"…they Touch Our Country And Their Shackles Fall.."

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Except, when you’re right there in the conversation you somehow can’t quite grasp the words you need to make that retort…so instead you say half of it, or you mangle it, and the conversation sort of moves on, except you’re cross with yourself because, of course, you haven’t said what you really wanted to but were unable to say.

And it stays with you, niggles at you like a hangnail, or a pebble in your shoe, or a slightly too tight bra strap or a cut on the inside of your mouth. You go about doing other things but you can’t entirely forget it and it simmers under the surface until FINALLY, hours later…the perfect phrase you were searching for suddenly pops into your head!

Usually, for me, this happens at 2 or 3 am in the morning, when I am trying to will myself to sleep. My eyes jack hammer open and I go “there you are!”.

So on Friday, I was spellchecking a piece of work when a colleague came in to bother me. He is a friend of sorts…perhaps he slightly fancies me, perhaps he is just exceptionally kind…but the result is that we have this back and forth banter thing going on that makes me laugh a lot. We started chatting about this and that, about holidays and my stress levels, about films and Fela and whether something could still be a form of jazz if it used synthesised instruments.

Somehow we got on to whether England should be part of the EU. I don’t have the strongest of opinions on it…I generally think the EU over- legislates but that’s not always a bad thing for the little guy. Also, a scary amount of anti EU lobbyists tend to be racist xenophobes hiding as prudent economists and nationalist historians….but this friend of mine, let’s call him George, is very anti-EU and not racist so I was quite happy to have a chat with him on the subject. On any subject really that would save me from the mind numbing boredom of hunting for misplaced commas.

From general EU = BAD chat, we got onto Nationalism and all the things England managed to do on her own without the EU. I agreed with most of these points of pride until we got to slavery….

George: “- and we mustn’t forget that England ended slavery!”

Me (sputtering and suddenly paying attention): “What? You can’t put that down on a list of achievements. I’m not saying it’s not a great thing that slavery is over, but…but you can’t just take credit for ending it like that!”

George: “Why not? We ended it. The Americans would have carried on for ages. Look at what they’re doing to Obama in 2011! They’d never have stopped.”

Me: “Well, yes, and I accept that the Royal Navy were instrumental and so was Wilberforce and things like that but I don’t see how you can pat yourself on the back as a country for doing that! That’s just…I mean it entirely negates the fact that…what I mean is, it’s not something you should be crowing about when slavery was so atrocious and so self evidently wrong and yet accepted by many English people for ages until they decided, oh, best not do that anymore”

George (after a pregnant pause): “Well. Slavery ended. It would not have ended when it did, or arguably at all, without the British. Isn’t that true?”

Me: “Yes…but…”

George (continuing only after it was clear I wasn’t going to keep talking): “And this is surely a good thing?”

Me (now somewhat sulky) : “Yes.”

George: “So why can’t England be proud of that?”

Me: “Your face is crooked.”

Anyway. When my eyes popped open at 3am, this is the retort-not-spoken that came to me…

George: “- and we mustn’t forget that England ended slavery!”

Me: “What a load of nonsense to be proud of that when England was also highly instrumental in starting it. Some of the greatest estates in England were financed by slavery- and even when the first Acts abolished slavery, those Acts ensured that it was no skin off a slave owner’s back to set his slaves free. Owners were compensated for the “loss of their property” and only slaves under 6 years old were actually freed. Over 6 and you got a new job title of “Unpaid apprentice”. Some of the great houses of England remained so only through slavery- albeit, after a while, slavery perpetrated on distant shores of the Empire, where the English didn’t have to see quite how their tea and sugar and cocoa was got. English museums are still full of the stolen loot of the English Empire, whose atrocities went on long after “formal” slavery was abolished- or do you mean to say the way the English treated native peoples in India and the African countries they carved up was free and fair and right? That they were not in many cases, still slaves in practical terms up until the Empire broke down and are still paying the price for years of suppression and oppression today? No doubt it was a good thing to have done, stopping slavery, but it wasn’t some selfless act. It wasn’t sacrificial. It was England deciding to clean up a mess it had partly started. Saying the English ought to be commended for ending slavery is like saying a dog ought to be commended for eating up its own vomit.”

And I would have sneered in the right places, and made inverted commas with my fingers and raised my eyebrow at the end and OH. It would have been a great retort, I think.

SO THERE, GEORGE.

Back to work for me. Love you all booskis.

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