Saturday, 10 June 2017

Born on the Twelfth of July

“Charlie may be a Catholic, but he’s my best mate”, said the man on the garden path. “Bugger”, I thought to myself, “nobody told me that I was moving to Belfast rather than Paisley”. I knew my neighbour Charlie helped out at mass; he'd been through a lot in his life and his faith has helped him through it. Emmeline was asleep in the carry cot next to me. She had been born the week before and, although not technically premature, was still a few weeks before her due date and slightly jaundiced, and the advice was that sunlight would help clear this up. Flower beds don’t dig themselves, either. Our visitor put a pound coin on the new baby’s carry cot – still a big tradition in Paisley, it appears – and then went to ring on Charlie’s doorbell.

Although I’ve lived in Paisley and now Glasgow for over twenty years, I’ve never understood why sectarianism still persists here like a bad smell. Yes, I was raised a Protestant and some of my Liverpool ancestors may have made a big deal of this, but that was then and this is now. Any casual appetite I had for football was also killed stone dead, now that I knew it would come with a hefty side helping of tribal nonsense. Between the endless tacky songs about the IRA on the train, and the tinny flute music coming out of the windows of passing white vans, I am puzzled as to why Celtic and Rangers fans think any of this is relevant to a fun Saturday afternoon out. Glasgow is not in Ireland and 2017 is not in 1690.
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My second daughter managed to go one better than her sister, by being born a lot closer to her due date: to be exact, the 12th of July 2000. Of all the dates to be born on!

So Alison’s treat for her sixteenth birthday last year was to see Cats* at the Liverpool Empire. As we stood outside the theatre’s front door on Lime Street waiting to be let in, the Orange Walk clattered uphill and turned to its left to pass in front of St George’s Hall.

Alison asked “what’s that?”

Try explaining the Orange Lodge in thirty seconds. Go on, try.

All I could come up with was that it’s an organisation that waves two fingers at the Catholic Church, for want of something better to do. I think I’m old enough to tell patriotism and jingoism apart; there are many beautiful and positive things you could celebrate about Britain, like its culture and its quest for knowledge. To not bother with that and simply state how much you dislike other people is both lazy and counter-productive. Put it this way, “File Transfer Protocol” isn’t the big thing it was twenty years ago, but some people think FTP stands for something even more antiquated.

It’s not about the flag either. No, the police aren’t going to arrest anyone for flying a Union flag, although your local council may want a word if you’ve put in a flagpole without planning permission. It’s just that there is such a thing as trying too hard, and I fear that any secret wish I have of looking like this:

will turn out more like this:

The difference between Liverpool and Glasgow was the lack of numbers in Liverpool. I’ve heard the old tales about firebrand preachers at the Pier Head, and the fight that always happened when the Lodge came back from its annual beery outing in Southport and was met by a crowd of Catholics at the railway station**. But now the parades are practically a museum exhibit. Liverpool has outgrown sectarianism. When will Glasgow do so too?


*Many people moan about Andrew Lloyd Webber, although his politics may be as much to do with this as his music. I’ve just concluded that he’s not for me, but my wife and daughters like him. Cats is based around a religious allegory that even C S Lewis would have felt was a bit obvious, and if you think “Memory” is a good tune, then cherish it, as it’s the only one you’ll hear all evening.


**Old hat now, as the modernisation of Liverpool’s railways in the 1970s demolished Exchange station, the terminus that served Southport, and replaced it with a through service that passes beneath the city centre and out the other side.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. Sectarianism is a poorly cut suit that should have been left on the peg. As for Lloyd Webber, well...

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