Just to say that I have been banned from Facebook for 24 hours for posting a picture of three Swedish poets with huge stomachs deporting themselves in a field naked (no genitals visible); which apparently goes against Facebook’s ethical standards. This probably means you won’t get this post. Could you let me know if you do?

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Poetry and Nature

Three Swedish poets, one of them Gustaf Fröding, seeking inspiration through dance. (Steady on now, ladies!)

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Foreign Jabs

It’s amazing and frightening what Johnson’s government is getting away with – being allowed  to get away with – under cover of the pandemic and the football controversy, and on the back of a Parliamentary majority gained through lies and chicanery. First there was was its ‘extreme’ version of ‘Brexit’, pushed through against most people’s obvious wishes, with the results we’re beginning to see now. Secondly there was Priti Patel’s drastic limitation of the right to protest, which is usually regarded as a fundamental democratic liberty. Then there were the measures passed yesterday to facilitate privatisation in the NHS. After that came Priti Patel’s almost unbelievable – except it is Priti Patel – proposal to prosecute and imprison captains and ‘helmsmen’ of ships who dare to try to rescue drowning asylum seekers at sea; which goes against universally-accepted maritime law, as well as, of course, against any definition of morality. On top of all this there’s Johnson’s rampant inefficiency, cronyism and corruption. (Appointing an ex-Bullingdon chum to his Ethics Committee?! Is he serious?) Coming up, and well signposted in the last Tory Manifesto, are the limitations to Parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of legislation that Johnson and his cleverer Machiavels are no doubt working on now. Only the other day Parliament agreed to cut Britain’s foreign aid budget drastically. We know that Patel wants to bring the death penalty back – is that going to be in the next round? 

Living just now in my own political asylum none of this is going to affect me directly, though I still feel depressed about its effect on the country I was brought up in, and whose virtues, I felt – if you can attribute ‘virtues’ to countries – always balanced out its defects. Like very many people in England just now, judging from their comments, I no longer recognise the nation I used to feel comfortable in, and – yes – even mildly ‘patriotic’ towards. I’ll be touching on that in the book I’m just now in the process of completing.

That is, if I’m allowed to. In order to do that I was planning to take a short trip back to Hull in September to check a few notes and references I can only access there – not through Google, for example – and which are fairly necessary to my apparatus criticus. (Or can I use the pandemic as an excuse?) The other day I felt encouraged by reading that travellers from Sweden to Britain would be allowed in without the need to quarantine, so long as they’ve had their two jabs: which I have, in Sweden (Pfizer). Then today I learned that the jabs would have to have been administered by the NHS. Can narrow nationalism get any more petty? None of those nasty foreign jabs! So I’m likely to stay in limbo for some time yet. 

Well, there are worse limbos. And the longer I stay here, the more Swedish I’m beginning to feel. Which means British, but in the old way.

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Viking Imperialism

We called in at Gripsholm Slott on our way back from Värmland. They’ve re-erected this Viking-age runestone in the gardens there. The inscription reads (I’m told; my Old Norse is not quite up to it): 

‘This stone was set up by Tola in memory of her son, Harald. He was Ingfar the Far-traveller’s brother. They fared like men, far after gold. And in the east gave the eagle food. They died southward, in Serkland.’

‘Serkland’ is apparently the land of the Saracens. ‘Giving the eagle food’ means to kill people. So much for Kajsa’s claim that the Swedish Vikings were just peaceful traders, unlike those pesky Danes. 

In fact Swedish history is full of ‘imperialism’, if you look for it. After the Vikings there were settlements in North America and West Africa, a slave-colony in the Caribbean (Sweden abolished colonial slavery long after Britain), significant European conquests during the Stormaktstiden (have I spelled that right?), a Svenska Ostindiska Companiet, based in Göteborg, just like the English one; the acquisitions (somehow) of Finland and Norway, and then of course IKEA. Most of that, of course, was before the woke-ish Social Democrats got in.

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Today I feel better. The response to the racist outburst that followed the England football defeat on Sunday has been heart-warming. These include the graffiti plastered on the Marcus Rashford mural in Manchester being painted and posted over within a few hours by decent young graffiti artists; the enormous wave of support and sympathy for Rashford on social media; the considerable backlash, led by prominent footballers, which is developing against Johnson and Patel for their arrant racism and condemnation of ‘taking the knee’ (as ‘Marxist’, for pity’s sake!); reports – are they true? – of the team’s wish to boycott the usual post-tournament reception with the PM in Downing Street; and what seem today to be signs of backtracking over these issues by at least one prominent Tory MP (Steve Baker: Guardian 13 July). The latter is obviously becoming afraid that his government’s cynical tactic of fuelling the ‘culture wars’ in search of ‘red wall’ votes might be counter-productive, when it targets popular young black footballers. And it might  indicate that racism in the country as a whole is neither as popular nor as endemic as the Right had calculated. That’s what I fervently hope.

