'How sad that they're so insecure about their own country that they have to put on a display like they won World War II any time they have something that's in any way positive happen to their country', I remember one colleague, wearily and dismissively saying.
How times have changed! And now, who's the 'third rate' country, performing the 'tin pot' ritual up and down the land! Why, Engerland, of course!
It's somewhat ironic, fifteen odd years later, to witness the same sort of scenes around the 'phenomenon' that is the World Cup. The reaction of most of my fellow Brits to this rather tedious exercise in watching ignorant yobs paid millions for simply kicking a ball and 'being famous' (or in the case of yesterday's England vs Paraguay match, being so pathetic they have to let the other side kick the ball for them for any chance at a goal) is pretty much the same, albeit with commercially-sold 'air horns' replacing the car horns of Kuwait.
Yesterday's paper carried a report that there are now, on average, three or four England flags dropped on every mile of the A13 - flags of support for the national football team that have fallen off cars! No worry - our wonderful taxes will help make sure that they eventually get picked up and ferried off to a land fill in some third world country, no doubt!
I think it was Scatman John who wrote a pop hit that had the line "What's the point in winning, if winning means that someone loses?" and I have to say I agree wholeheartedly, although the economy knock-on side effects (retail sales, particularly of booze, consumibles and big-screen TVs are significantly up) are great. I just suspect that like any great party there's going to be a terrible hangover any day now, sooner rather than later, given our ridiculously overpaid national team's abysmal performance in their first match (quelle suprise! Not!)
The photo at the top of this blog entry shows the twelve full-sized flags draped over the flats opposite, as seen from my kitchen. I find this rather 'sad' tribalism as pathetic as my colleague found the Kuwaiti celebrations all those years ago. Tribalism just encourages mindless affinity and exclusion based on nothing other than the luck of where you happened to be born. People are people the world over, and as I read this morning of the three suicides at the Guantanamo base, the way troops in Iraq are now treating even civilians under the age of five as 'the enemy', I can't help but remember, with sadness, the wonderful Iraqi friends I made when working in Kuwait. Just like the other Arabs and Asians I worked with, they were people - just like you and me - and yet we arbitrarily segregate them into groups that are either 'with us or against us', without doing the basic homework to find out what we have in common (which is a lot!)
Admittedly I've never liked football. It has to do with the trauma of being thrown into a school team of strangers at a very young age, without the rules being explained so that one minute I was getting a bollocking for not stopping a ball going over a line, and the next getting a bollocking for having done it, for no glaringly obvious reason. So I'm slightly prejudiced against the 'national obsession'. But the World Cup always starts with bringing out the best in people (the smiley faces everywhere) and ends up bringing out the worst (from the relatively minor 'rise in sickies at work' to the fatal stabbings and rampages of drunken fans). The endless flags everywhere are just a constant reminder to me of how we've made the trivial important, and the important trivial.
On a happier note, I read the afore-mentioned A13 flag report in Saturday's newspaper while having breakfast and a pint of shandy in the blazing sun over on the South Bank. And very enjoyable it was too. Walking home I stumbled across the Carnival de Cuba festival - an odd mixture of small stalls selling wares, and a stage playing live music. Disorganisation was evident throughout and while part of me admired the organisers for the hard work and enthusiasm they were putting in for an event that had to compete with England's first match showing on the telly, after queueing for over 20 minutes at a tent where the staff outnumbered the potential customers by a ratio of about six to one, for a 'Cuban slush puppy', I gave up and wondered how it was possible for so many people to be gathered under one tent, seemingly so busy but achieving so little!
Happily, the weather was fantastic and the band on the main stage, despite the relatively low numbers, were doing a great job at lifting the atmosphere, at least initially. There's something about live music, especially with brass instruments, that just makes you feel good, and I was all set to join in the event for the whole afternoon, even without a drink for sustenance. Alas, the incomprehensible Cuban patter between each song got longer and longer, and the slower, drearier numbers seemed to get more profuse as the minutes ticked by so I ended up seeking cooler climes in the flat back home.
The evening was rounded out with a very pleasant pizza at 'The Lavendar' with a friend. Sat outdoors with the cooler evening gradually settling in, generally putting the world to rights, and discussing movies and movie lore, it was the perfect end to the perfect Summer's day. More Saturdays like this please!