Look for the flag mark

Diary. Friday 4th April 2008

I’m standing in the cooked meats aisle at Tesco’s, Stairfoot, Barnsley. It’s just gone noon, busy. Feral children beanoing about like they’re in an adventure playground while their parents shop, oblivious to the anarchy.

I’m studying the packets of meat. The selection is wide. Spiced meat, smoked meat, plain meat, meat in bread crumbs, stuffed, rolled in spices, ham, pork, beef…

I pick up a packet of thin sliced Schwarzwälder Schinken, succulent Black Forest ham from Tesco’s finest range.

I’m examining the sell by date when a voice says at the side of me: ‘We fought them, you know?’

I turn to see an old fella, blue blazer with brass buttons, his left breast loaded down with ribbons and shiny silver and gold medals. Regimental tie, beige chinos and bulled oxblood Doc Marten’s.

‘Sorry?’ I query.

The old bloke nods to the vacuum sealed pack of German ham in my hand. ‘T’Germans, we fought ‘em. Two world wars.’ He shook his silver head sadly. ‘And here they are selling their spicy meat in our supermarkets.’ He tuts. ‘Makes you wonder what we fought for.’

‘Well,’ I began apologetically, ‘it goes well with crusty bread.’

The old man fixed me with a steely gaze. He said severely: ‘Tell that to the lads on the Normandy beachhead. Operation Market Garden. Dunkirk. North Africa. “Here, Bert, don’t worry about your ultimate sacrifice, hard luck about your missing arm and the shrapnel chunks in your arse, sixty years on the Nazis will be turning out some nice spicy ham that goes well with crusty bread”.’

I examined the pack of meat, feeling embarrassed. My lips punctured in a sigh. ‘I suppose if you put it like that,’ I said, replacing the ham.

I looked along the chiller cabinet, my stomach grumbling.

I picked up some Salami.

The old man altered his stance, getting a better angle on my face. ‘Are you having a laugh?’ he demanded. ‘Are you trying to get a rise out of me?’

Stuttering, I said: ‘I thought maybe a bit of cheese…?’

‘One word: “Mussolini”.’

I felt my brow furrowing. ‘Mussolini? Is that that unpasturized crumbly goat’s cheese?’

The old man sighed. ‘Fascists? Black shirts? Anzio?’ His shoulders slumped impatiently. ‘Have you not seen The World at War

I shrugged. ‘Bits,’ I confessed. Carpet bombing Dresden. Churchill with a Tommy Gun. El Alamein. Lawrence Olivier’s voice rolling over the narrative like old brandy and chocolate.

The old man took the Italian sausage from my hand. He shook it in my face. ‘Every time you see this think, Monte Casino. Hand to hand fighting. The freedom of Europe. Eating this meat is to eat the rotting corpses of brave Italian partisans.’

I puckered my face. ‘Not very appetizing,’ I agreed.

The old man tossed the packet back into the chiller with disgust. He looked along the shelves and then smiling, nodded to himself. ‘Here,’ he said, pulling down a dark brown packet of meat. He threw it into my basket. ‘That’ll put hairs on your chest.’

I glanced into the wire basket. Yorkshire Black Pudding.

I looked back up to the old boy. ‘I don’t like black pudding,’ I said.

A stern look gathered in his face. I watched his hands, prepared for a commando knife, some cheese wire. ‘And I suppose you don’t like Yorkshire either, do you?’ he barked.

‘Well… I do actually.’

‘And do you love your country?’

I rubbed my head, unsure how to answer that.

He leaned his face closer. ‘What was that?’ he demanded.

‘Well, yes, I suppose I do,’ I admitted. With reservations.

The old man said: ‘Love Yorkshire, love England, love it’s black pudding.’

I thought about it before nodding. ‘OK,’ I agreed.

The old man smiled. ‘Good lad,’ he said, patting my back. He inspected my basket. ‘What else have we got in here?’ He pulled out a carton of orange juice. Tesco’s smooth. ‘Well that can go for a start,’ he said.

