Saunter through the Departures area of any British airport (if you’re lucky enough not to have your flight cancelled) and you’ll find the same familiar icons of Britishness.
Red telephone boxes filled with Cadbury’s chocolate, black taxis with fudge or tablet inside them, and images of castles, bridges and other landmarks will be available, for an eye-watering price, to take on your flight and present to someone that you didn’t think about throughout your holiday, but will feel guilty if you don’t bring something back for.
These figures are all very well, but in terms of meaningfulness and self-image, I think the most powerful one is the bulldog, available in plushie and keyring form in most tat shops. Think of the attributes that this animal, usually bedecked in a Union Jack waistcoat, has that we as a people think we have in spades.
Ruggedness, determination, quiet defiance, a certain disheveled but adorable aesthetic, and, most importantly, a resistance to being told what do to are those traits that we’d hope the aliens would pick up on, noting that we share these with our furry little representative.
Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you that this image – this ‘bulldog spirit’ – is no longer appropriate and we need a new animal to represent us. The bulldog has been put to sleep; the latest victim of COVID-19.
Look around Britain as we go into August of 2020.
We have just recently received parole from mass house arrest, imposed without so much as a twinge of resistance, with those of us in Scottish cells having to wait for just a little longer before we could leave for the half-way house.
Our businesses have been instructed to be mothballed for months on end and many have suffered the ultimate fate: closing.
Now, across the United Kingdom, we’re being told that in order to walk into a shop to buy something (but not to walk into a pub or restaurant), we’ve got to strap jail uniform bits of cloth to our faces and conduct our businesses through Perspex sheets, akin to talking to your lawyer in the big house.
As for the wait to get into the exercise yard – what we used to call ‘gyms’ – who knows?
And all the time, we had to memorise the prison’s slogan: “Stay at home, Protect the NHS, Save lives”… a set of words whose order is more telling than its proponents seem to realise. Think of it in terms of priorities: staying at home is number 1, then protect our secular church, then, if you can, save some lives. That’s without mentioning the encouraged public clapping services that we saw each week. The Jehovah’s Witnesses wish they had that kind of indoctrination power.
I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to debate the measures that have been put in place in this Brave New Britain in public. It would be the worst kind of debate – against someone whose mind has been made up already – and I’ve spent too much time playing too many games of chess with too many pigeons to deem it worth my while.
All I’d like to point out is that a country that so willingly, happily and with such compliance allows its government to instantly remove their freedom is not represented accurately by a bulldog and, if it is, it’s certainly not a bulldog that hasn’t had that awkward and painful trip to the vets.
There has been little to no resistance, objection, or opposition to what has been decided for us by our national and devolved governments. Where there was supposed to be opposition, there was nitpicking and expressions of support for quite extraordinary policies, like quarantining healthy people. Our Opposition, much like our national mythological animal, are in need of some serious rebranding.
So, in place of the bulldog, what should our new animal be? Well, in my opinion, and as long as the folks as Compare the Market aren’t too litigious, I suggest that we co-opt the meerkat.
Think about it for a moment: all the attributes that we attach to this cuddly little critter are what we’ve become as a country. Scared, nervous, dependent on the collective, willing to stay underground for long periods of time, and generally speaking not a threat to anyone or anything around us. Britain, it’s time to ditch Churchill and embrace Timon – he and his species are much closer to how we’ve acted throughout this entire process.
Is there a way back to the society that we ‘were’? Were we ever actually that society in the first place? I have my doubts, but if there’s anything we can do, it’s to be honest with ourselves. Or we can at least try.