Friday, February 20, 2009

Green, green, it's green they say
On the far side of the hill.
Green, green, and I'm going away
To where the grass is greener still.

Barry McElduff has a problem (one for which Malcolm has some sympathy), and came up with a personal and partial solution, which he now regrets.

The problem remains.

Explain, Malcolm!

McElduff is an MLA for West Tyrone and Councillor in Omagh District. He is a nationalist and member of Sinn Féin (though, to the cognoscenti, the name and the location render this explanation otiose). The local boyos took it on themselves to paint post boxes green. McElduff expressed his approval of the redecoration. Outcry and general hoo-ha ensued. His political masters, who can be very persuasive, obliged McElduff to make a public and humiliating recantation.

That's the basic story: so a Malcolmian aside.

Quite why post-boxes should be seen as the ultimate symbol of national pride and tradition defeats our resident sage, philosopher and friend. Across the nation, long-redundant postboxes are preserved and ritually repainted to preserve the street-scene: one such is in Hampstead, NW3.

Early E2R boxes were blown up by the Scottish liberationists in the 1950s. This was on the specious grounds that Scotland had experienced just the one Elizabeth: thus reminding the rest of us that many SNP types are tartan Tories, with an essentially conservative, even feudal, mind-set.

Going postal

Yet, even in the UK it is possible to find green post-boxes. As the Letter Box Study Group (better believe it!) says:
Sometimes, older boxes or those which have previously been in poor condition have details such as the royal cipher picked out in gold, making for a splendid display. Disused or privately owned boxes can be found in a variety of colours, including black, white, green, blue and brown. Boxes in the walls of local Post Offices are often made of local materials to local requirements and may be bronze, brown or silver.
Even ordinary working letter boxes can be found in numerous different colours. Guernsey for example, paints all boxes blue. Some historical boxes on the British mainland can be found in green.
At Moorlynch, in Somerset, the local post-mistress insisted on repainting the box in her wall Harrodian green every time the Post Office painted it red: she wanted it to harmonise with the rest of her shop paintwork. Somewhere in the moorland wilds of Scotland Malcolm recalls an isolated green post-box, because a red one would be too glaringly out-of-place in a protected landscape.

As the LBSG implies above, the original colour for British post-boxes was green: red was only adopted from the mid-1870s. Nor is the red of the British post-box some brash-and-brassy sentiment derived from Georgian soldiery or the Union Flag. It is there, presumably, for the same reason that robins appear on Christmas cards, the early post-man's uniform red coat: hence they were nicknamed "robins" and "redbreasts". It is another piece of British tradition and mythology to be blamed on Charles Dickens & Co:
His portrait is an every-day picture of life, and yet not easy to paint. He is the very incarnation of alacrity, the embodied spirit of regularity and precision. Day by day, hour by hour, he is to be seen traversing with rapid step the limits of his own narrow district. The heavens may smile, or frown. Revolutions may shake the land ; or peace and prosperity gladden its children. Disease may wave its pestilent torch; or sudden calamity sweep away its victims. But the postman is still at his post. A diurnal dispenser of news. A kind of Hope in the Queen's livery, visiting every one in turn, and welcomed by all. A messenger of life and of death; of gratified ambition, or disappointed desire; of gracious acceptance, or harsh refusal. He is still welcome, for his presence, and that which he brings at least, puts an end to the most cruel of human sufferings- uncertainty.
It must come as an affront to any and every loyal Ulsterman to turn left out of Belleek, along the A47 Lough Shore Road towards Enniskillen. For just a few yards, across the bridge at Graffy, the road (suddenly re-designated the R47) is in the Republic. There, on the corner, is (or used to be) a green post-box, complete with royal insignia. To make the point even more blatantly, in the bad old days one might see an Arm na h-Éireann vehicle significantly adjacent. Bless!

The McElduff dilemma

The original Sinn Féin, not these latter-day wannabe saints and sinners, made nationalism work. Across the country, Republican courts operated, and people preferred them, and abided by their prompt and fair justice. In effect, long before the 1922 Treaty took effect, the first two Dála had evolved and implemented a parallel working State.

As Newton Emmerson, in the Irish News argues, that is one route for militant nationalist passive resistance:
Mr McElduff is much mocked for this focus on the everyday details of life in the United Kingdom but it is hard to fault his argument. Acquiescence to those everyday details is what enables any state, fictional or otherwise, to function. Imagine the chaos if 26 per cent of Northern Ireland’s adult population, equating to Sinn Fein’s vote at the last election, decided peaceably but firmly to do something as simple as not renewing their car tax. Quite apart from the lost revenue, the entire bureaucratic basis for the control and monitoring of vehicle ownership would collapse, taking the magistrates courts down with it.
Etc. Etc. (And the whole of Emmerson's piece is worth the visit.)

To Malcolm that's fair enough.

Except ...

The good people of the Republic, FF, FG, SF, Labour and Green, have been less than chuffed by Brian Lehihan's call to pay 21½% and Euro prices as an act of "patriotism". They have chosen to go north, pay 15% VAT and sterling prices. Equally, the tradesfolk of the North have not looked too shyly at the colour of the money crossing the border.

That's real life. That's everyday economics. It's also called giving people the choice. As with posting a letter: in the green box, it's €0.55 (say 49p). Take a dander across Graffy bridge, and save a third of the cost, even if the monarch's head offend, and the post-box is the wrong colour. Then it's a matter of competition: does the Post Office or An Post get you there quicker and safer?

It's the European Union in practice, for goodness' sake.

And, Malcolm suspects, the Irish lack-of-greenness is not so green, jejune and naive when we observe how "patriotic" Dell and its multi-national ilk have been. After all, Lenihan's budget argument was that all the cuts on health, welfare and pensions, all the imposts on consumers, employees and ordinary folk were justified to protect, preserve and promote the benign taxes on corporations.

But Dell saw things were greener on the other side of the Oder-Neiße-Grenze.

Brass tacks

The McElduff dilemma is not just one of postboxes and paintbrushes. It extends across the whole of community action. It embraces the need for ideologies in a changed economic climate, and is one facing all leftists in the island of Ireland, the PUP as much as SF. One even hears a DUP horn faintly blowing: did not Malcolm detect the great Reverend Doctor use the word "liberal" last week? And without obvious distaste!

The issue is how to make social -- even socialist -- alternatives attractive, and then work -- be it in 6, 26 or 32 counties. In other words, to make a society which is caring, sharing, and deserving. The flag-waving and sloganeering can follow later.

And that's an issue far bigger than just this posting.

So, altogether now:

It's not that easy bein' green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold --
Or something much more colorful like that.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites