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.