Our friends the good English

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Like most this week I followed the aftermath of the Ian Smart racist tweet and was genuinely saddened by the depressing mindset of some pro-Union Scots.
 
I had half prepared an article on the episode when it struck me I was being drawn into a nebulous cloud of negativity from which nothing positive could emerge.

By G.A.Ponsonby
 
Like most this week I followed the aftermath of the Ian Smart racist tweet and was genuinely saddened by the depressing mindset of some pro-Union Scots.
 
I had half prepared an article on the episode when it struck me I was being drawn into a nebulous cloud of negativity from which nothing positive could emerge.

Jack McConnell’s interjection into the unfortunate debate, claiming in his own inimitable way that his fellow Scots were anti-English reminded me of a long forgotten online thread of discussion back in the days when cybernattery was not yet a ‘crime’.

It was I believe the Herald, and someone – who had clearly even then grown tired of the repetitive accusations from pro-Union posters that criticisms of journalists was evidence of an anti-English bigotry – suggested that posters reveal their English heroes.

It was an enlightening thread of discussion as poster after poster took up the challenge and the great and good of England emerged.  The pro-Union mob disappeared as names came flooding in of good English through the ages.

So, rather than descend to the mud-slinging pit of the Ian Smarts of this world (who do they represent?) I hereby resurrect the ‘Good English’ thread.

Let me start by suggesting a man who all who have travelled the world’s underground networks should applaud.  Look at any city in the world and marvel at the simplicity of the tube map, for each map is based on a design dreamt up by Harry Beck of London.

Beck, who was apparently christened Henry but known as Harry, was a draughtsman working for the London Underground when he realised that people trying to navigate the system required only information that enabled them to get from one station to another, and not the geographical layout of the region.

Beck’s prototype was genius, mixing a linear design with colour.  However initially his superiors refused to indulge the lowly draughtsman.  His persistence eventually wore them down and a few hundred maps were duly printed off.

Snapped up within a few hours the initial print run ran out.  Management quickly realised the practical benefit of the colourful design and an iconic work of art was born.  For years though Beck’s name did not appear on the map he designed, and continued to refine for years afterrwards

Shamefully Beck’s name was not officially recognised in the evolution of the London Underground map until the 1990s.  His name now appears on the lower right hand corner.  Every rail and underground map to this day can trace its origins back to Beck.

My second choice of English hero is little known troubadour Jake Thackray.  The late Mr Thakray came to my attention on a late Sunday night programme called That’s Life which ran in the seventies.

Hosted by Esther Rantzen, Jake had a spot at the end of the show and sang the most wonderfully funny ditties.  It was years later when I came across him again – the wonders of the internet – and marvelled at his skilful use of language and music.

Thackray weaves a splendorous tapestry of lyrical imagery and farce that makes the listener laugh out loud.  Below are two favourites of mine that I hope you’ll agree are well worth a listen.  If you enjoy them then search out ‘On again’ and others.

Brother Gorilla

Beware of the Bull

My final choice is perhaps the most traditionally heroic.  Ralph Vaughan Williams refused at least one knighthood because he didn’t want people to feel he had become unapproachable.  In world war two he enlisted as a private despite being at an age when he could have avoided service.

His Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis has an introduction that both soothes and inspires equally.  The Yes campaign could do worse than borrow from this piece of music.

It can be listened to HERE:

So, who is your favourite Englishman or Englishwoman?  Let Ian Smart know … and tell Lord Jack to watch out for gorillas.