“Rule Britannia”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat was that deal about “mad dogs & Englishmen” . . . something about the “mid-day Sun.” Well, get one thing straight . . . there is NO sun in England. Maybe one or two days a year, but it ain’t sunny old England, especially in Southampton. Which is why, I suppose, Brits on holiday feel compelled to expose their lily-white bellies to the sun until they turn lobster red and get to go back to gloomy old England and show their peeling bodies to jealous friends and tell about escaping completely on a cruise ship to the Mediterranean. It should have dawned on me, but it didn’t. The English right now have more money than the Americans, so a ship sailing on itineraries out of Southampton would be loaded with Brits. Nothing against our sun-starved cousins, but it isn’t just their humor, or make that humour, and their spelling that is different. The Med to the Brits is like Mexico is to Californians, the Caribbean is to Americans (meaning North Americans, and US Americans and Canadian Americans in particular), and SE Asia is to Australians. The reason why a Californian takes a cruise to the Mexican Riviera isn’t for the ports. So the Brits aren’t particularly interested in most of the Med ports, but want to loll around and get burned in the mid-day sun, which makes it a challenge for me, the Port Lecturer, who things that the ports not only are the best thing since sliced bread, but the reason WHY people go on cruises.

These are heady times for England and London: the Olympics and the Queen’s 60th Jubilee. Incredible that this aging monarch, with no real power other than her person and personality, has reigned for 60 years, been through wars, including some within her family, and survived to be the old lady (well not as old to me know as she would have been when I was younger) who in her own way is charming, and now that the palace is dropping some of the mystery turns out to in some ways be a doting mother and grandmother. Now we have Prince Charles’ memories of the Queen getting in shape for the coronation, watching he and his sister in the tub getting bathed with the crown on her head to build up stamina to pull of the lengthy coronation, or the Queen taking home movies of her kids playing on the beach. So after 60 years she emerges not only as the mouthpiece of “my government”, always reading carefully prepared scripts, but as someone who is human. And it strikes me that the Queen, for all the pomp and circumstance, money and luxury of royalty does NOT enjoy one great luxury that all of us take for granted, and that is retirement. So the other day, as we sailed from Gibraltar, I decided to go up on deck and make an appearance for what the cruise directors were promising to be a traditional, flag-waving British sail away having nothing to do with the 60th Anniversary, just being a “typical British sail away.”

The decks were packed as the Union Jack flags were distributed to passengers in all stages of dress and undress around the pool. I expected we would wave the flags, sing “God Save The Queen” and go back to drinking beer and getting sun burned. What I never expected was almost an hour of rousing singing, flag waving, patriotism, drinking and celebration! First a recording of a screeching soprano singing “Rule Britannia” which unbeknownst to me actually had verses other than the well known refrain. The soprano screeched out the verses . . . MANY verses . . . and all joined in lustily singing “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves!”

Even US Americans, whom Canadians and others look upon as excessively patriotic at times, would have been embarrassed. [Although I grant you that patriotism in the US right now is somewhat confused with people unsure if we live in the United States of America or “The Homeland”, if it is politically correct to wave the flag with your right hand or left hand since one or the other may indicate your leanings or if you are Blue or Red (or if you are gay or just in favor of gay marriage with both hands held together high above your head). Whatever!]

So, here in all its glory, is “Rule Britannia” at the last night of the Proms 2009 …

Then came “Land of Hope & Glory” . . . which I, and many in the US, associate with commencement ceremonies. I almost felt compelled to walk down and pick up another degree. All these degrees, all these commencement ceremonies, I never knew there were actual words to “Land of Hope & Glory.” And that’s just two songs . . . it went on and on and on until the Deputy Cruise Director, a Brit himself, mercifully brought it all to a halt. But you know, even for a non Brit, it felt good to see this enthusiastic display of patriotic feeling. And I know the bars did a good business. Funny thing. July 4th, Memorial Day, British sail away, ANZAC day . . . all these patriotic celebrations involve a lot of beer which may just be one way of dealing with the reality of the high price of freedom.

And if, like me, you thought “Land of Hope & Glory” was all about getting another degree …

For those of us from “the colonies”…

The Proms, more formally known as The BBC Proms, or The Henry Wood Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC, is an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held annually, predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Founded in 1895, each season currently consists of more than 70 concerts in the Albert Hall, a series of chamber concerts at Cadogan Hall, additional Proms in the Park events across the United Kingdom on the last night, and associated educational and children’s events. In 2009 the total number of concerts reached 100 for the first time. In the context of classical music festivals, [the Proms has been described] as “the world’s largest and most democratic musical festival”.

Prom is short for promenade concert, a term which originally referred to outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens, where the audience was free to stroll around while the orchestra was playing … The Royal Albert Hall could be filled many times over with people wishing to attend the Last Night. To accommodate these people, and to cater for those who are not near London, the Proms in the Park concerts were started in 1996. Initially there was only one, in Hyde Park, adjacent to the Hall. More locations have been added in recent years … Each location has its own live concert … before joining in a live big screen video link up with the Royal Albert Hall for the traditional finale. [Wikipedia]

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