A declaration of nationality is a profound statement. To say ‘I am British’ suggests that somehow I am composed of Britishness — that my fabric, my very being, is British.
Except I personally, apparently, am not particularly British. The results are back from my DNA ethnicity test, and I am 63 per cent Irish, 20 per cent Western European, 11 per cent Scandinavian and 3 per cent Iberian. How do I feel about my nationality now?
Half a test-tube of saliva was all it took for Ancestry, the genealogical organisation, to come up with these figures and, once you get results like this, the immediate reaction is to say: ‘Well it doesn’t make any difference.
The other day I was speaking to a Kurdish journalist who was held in Isis captivity for ten months. He and a colleague had had the bad luck to run into an Isis checkpoint in Syria. ‘How do you perform the midday prayer?’ they were asked after their car was waved to a halt. Unable to answer — they were not believers — they were immediately beaten around the head. Then one of the jihadis from the checkpoint was put into the back of their car and they were told to drive to the Isis base.
For 20 months, I stood accused of a hate crime: homophobically motivated common assault. The British Transport Police pursued my case with extraordinary zeal. So too did the Crown Prosecution Service. I was plunged into a world where common sense withered and died.
The nightmare began when I was travelling home to London after a funeral in Kent. I was chatting with a friend on the train when a strange man started shouting at us from across the carriage.
Britain is in the grip of an epidemic, apparently. An epidemic of hate. Barely a day passes without some policeman or journalist telling us about the wave of criminal bigotry that is sweeping through the country. It’s been bad for years, they say, but has become worse since the EU referendum. Police forces tell us that hate crime has ‘soared’ in recent weeks; there’s been an ‘explosion of blatant hate’, according to some newspapers.
We know what people voted against,’ say half-clever pundits, ‘but it’s far from clear what they voted for.’ Actually, it’s very clear: the British voted to leave the EU and take back control of their own laws. They didn’t dictate precisely what kind of deal we should have with our neighbours after leaving: that is for ministers to negotiate. But when Leave campaigners invited people to ‘take back control’, voters understood what that meant: legal supremacy should return from Brussels to Westminster.
I’ve just tripped over the damned hedgehog for the second time in as many days. He has retreated into the greenhouse and is glaring out at me from under the workbench, rigid with indignation. I suspect he has learnt this expression from my cats.
Truth be told, after 14 months’ acquaintance, with time out for hibernation, we’ve got each other’s measure by now. My two elderly rescue moggies barely spare the drama king a second glance.
It has been a strange week in Munich; a week of deceptively cool mornings, afternoons hot enough to fry eggs and thunderstorms at twilight that have turned streets into streams. A week of reflection, too, capped last Sunday by a service of remembrance in the cathedral, attended by Chancellor Merkel, to honour the nine young lives taken in the shooting at the shopping centre which sent a tremor through Freistaat Bayern, and through the nation.
Glamour. It’s Marcello Mastroianni drinking negronis on the Via Veneto; it’s Audrey Hepburn, George Clooney, Sinatra on the Vegas Strip in ’59… and a composting toilet on the west coast of Scotland.
The latter was the only one available when I went glamping in Skye. Glamping is a neologism, an awkward portmanteau word that seeks to persuade us there really can be a satisfactory crossover between glamour and camping, even though most reasonable people have these two concepts pegged in different stratospheres.