arrives with a plus sign, a backstop, an invisible forcefield border invented by Dr Who or leaps screaming from the white cliffs of Dover; the people who are left behind will still be as divided as we are today. So, this week, as I’ve been doing my drawing, looking at that flag - considering what it means to me and what it might mean to the person who flies it - I’ve been thinking about the kinds of stories we are going to need to tell each other to re-find our collective sense of home. I am thinking about how we live with each others differences. I am thinking about how we remember that we are all people. Even (insert your favourite nominee for asshat of the year here). Sadly, yes, even them. So, what stories will help, heal, cajole and connect? That's what I was thinking about as I painted that England flag into my picture instead of pretending it wasn’t there and drawing the tree a bit bigger instead.