Alexei Sayle: The world according to me

'I used to think that my secret desire to pretend I'd been in the armed forces wasn't a particularly good thing'


Having been brought up by Communist parents to loathe all violence and the armed forces of the repressive state (unless it was the Soviet Union or its allies) I am of course in love with firearms and the British Army. So in love am I with our armed forces that my secret desire is that I'd really like to be able to pretend that I'd once been in the British Army. If I ever attempted such a thing I wouldn't over-reach myself and pretend that I'd been in the SAS or anything like that, but would choose a modest regiment to pretend to be in - Second Battalion in the Royal Horse Artillery say, or The Queens Own Lancashire Fusiliers. I'm not the only one with this impulse: I once appeared on This Morning when it was still broadcast from Liverpool's Albert Dock and a fellow guest was Chris Ryan, the ex- SAS soldier and Bravo Two Zero author. All morning fat scousers with wheezy coughs could be seen bumbling up to the studio doorman saying things like, "Alright mate. Erm... I'm a friend of Chris's from the regiment. Can you tell 'im Billy Tommo's ere too see 'im? See if 'eed like to go for a pint an 'dat." They weren't very convincing trained killers these fat men: apart from anything else you would have thought if they'd been in the regiment they'd know his real name wasn't Chris.

In order to learn as much about the British Army as possible, I read lots of military books such as Bravo Two Zero, but not enough of it went in for me to ever feel confident enough to impersonate a soldier. In fact the only part that's stayed with me is his description of what happened after they were released from Iraqi detention and were flying home. What occurred on the plane, to me, defines precisely what it means to be British. Together with US prisoners of war, the remains of Ryan's patrol were being flown to the big airbase at Ramstein in Germany; as soon as they entered Syrian airspace (remember the Syrians were one of our allies in the first Gulf War - didn't do them much good did it?) a pair of American F-16 fighters flew alongside. All the US prisoners crowded to the windows and began chanting "USA! USA! USA!" while the pilots made that "USA Number 1" gesture with their fingers. After a while the sleek F-16s peeled away to be replaced by a couple of beat-up looking RAF Tornado GR3s. The British prisoners, many of whom had endured long hours of torture at the hands of Saddam's secret police, pressed themselves to the airliner's windows where the RAF pilots made "you wanker" gestures at them, then flew away.

I used to think that my secret desire to pretend that I'd been in the armed forces wasn't a particularly good thing, that it was a kind of escapism or closet fascism or vaguely homoerotic in some way, but now I believe it perhaps had a higher, more noble purpose. Back when I mixed with those who were active on the left I always remained silent when they spewed out their coruscating contempt and hatred of soldiers and their close relative the police officer. When they ranted about "brutal pigs" and "thick squaddies", I would just get a queasy smile on my face. I thought my inability to join in, to feel their righteous hatred, was a fault in me, a lack of revolutionary rigour. No matter how hard I tried to force myself, it simply didn't chime with what I saw out in the real world.

Back when I was still doing stand-up shows there often seemed to be soldiers and police in the audience, and when they came backstage they generally came across as a lot nicer and more intelligent than the social worker types who thought they owned me and would harangue me in my dressing room hair-splitting over bits of my act they felt weren't politically conscious enough. Sure, from time to time like everyone else I would come up against right-wing racist police or violent thuggish soldiers, but when I did I still couldn't hate them, instead I just found myself feeling sorry for them. I got this feeling that they have become trapped in a role that they couldn't find a way out of, that their racism came from a loathing of themselves and that the soldiers' thuggishness was because the world had never treated them with any respect. It's a fact that a very high percentage of soldiers were in care as children, so the Army becomes their family, giving them the boundaries and structure that the rest of society has conspicuously failed to provide.

And after a while I came to see that in fact my view was the right one, that those lefty activists I had known - like all believers - were people who had been drawn to their inflexible ideology by a deep-seated need to be right all the time and to control the lives of other people. If you are this type of person, to allow that your enemy has any humanity would undermine that need. My desire to pretend to be a soldier embodies an understanding that the world isn't black and white, that people who you disagree with can still be complex and attractive human beings.

So that's my plan for world peace: think about somebody you hate, learn all about them, dress up as them and dance about your bedroom in their clothes, then you won't hate them.

Tracey Emin is away

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'