I asked why.

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief. ‘Spanish oranges,’ he explained. ‘1588, the Armada. War of Jenkins’ Ear. Gibraltar… Bloody hell, what do they teach in schools these days? How to put a condom on and the best way to fill out your benefits claim form?’ He delved into the basket again and took out a packet of bacon. ‘Nope,’ he commented, throwing the packet over his shoulder.

‘The Dutch?’ I asked, watching the bacon land on the tiled floor with a slap.

‘Four wars, dominance of the sea and their blocking of our trade ambitions in Japan by some very unpleasant means in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’

I took his word for it.

The purge continued. We got a trolley.

Half an hour later we were stood by the checkout.

The old man looked in my trolley with pride. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘doesn’t that feel better?’

I examined the items as I placed them on the rubber belt. A pack of Mars bars, a rack of British beef, some milk, Dale Farm yoghurts, a party pack of Seabrook’s crisps, three cauliflowers, some carrots and a tin of cocoa…

I was still pulling the produce out, Union Jack stickers everywhere, wondering what I was going to cook for my tea.

The old fella was working the self service till, some ‘Drum’ tobacco, a copy of the Radio Times and a four pack of Tetley’s.

We paid, collected our Club Card points and walked out together, through the automatic doors, passed the man from the RAC, the bloke doing dent repairs and some old sort collecting for the donkey sanctuary. A cheery wave as the old man marches away whistling ‘Colonel Bogey’ and I head off into the car park to load up my boot.

I’d just managed to stack the turnips alongside the some Lancashire organic radishes and the six bottles of Worcester sauce I’d been pressured into buying, when a car horn pipped cheerily behind me. I turned. It was the old bloke.

He drew up in his car, winding down the electric window.

I stared in surprise. I could feel the air trapped, stunned in my lungs. He was driving a new Volkswagon Golf.

‘What…?’ I said, gesturing to the shiny silver metallic paintwork. ‘What happened to buying British?’

The old man looked at me, a weary smile on his scrubbed, pink face. ‘A British car?’ he said, with a laugh. He pushed the stick into gear. ‘I’m not that bloody stupid.’



  1. deleted user · April 4, 2008

    You’ve overstepped the mark Guinness.

    Good men fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice, so that you could experience the joys of hussling a Rover SD1 3500 SE through England’s leafy lanes. How typical of the modern generation that you now pour scorn on their efforts. Blood, sweat and toil (inbetween standing in the car park at Longbridge, because Bert’s tea break had been cut short by 30 seconds), so that you could listen to the sweet sound of those 150 horses.

    Future generations would not have had the opportunity to run their fingers over the polished wood interior of the awesome Triumph Dolomite Sprint, the indisputable star of series one of The Professionals.

    You are the voice of sneering youth, who understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing, whilst heaping ridicule on the head of British automotive excellence.

    Thousands of scousers worked their fingers to the bone, to bring you the delights of the Vauxhall Magnum.

    If German engineering is so superior, then why didn’t fritz develop the Merlin engine, or craft the beautiful, graceful lines of the Spitfire?

    Just remember, next time you hear that throaty roar and turn to see a Triumph Stag thunder past, that is truly the sound of freedom.

    Feel free to whistle Land of Hope and Glory, whilst reading this comment, you Quisling.


  2. guinnessorig · April 9, 2008

    What was that I heard? The hacking, asthmatic cough of a Morris Minor Clubman? The 4 star flem, flecked with grit, choking the life from a Triumph TR7? The smouldering electrics of an MG Midget? No, it was the painful sound of a man trying to pass a regimental sized Union Jack through his arse. This is exactly the type of jingoistic flag waving that saw the British car industry limp its way into the industrial cul-de-sac of the 1980s. Left, resting on bricks, oil bleeding from the sump. This is the sorry, wistful dream of long nosed E-Type Jaguars and James Bond’s DB5. While the reality for thousands of British motorists was stood in a rain lashed lay-by staring disconsolate at a lifeless Rover Maestro.

