Blogdaughter is always prepared to hang out with her parents if there’s stuff on offer, and this Yuletide (if Trump claims to have relaunched the word Christmas, that seems enough reason to use another one) has been no different.
We headed for the Shuttle on 20 December, en route for Belgium (who needs the Caribbean in midwinter when there’s Flanders mud on your doorstep?) I’m always puzzled that emails can reach me overseas, or indeed under the sea – but, then, driving through the Mersey Tunnel when younger, I was unfailingly surprised that my music cassettes could still be heard even if the car wireless, and Sports Report, couldn’t.
We bought a “GB with EU stars” bumper sticker at the Folkestone Shuttle terminal to demonstrate in a post-Brexit future that it wasn’t our fault.
Alongside the minor drawbacks of Brexit – national impoverishment, the falling pound, loss of export markets, acute labour shortages in the building and farming sectors, reduced ability to attract foreign students and funding to universities, reduced employment rights, social upheaval, more overt racism, reduced environmental and food hygiene protections, an NHS starved of staff and a sufficient taxpaying population of working age to support it — we can at least look forward, hallelujah, to the triumphant return of the good old blue passport.
A passport is of course the ultimate product of the sublimation of national aspirations in favour of co-operation. The basic requirement of a passport is that it should meet the demands of the nations to which one wishes to travel. The UK, and every other nation, can devise whatever passport it wants but if its contents and standards don’t meet the security and other requirements of, say, the USA or countries of mainland Europe, you ain’t going anywhere even if you can still afford to. But you will have a nice souvenir of Empire to look at on your mantelpiece alongside a bottle of Camp coffee and a copy of the Just So Stories.
That those intellectual giants of the Leave movement, Johnson, Farage, Rees-Mogg and IDS, have trumpeted the return of the blue passport as something to celebrate tells you all you need to know. Provided it still contains all the requirements laid down by the EU there may be little to worry about but that won’t stop many of us from buying an “EU coloured” cover for our passport to reduce the acute sense of embarrassment that we now belong to a nation that, while once regarded as reasonably grown up, is now viewed by our European friends and neighbours with a mixture of amusement, bemusement and pity.
What better way to celebrate man’s love for his fellow man at this festive time of year (sorry, person’s love for his/her fellow person) than attending, as we did, the daily Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Because nothing says Christmas quite like the half million casualties at Passchendaele.
Blogdaughter has never entirely forgiven me for the “Holiday of Death” in the north east of the USA which the family so enjoyed a few years back. Personally I thought it was really interesting as well as educational to visit the Arlington cemetery with the Kennedy memorials, Ford’s Theatre in Washington where Abraham Lincoln was shot, the Peterson house across the street where he died, the Iwo Jima monument, the Vietnam War memorial wall, the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial… But I digress.
After one night in Ypres, to Bruges via a really, really big Commonwealth war cemetery at Tynecot. We visited Bruges last year at this time for the seasonal (another synonym for Christmas?) market and were very happy to repeat the experience, complete with horse-drawn carriage ride, canal boat trip, ice rink and way too much Gluhwein and street food. Nothing touristy about Family Blog.
One treat which I’d missed out on last year but was delighted to discover this time was Bruges’ Frietmuseum, “the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries”. What’s not to like?
The potato, we learn, was first domesticated near Lake Titicaca in Peru. Which leads one to assume that, until then, it had enjoyed the freedom to roam the Andes, no doubt searching for a welcoming salt pan or vinegar cascade (Sarson stones?)
The popular root vegetable’s progress from uninviting Peruvian tuber to global success story was not without its challenges. In 1597 a certain John Gerard denounced this economic migrant from the Americas as “provoking debauchery” – which, as anyone in a British city centre around Saturday midnight can confirm, isn’t a bad summation — a conclusion supported by Shakespeare, no less, in Merry Wives, who also refers to the humble spud’s aphrodisiac qualities.
I can speak with the authority of one who has carefully studied the display panels of the Frietmuseum in telling you that “French Fries” first appeared under that nomenclature during WW1 (which is never far from this narrative) when French speaking Belgian squaddies offered them to GIs – the Americans no doubt under the impression that, with the exception of the Germans who were something of a special case, one European nationality was much like another.
The Belgian Union of Potato Fryers (I wonder if I could have joined that one in the 1970s instead of NALGO) awards medals each year on National Belgian Fryers Day (should we have gained another bank holiday for this?) Deserving cases might be eligible for a Silver Cross after 15 years while, after 25 years, one might be designated Knight for “Outstanding service to the sector and the identity of the Belgian Fries Culture”. Even more elevated status is afforded to an Officer of the Union and – the ultimate recognition – Grand Officer (“For invaluable contribution to the defence of potato frying”).
Back home to Sussex in good time to prepare for Santa’s visit but, as ever, too excited to sleep for fear of waking to find that the bearded, white haired, overweight chap padding to the loo in the middle of the night wasn’t, in fact, me.
Mrs Blog and I, knowing one another’s interests too well, proved to have bought each other a copy of “You Can’t Spell America without ME”, Alec Baldwin’s tribute to Donald J Trump. But otherwise I think we did ok. Fortunately, most of the presents that I had bought for Mrs B – books, restaurant vouchers, designer chocolates – proved to be suitable for sharing with me. And the person who gave me the suffragette coasters and the tea towel carrying a likeness of Sylvia Pankhurst (daughter of Emmeline, sister of Christabel) and an extract from one of her speeches could clearly see into the future. Sylvia’s words “a society where there are no rich or poor” and “everyone will have enough” are clearly aimed at a world which still lies just out of sight around the corner.
So far so good.
Life took an unwarranted and unexpected turn just before New Year when this blog was delivered cold and unconscious and with a barely discernible heart beat to the main Brighton hospital. It seems that either I was whacked on the back of the head by a family member or neighbour after a more than usually competitive game of post-prandial Monopoly or experienced some dramatic form of “ticker” malfunction. (I missed all the excitement at the time and must rely on witness statements and bloodstain splatter analysis – a lifeskill acquired from years of watching subtitled crime drama on telly). But at least the nature of my injuries blended in well with the other Saturday night regulars in A&E.
How much we all owe to the NHS and its underresourced heroes and heroines, and how easy it is for politicians to damage it without even trying. If government were to shift its priority from seeking to create profits out of the NHS for shareholders to the provision of healthcare, there may still be hope.
Enough. I’m home now under the TLC of Mrs Blog and kitted out with a pacemaker which will add to my nuisance value at Gatwick’s security gates.
2018 will no doubt bring its own unique challenges and opportunities. Blog family are ready. I have a book to publish. Bring it on!