My dad drove a white van. There, I said it. Actually, he drove variously a van for the family ice cream company and an ice cream van. The former delivered factory wafers to ice cream shops, the latter drove around blasting out Greensleeves.
In his relatively later years, Eddie also drove a delivery van for a camera manufacturer. I’ve no idea what colour it was. I can’t ask my Ma. It’s a touchy subject. He died at the wheel, aged 41.
To the best of family recollections, he was never mocked for driving vans – even on the South London estates, where he and we grew up. He was just a ordinary working-class bloke doing a respectable working-class job.
Neither he, nor other Hatfields, felt the need to wrap themselves in the Cross of St George. That said, he died just weeks before England won the World Cup. So, we will never know.
There were no St George or Union Flags in Hatfield homes – apart from on royal wedding days. However, there was an Italian tricolore. That red, white and green spoke of our difference: a rare tomato, mozzarella and basil home on a fish and chips Croydon estate.
When I was really young, being half-Italian was embarrassing. No-one likes to stick out when they’re nine - especially, when you’re already taller than most of the family. If visitors rang the doorbell, I tried to hide the flag in the same way my Ma would hide the Valpolicella when “the man from The Pru” knocked for fear of being thought “posh”.
I clearly recall playground friends sneering at my salami and roast pepper sandwiches. Those same friends would beg for dinner invitations just a few, short years later. We forget that even white Italians were once “aliens”.
In my teens I learned to embrace not just the food but that flag, the Italian football kit, design, coffee, clothes... I learned my Ma’s flag was self-defence. It made her feel more secure, reminded her where she was from, tied her to other Italian aliens, made them feel less alone, less un-established. They had heritage. Only not (yet) in England, which she was to embrace gratefully.
She’s not alone in that. Arguably, that’s why Americans are so passionate about their “Stars and Stripes” and constitution. What else did they have in their formative years? The English did not feel the same towards the Cross of St George. We didn’t feel insecure. We felt safe in our country with its relatively homogeneous population, history, customs and culture. So, we let football hooligans steal the flag, and became embarrassed by association.
Well, England has changed. Many indigenous English do feel insecure, threatened even, particularly poor, working-class people like Strood’s “White Van Dan”. They too seek refuge in what they know and understand, attracted to vague Ukip promises that they will retain all that.
Of course, flying a flag is not a bad thing. No-one mocks the Scots or the Welsh, or flag-mad Italians. Why should it be bad? It is our culture and politics that impugns the motives of those who do so. Don’t sneer at them / us, but instead create an environment in which English people of all ethnicities feel safe and proud enough to do so, without being judged. White van drivers included.Reuse content