    And just remember, as you ‘thunder past’ in your Triumph Stag with its ‘throaty roar’ to allow a bit more stopping distance. Those drum brakes are a bit temperamental. Then again, I suppose you don’t need decent brakes when you’re on the back of a recovery truck.

    So, flaming cross, how’s your Hillman Imp running?


  3. GSmudger · April 12, 2008

    Don’t you both realise we’re all just citizens of the world? Is a nationality really worth having if it defines itself by disdain for people with a greater variety of cheeses and more reliable cars? Should I refuse to watch Watership Down or Amelie because of the Norman Conquest? And as for Yorkshire, well who lost the War of the Roses anyway? It wasn’t Kathleen Turner or Michael Douglas.
    Won’t you join me in my Hands-Across-The-Ocean, Tribal-Fusion, Rainbow-Coalition Semi-Annual Whist Drive at the Lincoln Non-Judgemental Community Assimilation Centre next week? It’s members only, mind. And you can only use the car park if your Prius runs on hemp or linseed oil.


  4. deleted user · April 14, 2008

    Smudger, you should get together with Guinness. No doubt you could while away the hours poo pooing the achievements of our thousand year old culture.
    There is nothing remotely jingoistic about celebrating British achievements in the engineering field. Remember we were the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the workshop of the world. Where we went, in industrial terms, everyone else followed in our wake.
    No doubt the tambourine wielding, happy clapping mob, from the “Lincoln Non-judgemental Community Assimilation Centre” would rather we were still living in wattle and daub huts or ethnic teepees, that is if they could drag themselves away from their Argas in their tastefully refurbished, price inflated, converted farm workers cottages.
    As for the Rover Maestro, Guinness, that’d be the worlds first production talking car you’re referring to, would it? Forged in the white heat of the silicon revolution, the automotive equivalent of the Sinclair ZX81. Also I have scoured the internet and can find no reference to the Morris Minor Clubman. Would it be the Minor Countryman or the Mini Clubman you allude to? Perhaps more research is required in future, before you pen your next ill conceived thesis.
    I’ll be spending my time indulging in the simple love of a man for his country. Longbridge you live on in the hearts of all true Englishmen.


  5. guinnessorig · April 14, 2008

    ‘Our thousand year old culture.’

    Oh dear.

    A thousand years ago a vessel struggled across the universe carrying the final survivors from the planet Britannica. The 80 bhp engine of their craft – the Sir Oswald Mosley – had failed to live up to its patriotic showroom promise and had several times left them stranded in deep space, the corrosion fault on the bodywork was becoming a serious problem and the warranty wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Finally they put down in the green and pleasant fields of perfidious Albion.

    Planting their Union Flag they called the land Middle England.

    The land already had its inhabitants. But what did these immigrants, with their brutal basin haircuts and clean shaven faces, care for the chronicles of the Venerable Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, the workmanship of the jewellers who had crafted such delicate treasures as the Alfred Jewel or the peace-making efforts of the Dane Law? They had no time for bushy moustaches. With them they carried the holy relics of their own culture which would displace all others. The magic condiment of the HP Sauce, the custom of the souvenir tea towel and their most holy book – Ye Olde Wisden’s Almanac.

    ‘This,’ they proclaimed, somewhat Teutonically, ‘would be a culture that would last for a thousand years…’

    Hmmm. ‘Our thousand year old culture.’ The vulgar shame that such a potentially inclusionary sentence is in fact so exclusionary and so fundamentally erroneous.

    Also, flaminglips, if you read the 1977 autobiography of Sir Alec Issigonis – ‘me & the mini’ – you’ll find that in 1966 twenty-four Morris Minor Clubman models were made by BMC as a special one off production. One sold to George Harrison. They were based on similar design ideals as the MORRIS MINOR TRAVELLER. Unfortunately the bracing for the rear section was made from Elm and suffered the same fate as twenty-five million trees when Dutch Elm disease swept through the UK. This probably explains why your surface knowledge of the facts didn’t pick up on this little, esoteric nugget.


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