LORD OF THE FLIES
"Ingerland Ingerland Ingerland. I don't want scum in my country. I feel uncomfortable around those two phrases when they're put together. I feel doubly uncomfortable to be surrounded by suburban middle-Englanders who don't. It was the 'decent folk' of 1930s Germany who turned the other way when their neighbours were dragged away in the night. I don't overly trust 'decent folk' when they're being vocal about their decency. You hear them on radio phone-ins, where their decency is all too often a veneer for something darker. And though nothing truly bad happened on the 12.06 tonight, I caught a whiff of something unpleasant."
By George Berger
COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
It's April 23rd 2004, St George's Day (the patron saint of England), approaching midnight and I'm sitting on London Bridge train station. Around me are pockets of patriots, drunkenly trying to establish some sort of tradition to rival the global traditions of St Patrick's Day. They're singing Ingerland - Ingerland - Ingerland between giggles and falling over. Frankly, whilst testosterone-fuelled displays of a pathetically desperate nature are increasingly socially acceptable, it's still not a pretty sight.
All is particularly English on the train. The couple slouched opposite me are taking up three seats, but the man standing is too polite to ask them to shift up and let him sit down. Meanwhile, they're too selfish to offer. Thatcher's legacy lives on.
The 12.06 train is the drunkards' express and sometimes it can be quite, er, lively. The preceding 11.26 leaves just too early to catch the hardcore pub outspill, whilst the inhabitants of the 12.53 are usually too blitzed and/or tired to do much other than sleep past their stop. But, sandwiched between, the 12.06 is often worth avoiding, and I had a nervy feeling that St George's Day wasn't a good day to be catching it -- English expressions of patriotism are all too often merely ugly expressions of powerlessness grasping at anything that will relieve the frustration.
A couple of years ago, writing in this column, I opined that perhaps we -- the people -- could steal back the English flag from the right-wing and leave them with the Union Flag instead. And tonight, I've been out with a couple of 3AM folk to a boring football-related do where a ranter said the same thing. But on reflection, I think I was wrong. Patriotism has often been called the last refuge of the scoundrel, but on St George's Day it's beginning to feel like the first.
Suddenly, there's banging and shouting behind the door to the next carriage. The door flings open and a man in his mid-twenties rushes through, pursued by a skinhead with blood all over his head. Yep, this is definitely the 12.06.
"Stop him!" the skinhead cries, "Stop that piece of scum!" Curiously though, he himself has given up the chase. As the object of his anger disappears though into the next carriage, the skinhead turns his attentions to us. "Why didn't anyone fucking stop him?" He launches into a rant about how apathetic everybody is in these situations. We've stopped at a station, and the skinhead gets out, announcing to all and sundry that he was demanding the police get called because "I don't want scum in my country".
Eh? In my country? What's that got to do with it?
Then it all gets vaguely ugly. All around me conversations start about the incident. And they're all recounting what happened: allegedly, the first bloke had been about to graffiti the door when the skinhead decided St George's Day was a good day to play the vigilante. At some point in the ensuing chaos, the skinhead gets blood on his head, though I'm not sure how or whose blood. Before I know it, a vigilante man has inspired a potential lynch mob, who all seem reassured by the knowledge that they're not scum and somebody else is. And "at least it's got us all talking to each other". Somebody further down the carriage points out to his friend that nobody actually saw what happened, and the frothing crowd sneer, dismissing the insignificance of the detail. Probably a communist.
The skinhead comes back to the carriage, veins still bulging, as returning hero. People congratulate him, supportive anecdotes are relayed and I'm biting the inside of my cheek in an attempt to stay silent. Because, unlike my fellow travellers, I saw the skinhead on the platform of London Bridge Station. He was with one of the drunken groups chanting their patriotism and he seemed far from the upstanding citizen that he's now self-righteously playing. Which doesn't make him wrong, or the villain or anything like that, butů
Ingerland Ingerland Ingerland. I don't want scum in my country. I feel uncomfortable around those two phrases when they're put together. I feel doubly uncomfortable to be surrounded by suburban middle-Englanders who don't.
It was the 'decent folk' of 1930s Germany who turned the other way when their neighbours were dragged away in the night. I don't overly trust 'decent folk' when they're being vocal about their decency. You hear them on radio phone-ins, where their decency is all too often a veneer for something darker. And though nothing truly bad happened on the 12.06 tonight, I caught a whiff of something unpleasant.
So, the decent folk are welcome to their flags and their dogmas and their nation states and whatever other props they hoist to make themselves feel more right.
Oh, and they're welcome to St George's Day as well. Because despite my previous hopes, it didn't turn out to belong to me, or most of you. Shame.
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written 3 books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George is a member of Flowers in the Dustbin. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.