The bloody-minded Brits

So THAT’S why we did it!

I love the Financial Times Weekend edition in all its pink businessy glory. (No, I’m not getting paid to write this, although I wouldn’t say no to a weekly column.)

Speaking as a chronically strapped-for-cash writer of historical novels, who knows very little about finance, business or economics, the FT is my window on a strange exotic world full of corporations, hedge funds and commodities, a world where meta-money and financial derivatives not only exist but seem to have offspring, a world with completely different customs and rules to the one I inhabit. Also it’s a world full of extremely rich people who wear jeans and give to charity. In the fabulously aspirational (and funny) “How to Spend It” magazine, there are 5000 quid Patek Philippe watches and 100 quid dustbins.

But that’s not why I buy it. That’s an eye-opening bonus. No, I buy it – in physical copy – for the Opinion pages and for the Life & Arts section which I think contains simply the best arts coverage anywhere.

What brought on this fangirl effusion? This weekend (4-5 August 2018) was particularly noteworthy for outgoing leader writer Robert Armstrong’s article “How I cracked the code of the British,” which finally made sense of the entire Brexit mess for me.

Actually, how could I have been so stupid and slow? Robert Armstrong has a clearer view of Brits because he’s an American – but I’ve been saying for years that the British are a spectacularly bloody-minded bunch, always up for a brawl and generally boozed up as well. Not the cold, polite, deferential, cricket-playing bastards of our national legend – first acquired in Victorian times and successfully sold all over the world to this day. Nope. As Armstrong says, the Brits are a pain in the arse, with a continual subversive itch to deflate authority by telling fart jokes and occasionally throwing things. We like rioting so much, sometimes we riot for the pure fun of it (see 2011).

In other words we are bloody-minded – a slightly old-fashioned quintessentially British phrase which means more “contrary, stubborn and explosive” than actually steeped in blood. I’m not sure why Armstrong didn’t use it although “pains in the arse” also fits quite well.

I say “we” but in fact I’m half-Hungarian and have always felt a little foreign, a little more objective about the strangeness of the Brits. Hungary, where I live, is obsessed by them and during the summer of 2016 the Magyar media ran many stories about Brexit in tones of wonder, horror and fascination.

When you think about it, how else could such a tiny country, with possibly the worst weather in the world, have acquired not one, but two empires, losing the first to their even more bloody-minded progeny, the Americans. Also it’s no coincidence that the second try was mainly in places warm and sunny. As a nation, we go a bit mental whenever we find any sun strong enough to turn us lobster-coloured. I put it down to a chronic shortage of Vitamin D because we no longer eat enough fish.

So I think Armstrong is bang on the nail when he attributes the Brexit vote to so many Brits wanting to give Lord Snooty Cameron a good kicking, in a referendum they didn’t think was important. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been important if Cameron had possessed even a smidgeon of common sense and made a Leave vote require a supermajority. Why he didn’t is one of those eternal mysteries, like why all the defences of Singapore in World War II pointed out to sea, with nothing pointing inland into the jungle – because of course no one could possibly get an army through all those trees. Until the Japanese did, on bicycles, with the help of their own particular brand of bloody-mindedness. Let’s hope Brexit isn’t quite as disastrous.

Armstrong’s last paragraph also gives me hope as I look at the difficulty of the task of disentangling Britain from Europe, the current mess and the total incompetence of the twerps and nutters in charge of achieving it.

“Is Brexit then, a return to genuine Britishness, to be celebrated on cultural grounds, if not economic ones?” he asks. “Certainly I admire the uppity side of the national character. It is an important part of my cultural inheritance as an American… If choosing Brexit ultimately gives the UK cause for regret, the fact that the choice was characterictically British will not make that regret less painful.”

However he sees a potential solution and I think he’s absolutely right.

“All that has to happen is for someone sufficiently powerful to come along and tell the British that they can’t change their minds.”

Simple! Come on Trump… Merkel… Macron… I dare you!

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