Under the Same Sun

Westie Puppy is back in her Belfast home and thriving. MasterB has not been outside for two days. The birds are emptying one of the four feeders in the garden and ignoring the others.

Half past five tonight and it was still light. It is spring. The evidence is all around us in the shape of daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses. New shoots pierce the earth. Trees are in blossom. Neighbours are turning the earth in their gardens and planting small purchases made at flower nurseries. I went out without my gloves.

Today is St David’s Day, 1st March, just over two weeks to go before Ersatz Paddies take to the streets wearing dubious hats and swearing allegiance to Guinness. When I was a child being Irish was unfashionable. Actually, it was more than unfashionable, it was social leprosy. I remained largely ignorant of this due to Mother’s relentless programming. My sister and I were brought up to believe our half-Irishness was a miraculous bonus, something of pride and joy. Similarly being the daughters of a working mother when girls we knew at school had mothers who mainly stayed at home. How I looked down on them. I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

I was around twelve when the penny finally dropped that I was doubly socially inferior as far as many of my classmates and their parents were concerned. At Mother’s funeral one of my cousins, the one who the rest of us see as being fantastically and unaccountably right wing, queried my description of Mother as Irish. It’s how she described herself, I replied. Another cousin said Mother would have called Derry Londonderry. No she didn’t, I said, hearing Mother’s voice in my head saying she came from Co Derry.

A few years ago Cousin and I deposited our grandmother’s autograph book at the Linenhall Library in Belfast. Much as we valued it, it seemed to have a significance beyond our family. It’s clear that my grandmother and her friends all considered themselves uncomplicatedly and proudly Irish. There are many patriotic entries for St Patrick’s Day; verses, pressed shamrocks, pen and ink drawings of harps. My grandmother signed the Ulster Covenant. Look online and you can find her name. I am guessing that post Partition she may have called herself British, but I don’t know. By then she was married and trapped in a cycle of pregnancy and increasing hardship, leading to her premature death in 1927.

This week London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, spoke about links between nationalism and racism, citing both as divisive. The Scots Nats are outraged, but surely he is right. I have felt uncomfortable several times in Scotland when the thrust of earnest discussions about Scottish culture have been to exclude people rather than unite them. Margaret Thatcher deliberately, I believe, confused nationalism and patriotism. She wasn’t the first or the last politician to do so. But the difference is important. You can be a patriot and still speak out about things your country is doing that you believe to be wrong. In fact, it is your patriotic duty so to do. If you love your country you don’t want to see it behaving in a morally dubious way.

But we live in times of divisive politics. We want to separate, ring fence, build walls, close borders. The rhetoric of many of today’s politicians uses culture and geography to exclude and reject, to inculcate mistrust and hatred.

Fortunately, nature knows better, and under the same sun the hyacinths bloom, puppies learn to run in parks, cats find the warm spot on the wall, and maybe if we pause for a moment we can remember that we have more in common than divides us.

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15 thoughts on “Under the Same Sun

      • I entirely agree and I find it horrifying. It does feel awfully like what it felt back in the 1980s, the degree of hatred and contempt displayed by people in power for those they consider undeserving and the encouragement this gave to those with personal issues to express themselves hatefully.

    • Thanks Gilly. This isn’t what I thought I was going to be writing before I started, but this is what came out. I keep meaning to post pI tyres of flowers and of MasterB!

    • Wise? That is not an adjective I usually hear about myself! Though I should be very user if someone described me as not wise. As you know, I have some problems applying my own advice to individuals who annoy me.

  1. Absolutely fascinating about your grandmother – she must have died very young. Interesting what you have to say about working mothers; my mum was variously a stay at home mum and a working mum, but because my father was a manager, I don’t think we encountered the same prejudice. Or maybe it was simply that she was completely impervious to it, having spent enough time in the USA to assume that working was the norm for women. or something.

  2. Your very good post is bringing up the usual bile in me about the consequences of “my side is better than your side” in every way which and place it occurs. The power it has in times of economic uncertainty is so painful to watch and so hard to combat. However, I do very much appreciate seeing the first asparagus in the market today – because, as you (yes wisely) note, is the sort of harbinger to which we should all pay more attention and sometimes let the other worries be,

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