Monday, August 19, 2013
The Mother Ship Today
Forty-two years ago as a young married I left Liverpool on the last of the great Canadian Pacific liners taking migrants across to Her Majesty's Dominions in North America. Over the years since I have flown back across many times. Having just returned from yet another such trip, I'm pondering my reactions to Britain today through the mirror of my dual nationality.
With so many other nationalities coming to live in Canada these days, the image of the United Kingdom as our 'Mother Country' is a fading one. It still remains however the reference point for much of how we are governed, and think about our history.
With this in mind I am saddened that British today care so little for the countries overseas that they peopled. Nostalgia for the old colonies is out; school curricula there treat the imperial era as an embarrassment. If you press people hard, there's some recognition that Canada is not the United States, but generally everything north of the Rio Grande is labelled 'America'. Anything they remember from TV or the movies from the actual America must of course therefore apply above the 49th Parallel (wherever that is).
London appalls me with its ever-increasing population of overseas rich parking their often ill-gotten gains. Chelsea, where long ago I was a graduate student, is today peopled by Russian mafia and their molls, mobs of Muslim wives armed with a Sheik's chequebook, and insolent super-rich Arab playboys roaring around in Maseratis and Ferraris. Well-dressed by Winners, I feel like a bum from nowhere..
Meanwhile the pattern of daily life for the resident English moneyed class remains fiercely separated from that of everyday working folk. The almost universal upper- and upper middle-class use of private 'prep(aratory)' and 'public' boarding schools serves to keep friendships above the common herd. Yes, dubious accents don't count against like they once did, but travel between the house in the Country, the house in Town and the hideout somewhere south in the sun ensure that engagement with local issues is limited only to the need to locate services and staff.
I lament their once glorious national newspapers. Murdered by Murdoch, the legendary Times is now just another rag full of colour snaps and trivia.
However there were still some things to love on this trip, like having three weeks off from hearing shop assistants endlessly repeat "not a problem!", enjoying BBC Radio 4 - a public service like our CBC Radio before it was wrecked, relishing the vocabulary of my upbringing used in enthusiastic conversation, marvelling at landscapes and townscapes displaying so many years of human achievement, and thrilling to the songs of skylarks as they rise from hillsides under wide skies.
True dual nationality, with the accompanying ability to hold more than one active passport, is a privilege that is not possible in most countries of the world. I realize I am fortunate that both Britain and Canada accept it. Its downside could be that I may never be able to stop comparing and contrasting. But it does seems to me that my heart closes in a little more on the land of the beaver after each visit I take across the Pond.