What could be more British than to be ‘somewhat proud’ of our country? Honestly – it makes you somewhat proud

I’ll leave the bolshie, bragging ‘very proud’ to Americans and North Koreans


Two very different types of news item seem – to my mind – in sync with each other. First, the news that elite London Marathon runner Mami Konneh Lahun from Sierra Leone was officially missing after finishing Sunday’s race in 20th place and, it appears, carried on running. Mami, who had only a temporary visa, was scheduled to fly home yesterday, but vanished after collecting her medal. “If this is a visa issue, I don’t blame her,” I thought, imagining the freedoms and relative luxuries she might be experiencing.

Next, was a story about new findings from the British Social Attitudes survey about how “proud to be British” we are. Eighty two per cent of people are, at least to some degree, proud to be British. However, the number who are “somewhat proud” (47 per cent) has now overtaken the “very prouds” (35 per cent). Just the phrase “somewhat proud” – rattling with stiff-upper-lipped, muted British happiness – makes my patriotic heart soar.

I love this country and am miserable if I spend an extended period anywhere else, but I am “somewhat proud” to be British, because I’ll leave the bolshie, bragging “very proud” to Americans and North Koreans. There is nothing more British than being “somewhat proud”. It is dignified, measured and brandishes a caveat towards any clever arse shouting, “Proud? After what Columbus did to the Arawaks in 1495? Who are you? Tommy Robinson?”

“Very proud” is showing up at sporting events in a highly-flammable stars ‘n’ stripes leisure suit with deely-boppers, carrying a star-spangled banner, and telling people stern-faced that your player is “from the greatest goddam country in the world”. Alternatively, “somewhat proud” is mumbling a humble “Come on, Tim” when Andy Murray is playing and finding it very quietly funny for the 75th time, increasing in funniness as it’s so childishly unfunny. This is our humour and it makes me somewhat proud.

I am somewhat proud of our gorgeous, comforting non-brilliance. Oh that Morrissey lyric that nails our high days and holidays: “Trudging slowly over wet sands, back to the bench where your clothes were stolen. This is a coastal town they forgot to close down”. I will take this ode to parochial boredom and petty crime over “Surfin’ USA” any day.

I have travelled the world and in under one week I pine for the passive-aggressive thrill of sharp-elbowed stand-offs at the reduced chiller cabinet in Asda. I miss smutty ads in newsagents’ windows, and the smell of newsprint and penny chews. I miss daft pagan village traditions that lead people to dress as crows, or the “Uppies” to fight the “Downies”. I miss salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps, lemon drizzle cake, the Toby Tavern bottomless jug of custard, and the notion of the long car journey from Carlisle to the Stranraer-Larne ferry and eating pie and beans on high seas with truck drivers.

I miss the BBC. I miss watching Question Time in Marks & Spencer nightwear, and I miss the shared happiness that the mention in mixed groups of a painting of dogs playing snooker can bring. I am quietly proud of the British way of mourning (badly, ineffectually but with dignity), the British way of weddings (with a punch-up and a bridesmaid getting pregnant), and the British way of Ladies’ Day at Aintree (short skirts, fake tan, drunk by 11am).

Also: everything included in Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony; the person who did Sunday’s London Marathon dressed as the Honey Monster; the women who run the dog-walkers’ tea hut in Epping Forest, with everyone standing about drinking builders’ tea and arthritic spaniels chatting affably about the weather. I am somewhat proud of you all. And underpinning all this minutiae, we have the British sense of justice, fairness, tolerance, acceptance and the belief in a right to exist freely and however we see fit. This may be flawed at times, but it’s there in buckets and it’s somewhat wonderful.

They found Mami in Greenwich, 24  hours later, but I understand why other people on temporary visas might want to run like the wind.

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