In the darker recesses of 2021, I once found myself on Twitter. I know. It’s been a hard year for us all.
I don’t know how I came to be looking at the feed of a man whose surname’s a mashup of two giant US companies I wouldn’t touch with a Zimbabwean dollar, but so it was I happened upon Dr Simon Ubsdell. I think it was around the time there was some slapstick fishing dispute in the Channel Islands. Thus:
‘Now Jersey. Eventually the Royal Navy will be tasked with defending a small boulder somewhere in the Thames Estuary. And so do dreams of greatness dwindle.’
Whether the country of my birth and current last known location deserves the word ‘Great’ is one of the principal dividing lines of our society. The perceived loss of greatness is an outrage to many, including Dr Ubsdell by the sounds of it.
Not to me. Who the hell needs greatness anyway?
Think about all the shit you have to put up with if you’re great. Great countries get held up to far harsher scrutiny; they have to spend all week batting away accusations of disappearing their own journalists and putting 5G in garden centres to pique the Triffids’ interest. Much better to be a place like the Philippines, where the president can operate death squads as a hobby, or El Salvador, where their currency is suddenly Bitcoin and nobody has a fucking clue how much a pint is any more.
Great people suffer, too. Trump made America great again and all he got was a lousy hat and 81 million people trying to get rid of him. Priti Patel plays Agrippina to a tee, even down to locking up Italians, but people still accuse her of eating babies for breakfast. Ollie Robinson was great for about five hours and look what happened to him. Far wiser to be a Bezos, keep your head down, and earn so much you can go to space.
So where is Britain in the scheme of greatness? Its history is as storied as any country’s but its future will be shaped by the absolute pinheads we keep electing. That the voters of Britain think their best route back to greatness is to offer up a randy toddler against a cantankerous gardener in the last election says a lot about how we want to be seen on the world stage. Let’s cut the aid budget, that’s sure to help.
To my mind we’d be a lot happier on this increasingly fractious island if we gave up the notion of being a world power. What the bloody use is a seat on the UN Security Council to anyone here? It just gives the teams looking for promotion a bigger target to shoot at with the missiles we sell them. Why does it matter if we’re part of a G7 or 8 or 20 or whatever number they’ve lotto’d this week? Must greatness really involve being coughed at by Bolsonaro or patted on the back by Putin?
And how do we measure greatness anyway? Don’t get me wrong, I love that the British punch above our weight in science and the arts and we do definitely have some legitimately great people here, not all of them called Attenborough.
But if we need a ‘Royal yacht’ to give our foreign relations a leg up, are the benefits worth the international hilarity? I’m not sure giving Prince Andrew a shiny new cat o’ nine tails will boost sales of Tunnock’s Teacakes all that much. I question whether a sure-fire way back to greatness is plastering everything with a flag that a lot of people, even in this country, think symbolises the fat, raging, sunburnt British twat of left-wing nightmares.
And, to be great, the country probably needs to stay together. Increasing numbers of Scots are boycotting supermarkets that have started putting post-Brexit Union Jacks on everything from pizza to taramasalata. All it’ll take is a flag on Tennent’s and they won’t need a bloody referendum.
(Please note, if you’re one of those smartarses who likes to claim it’s only a Union Jack if it’s on a boat, I look forward to the day when someone finally tells you absolutely nobody but you gives a fuck and oh look it’s today.)
Sweden is a good example of greatness deferred. Like the British, the Swedes used to have an impressive empire and a gigantic navy. Unlike the Brits, the Swedes shed both and made peace with it. So tell me, do the Swedes seem upset at their ‘great’ loss? Routinely near the top of happiness indices and life expectancy charts, and near the bottom of inequality graphs and polls of how much of their own hair they tear out on an average day.
Britain does not fare well by comparison. Kids scour food banks for out-of-date Tunnock’s Teacakes but they’ve all been bought on tick by Australia. Meatheads who wouldn’t know Karl Marx from Harpo Marx make up convoluted excuses to enjoy the national pastime of racism at the football. We’re a nation of stressed out tryhards pining for when Britannia ruled both the waves and the slaves she flogged on them. And Farage is still here.
Meanwhile, take the Irish. Have they been bothered about greatness since they left the Great British mothership behind? They seem reasonably content having an over-sized influence on world culture, a small but useful embassy in all the right places and vast vats of the finest beverage known to humanity.
Dr Ubsdell’s own tilt at greatness seems to have stalled: his Twitter account has disappeared. I guess either he’s been cancelled by the evil woke army of anti-Britain Communists, or he made one too many reference to how Jews have it easy compared to Brexiteers and had his ass tanned by The Man. He’s probably right now decrying the death of Great British Free Speech while telling a trans person to stfu on Gab.
Bollocks to greatness, and the pressure and ineptitude that follows in its wake. For every Churchill there is an Iain Duncan Smith. We’ve already managed to finagle our way out of those farcical group photos where Merkel tries to recall if it’s the leader of Malta or Bulgaria she’s meant to like most this month (neither, it’s Finland). If they’re not missing us in Brussels, let’s just sneak off before they notice we’re gone and have a nice picnic somewhere with Grenada, Singapore and the Marshall Islands.