Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Wine: A Glass of the Finest Joins People Together like a Patriotic Song. (Columns)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Wine: A Glass of the Finest Joins People Together like a Patriotic Song. (Columns)

Article excerpt

The Queen's golden jubilee was celebrated here with an innocent devotion to symbols that would have scandalised our editor. The neighbours clothed their houses with the flag of St George. They attended church services where they meditated on the Christian meaning of the coronation. They organised pig roasts, barn dances and five-mile walks. They even struggled to the top of nearby Ramp's Hill to plant our four national flags, and sing our three national anthems. And they all reeled home feeling reconciled to this thing called "social exclusion", from which the new Labour think-tanks say they are suffering.

In the course of the celebrations, I was often struck by the incongruity of the British national anthem. Both words and tune belong to the 18th century, when nationalism, as we know it, did not exist and nations had not been invented. The text does not refer to England or Britain but to our sovereign; it defies her enemies and their "knavish tricks", in language that makes the whole business of war and government seem like a school sports day. And the four-square classical melody, with its clumsy return to the tonic after only five bars, must be about the most uninspired that has ever been used to summon visceral loyalties.

Most other national anthems are products of Romanticism. Their words refer to the nation, its noble past and its right to sacrifice; their melodies are stirring and militaristic, in the manner of the "Marseillaise", or evocative of home and fatherland, like "Flower of Scotland". People sing them with tears in their eyes, because the function of these songs is to renew our attachment to the past. History, they remind us, is more noble in the imagination than it ever is in fact.

Wine is the same kind of thing as anthems. It replaces the actual with the imagined, and the routine with the inspired. …

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