Patriotism in the Park

There’s been a lot of opportunity for British fervour to bubble up and boil over this summer. From the Jubilee to the Olympics, Euro football to the cricket, it’s been widely billed as The Great British Summer (which it was, except for the summer bit). The people have made full use of this to stock up paraphernalia like flags, bunting, T-shirts and Union Jack dresses.

And all of these were out in force on Saturday night at the Battle Proms. The Proms in general are a very British summery thing, which I won’t go in to here, but when it’s out in a field, with a line-up that includes a Spitfire and the Battle Symphony, there’s no stopping it. Here’s a sneak peek at our neighbours:

When Bunting Alone is Just Not Enough

What came to mind, strangely enough, is American 4th of July-type Patriotism. But it’s different. Zealous Americans tend to believe their own hype, and are flabbergasted that you might somehow actually want to live somewhere else. It gets tired very quickly. (Thankfully there are a lot of more reasonable Americans around as well.) The English are usually a lot more realistic. They’re wonderfully enthusiastic when the opportunity arises, but will enter into a critical debate with admirable objectivity.

But I digress. The concert itself is a wonderful experience. It’s a loud, in-your-face celebration of popular classical music. Including cannons for the 1812 overture, musket fire for the Battle Symphony, and a display of period costume cavalry for Suppe’s Light Cavalry overture. The engine growl of the Spitfire circling around the crowd gives gooseflesh, while the fireworks and lighting effects for Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March #1 (Land of Hope and Glory) are fantastic.

It’s like a Kirstenbosch summer concert on steroids. Minus the mountain, but plus a lake. Minus the crowds that are happy to set up their picnic blanket right next to yours, but plus a few rabble-rousing patriotic songs. 5,000 people going wild over Rule Britannia, and Jerusalem, not to mention the national anthem, is a great thing to be a part of. Being a bit of an outsider (and not knowing most of the words, anyway), I wasn’t expecting to be carried along by it quite so much. The cynical part of me usually scoffs at all this sort of stuff.

But it’s infectious, and fun. Very enjoyable, as long as it’s not taken too seriously. Which I didn’t, and so it was.


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