It was an easier time, a simpler time and for some a better time when sixty years ago The Queens coronation took place. Then the Royals were universally admired and respected and[pullquote]They forgave us, those ‘Irish’ and those ‘Blacks’, forgave us and more than that, they became us and I think perhaps we didn’t deserve the compliment’and sadly we certainly didn’t notice it.[/pullquote] nowhere was this expressed more openly than in the commonwealth and nowhere more wholeheartedly than in the Caribbean.
This wonderful Calypso song by Lord Beginner (Edward Moore) was written and released to celebrate that coronation. The Queen and her sister, Margaret, were known for their love of the Caribbean and on their visits there they’d often invite local calypso musicians to play for them. In recent interviews with surviving musos and their contemporaries the fondness shared between them was often mentioned. This song is a perfect reflection of this.
The lyrics also reveal the deference that the monarchy enjoyed far from the shores of the motherland. The idea of a monarchy sat easily with many of the colonies as prior to being colonies this was how they’d organised themselves anyway. This may partly explain why this unfashionable bond endures to date.
I couldn’t find an embed-able version of this song so the link to the song will take you elsewhere, it’s worth it, but make sure you come back ya’ll.
Some may say that this is a classic case of Uncle Tom-ism yet I beg them to consider the time and context in which it was made.
The London Bus company had 50+ recruitment offices in the Caribbean at that time. England had full employment and welcomed immigrants to do the jobs that the Brits wouldn’t do, mainly bus driving and emptying the bins. Those immigrants came to the UK because they aspired to be more like the British. To them the British police were straight or at least not openly gangsters, the education and health care were free, unions largely protected workers from exploitation and whilst Britain was fading as a colonial power, it had won the war and was indeed, briefly great again and West Indians could actually come here, easily.
I’m not contending it was easy for them once they got here, the awful weather and even worse food, the open, casual racism that the Brits had honed over the years towards the Irish was effortlessly transferred to ‘the Blacks’. The title of Johnny Rotten’s** biography, taken from the signs his parents saw on London bedsits ‘No Irish, No Blacks, No dogs’ is a powerful representation of the zeitgeist of the era. But you know what? They forgave us, those ‘Irish’ and those ‘Blacks’, forgave us and more than that, they became us and I think perhaps we didn’t deserve the compliment and sadly we didn’t even notice or acknowledge it.
The racism they endured was perhaps a gentler form based on naivety and ignorance rather then some spiteful, deliberate agenda, I’m not saying that to excuse it or belittle its impact, but to flesh it out.
In another calypso song about the same event by Young Tiger, written in the form of a letter home he boasts “I was there” whilst name dropping all the London landmarks that must have sounded so glamorous to the folks back home. The whole song reminds me of a line from my favourite Irish song by Percy French called The Mountains Of Mourne, this song too takes the same letter home format but from an Irishman in London.
”Í saw Englands King from’the top of a bus,
I don’t know him’but he means to know us,
and though by the Saxon we once were oppressed,
I cheered god forgive me, I cheered with the rest”‘
French’s protagonist can’t help but be swept away with the pride of the crowd, despite the long and bitter history and generations of cruelty inflicted by London itself on Eire, he cheered, god forgive him.
It’s so different now. Maybe with our decline as a nation, the respect we once commanded as a people has withered away to nothing. Now no -one aspires to be more like us and some feel so separate from us, even whilst living here and taking advantage of all the benefits that remain, that they express their contempt for us openly and forcefully. That’s our own fault, we have allowed this to happen, we have earned this.
In our surge towards the Hayek and Friedman defined utopia***, we became defined by the things we wear and the things we buy and we’re not special any more. “There’s no such thing as society” a grocers daughter arrogantly declared and with that she made sure there wasn’t, just tame, consumer cannon fodder buying shit they can’t afford on easy credit.
We’ve sold our souls for trinkets and trivia and instead of being a nation that stands for something, we are a nation who shops for more crap we don’t need to fill the empty void where our pride and identity used to be. It’s no wonder no-one wants to be like us any more and no wonder no-one would ever write such a good-natured and respectful song as the one above and the one below, which is about that most British of things, cricket.
In 1950 the Windies played England in a test at Lords and they won. The entire match was eulogised in a calypso by Lord Begginer and it is just such a joy to behold it almost made me cry for the Britain we could have had, the Britain they believed in.
** Singer of the popular 70’s boy band The Sex Pistols.
*** The two most optimistic men who ever lived who genuinely believed that if you made the rich more rich, then they’d solve all the poor peoples problems and not keep all the money. Clearly when they were students, they didn’t have a sarcastic flat mate who’d say things like ‘Yeeeaaah right’ and ‘LOL’.