Citizen Ship 2013. Nos 11. Where’s the Love? The Flag Issue continues to smou…

Citizen Ship 2013. Nos 11. Where’s the Love?

The Flag Issue continues to smoulder like the remains of an old bonfire on a wet day. We all have different ideas about this one issue. They are as varied as the discarded beer tins, fag packets and rubbish, left behind, after such an event. But I would argue that the silent majority in Northern Ireland (like your granny, the quiet family who live next door or all law abiding citizens) would rather that flags, in general, were not hung from lamp posts.

I remember bonfires from a more innocent time, walking through the streets of Belfast, one balmy evening, with my parents. This was almost fifty years ago. They were exciting and colourful to a young child’s eyes.

I was out for a walk this afternoon beneath manys a flag, looking at the beginnings of a bonfire, to be burned in July. I just don’t get it? I don’t think I ever will get it? For a Union flag, hung legally in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Cardiff or Glasgow, means something quite different to a Union flag, attached to a lamp post over here.

To me (and I can only comment for myself, here) they scream fear, violence and intimidation. They shout intolerance, lack of education and indoctrination. They gaulder lack of opportunity, social degeneration and hatred. They cry out political abandonment, deprivation and greed.

These local Union flags (as opposed to the “one” that hangs at Buckingham Palace) seem neither benign, attractive or positive. They haven’t been placed there as part of any local government policy. In fact they are the complete reverse of current local council policy throughout Northern Ireland, which is “No flags or a civic flag”. These flags, hung there, without permission, without any democratic consensus are a threatening eyesore to any peaceful local or passing tourist.

What would the Queen think of this? What would Shakespeare, Robin Hood, Drake, Raleigh, Nelson, Edward Carson, General Montgomery or Blair Mayne think of this? (to name, but a few British cultural icons and perceived heroes from the past)

Will this ever change? Is this about local politics, democracy or the rights of the individual? Absolutely not. It is very much about the attempt to threaten, make fearful and browbeat the individual law abiding citizen.

What has that to do with Democracy, Unionism or even basic Christianity?

The intensity around the flag reveals the cavernous loss of identity amongst many in the Protestant community. However, with many who don’t attend church, with many who have no Christian belief system, how can they be described as Protestants other than by being actively involved in “Protest” ?

If all a community has to offer, as its social standard bearer, is fear, violence and intimidation, then the community, as a whole, is in deep crisis.

Here’s another poem from the 1998 “Dam Bursting“ collection.

Waiting for the lights to change.

Waiting for the lights to change,
I stood watching the other side.
The soldiers,
In their camouflage green.
So out of place,
Set against the drab grey palette of the city.

Fresh to my eyes, an echo of many more
Young soldiers, such as these.
From a time before the great watershed of
The Ceasefire,
When they flew about us
Like sea gulls at a city dump.
The Roman Guard at a northern Golgotha.

Two police landrovers beetle past,
Rocking from side to side, as they do.
A blue lamp bumper car, in an unhappy arcade.
Entering my vision briefly.
A walk on part for my front seat, at the lights.
Waiting for the lights to change.

And then I notice the man with his dogs.
Moving forward, stepping out.
His Doc Marten slabs, throwing me a clue.
A pointer to his status, as,
The man with his two dogs,
Not poodles ?
Oh no.
Not fluffy Chiwawas?
Catch yerself on.
Not box trimmed Scotties?
Go feel yer head!
But “Pit Bulls” of a variety
My daughter thinks they’re cute.
And they are, with their own chunky charm.

Snug, compact, secure and hard.
Rocking from side to side, as they do.
Waddling forward, tongues in rasping mouths.
Separated by their master.
Attempting to talk to each other
In between their heavy breaths.
Across the flesh and bone
Of their masters legs.

His relationship with his dogs
Hand in glove, made for each other.
Which came first, I ask myself,
This chicken or this egg ?
Separation impossible.
Egg and yolk , cemented in one hard shell.
Dog, Master, Dog.
Dog, Master, Dog.
He divides to master.

These three in one, welded together.
Affirmation of existence.
“ Here I am! “ he speaks, without words.
“ Don’t mess with me ! “ he broadcasts to the world, and East Belfast.
“ Play with me and my dogs play with you, mate! “

The lights finally changed and we passed each other
On the middle ground, at the crossing.
Going in our own different directions.
He with his boots, baseball cap and dogs,
And me, out with my notepad.
Taking my pen for a walk.
Observing, watching.
Waiting for the lights to change.

I passed the first soldier,
Briefly making eye contact.
Wanting to say hello
But not finding the air in my lungs.

My mouth, mouthing hello in the dry air
To the second soldier who hurried past,
In search of his partners back.
I had reached my destination
And the automatic doors sucked me in
To wait for the train up the coast.
Fleeing once more to the more neutral

The lights had changed and with it came
Another snapshot of alternate existence.
Different points of view
Going in different directions.
But thank God I wasn’t born a Pit Bull.
Thank God I can wield this pen
And think beyond my masters
Knee or cap.

Yet, I still wait for those lights to change.

Written by,
Randall Stephen Hall.
13th March, 1997. © Copyright.