Tuesday 14 April 2015

go back where you came from

Over the weekend, the Oxbridge boat race was run rowed.  Cambridge won the toss but Oxford won the race, indeed Oxford won the races because it was a regular regatta with Men's and Women's crews racing over the same course on the same day for the first time.  The two reserve crews also had their 20 minutes of fame, straining sinew and heaving oar down the 7km course along the Thames in West London.  Oxford won all the events so >!huzzah!<. Women being given parity of esteem with men also deserves an acknowledgement.  The Boat Race is a long standing tradition in England and people tune in to watch the event on the telly, often with a strongly partisan feeling for one team or the other.  When I was young, my family supported Cambridge because at that time they were the underdogs trailing behind Oxford in the number of their victories. That's a pretty daft reason for making a choice and so was the idea of taking sides in an event that was alien to our normal life.  The Brother did well in school and went off to Trinity College Cambridge and I wonder if that childhood boat-race connexion helped him towards that venerable institution.  As it happens, rowing was part of the expensive education that we both had, so we got to be a little more knowledgeable about what was going on than were the majority of the millions who watched in a bemused fuddle [dhrink might be taken while watching] each year on the TV.

In contrast to the chariot races of ancient Byzantium, I guess you could call the boat race 'mostly harmless', nobody dies or sustains contact sport encephalopathy CSE and it allows young men (and indeed now young women) to show their physical prowess and their ability to act effectively as a team.  These are skills that are valued in their post-university life - as merchant bankers, judges, MPs, foreign correspondents, spies and explorers. Each year in the Autumn, there is a dinner at which the losers of last year's event formally challenge the winners to a re-match.  Last year this event was held at the head office of BNY-Mellon a multinational finance company which is the primary corporate sponsor and will doubtless be recruiting from among these top-class chaps. Multinational is probably appropriate because, this year, only 40% of the crew in this quintessentially British event were British.  But none of them were black - which is odd considering how well they do in other sports. But then BYN-Mellon don't want to recruit black chaps, no matter how smart - they might frighten off the investors.

So far so sportsmanlike.  It was another story three years ago, when a privately educated white Australian plunged into the river as the boats approached [Grauniad] and brought the race to a halt while he was fished out, hand-cuffed and bundled away. The race was restarted from that position and Cambridge went on to win. The perp Trenton Oldfield was sentenced to 6 months in chokey for being a public nuisance which is step worse and two steps more medieval than a public order offense.  He was also fined £750 to defray the public costs of his venture and threatened with deportation although that was rescinded on appeal.  Oldfield was protesting about everything that was annoying him that week - elitism, cuts to the NHS and the introduction of new laws to reduce the right to privacy.

Social media soon found out where he lived (and his wife too, who was British but dusky) and among a lot of other ad hominem abuse invited him to go back where he came from. Just like I was invited to do when I confessed to being of Protestant Anglo-Irish descent. One of the planks of Oldfield's appeal against deportation was that his wife would experience significantly more abuse in Oz than at home in the UK.  Indeed he accepted the whole premise of there being a natural home for people according to the colour of their skin when he claimed to be a European, and appalled at the treatment of aborigines in Australia and that was why he chose to live in England.  Me, I claim to be European too because I don't feel comfortable throwing in my lot with a smaller constituency but I'd rather be a Citizen of the World than consciously join forces with a bunch of white dudes.

The Man, and particular the judge in Oldfield's case, was annoyed and over-the-top in the sentence because he smugly believed that Britain was an open democracy which allows differences of opinion, protests indeed, to the ideas and ideals of the government. They would much prefer if expression of dissent was, however, limited to a shouty burst in your own bedroom.  If you get out and disrupt things because your peaceful protests have been long-and-long ignored, then you get an indignant book thrown at you.  You can have a march and even chant slogans to match your bed-sheet banners, but, as in Ireland, you have to apply to the police for permission.  This is all good for normal life for those who aren't engaged but it doesn't encourage real dissent and real questioning of the unconsidered certainties that enslave any society, yours included.

Another tack in the media coverage that could bear scrutiny is the notion of manhood. Oldfield said: “I would have felt less of a man if  I hadn’t done it, if I hadn’t made that rupture into these issues" but one of the losing Oxford crew thought otherwise "You, who would make a mockery of [our] dedication and courage, are a mockery of a man".  We are just primates, really, but articulate primates.

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