Immediately after the match I was less aware of the possible ‘racial’ repercussions of those penalty ‘misses’ than I should have been. There’s a simple explanation for this: although I was watching carefully it didn’t dawn on me that all the failed penalty takers were black. That’s because I simply never notice people’s skin colour; not as their primary characteristic, at any rate. To me they were just young footballers. I accept that this is a naïve view, which of course this whole affair has now painfully brought home to me. But my original belief, or hope, that more Britons are becoming more ‘like me’, severely dented as it was by the events of Sunday night, has now been at least partially restored by these post-post-match developments. We’ll have to see how it goes from now on. This affair could mark a turning-point.

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Well, we lost, narrowly, but to a marginally better Italian team. I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be; but that was because it was a pretty good game, with none of the refereeing controversies that often accompany these matches; and – secondly – because I thought the lads had won the more important contest: of decency, against racism and the other characteristics of the ‘populist’ Right. A young, refreshingly multi-racial and brilliantly skilled team, many with social consciences which had impacted on politics – Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free meals for poor schoolchildren during the pandemic, for example – and insisting on ‘taking the knee’ (against racism) against the advice and indeed scorn of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, had progressed further in an international competition than any team since 1966. That must be good, I thought, as I retired, untroubled, to bed.

But then came the morn, and disillusionment. Apparently the fact that the three players who failed to score in the crucial penalty shoot-out at the end were black  ignited racism again. The social media were filled with vile attacks on them. A Conservative MP and a Right-wing comedian made the point that if Rashford had spent more time on his football skills than on politics England might have won. Italian fans were brutally attacked outside the ground. Which of course undid much of the good the players and their manager seemed to have achieved prior to the game. I’ve begun to despair; not for the first time, I have to say. (And to be glad that I’m now a demi-Swede.)

I’m still not convinced that England is a predominantly racist society. A few hooligans running amok can seem an awful lot. The problem now seems to be that – like Trumpists in America – they now feel they are encouraged by their ‘betters’, especially Boris, whose racist remarks in the past are by now notorious; and the sheerly evil – there’s no other word for it – Priti Patel, with her demented campaign against immigrants. Her latest move on this front, by the way, is to make it an indictable crime for captains of British ships to rescue refugees who find themselves in mortal danger on the high seas. That of course would contravene not only British and European laws but also the long-established international  Law of the Seas. This comes after Patel’s passage through the Commons of her Bill to outlaw many kinds of protest, including loud and annoying ones. The football rather distracted attention from that. And of course there’s much more where that came from: festering in the rancid minds of this present bunch of ministers. We really are going to wake up one morning to find ourselves living in an authoritarian, even ‘fascist’, state. That might have happened, of course, even if England had won the penalty shoot-out. Indeed, that could have made the people happier, and so more accepting of their fate.

I understand that England fans also attacked Pizzerias. One Italian had anticipated that – rather amusingly, I think: https://www.facebook.com/gregosh.mc/videos/844395033144239.

Oh well, there’s still the World Cup to look forward to, next year.  

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Football and Elks

The general consensus here (in Sweden) is that England were lucky to beat Denmark, and that the penalty was a dodgy one, to say the least. I have to say I agree, reluctantly. I’m also troubled by the way Johnson and his minions are seeking to exploit England’s success (so far) politically; especially Boris himself and the awful Priti Patel, after her sneering at the team’s ‘taking the knee’. I can feel the vomit rising…

Which is a shame, in view of Southgate’s and the whole team’s conduct off the field. They really are an example to us all. I’d like to wish them all the best on Sunday. But then I think of the behaviour of the England supporters – booing the Danish national anthem, shining a laser beam into the Danish goalkeeper’s eyes as he’s facing the penalty – and of our (i.e. Britain’s) deplorable government; and half-wish that Italy wins on Sunday. Which would be unfair to the team. (Most of it composed, as has been pointed out repeatedly, of the sons and grandsons of immigrants.)

I’ll be watching it from here in Värmland, where we’re on holiday just now. The pandemic meant we couldn’t do our usual European tour. But this really is a gorgeous part of the country. Hills, forests and lakes, mainly; plus a huge population of elks – 30,000, Kajsa tells me – though we’ve not seen one yet. Apparently they only come out at night. A bit like Priti, I imagine.

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Bloomsbury Press’s four ‘Readers’ all think my new project – A Patriotic History of Modern Britain – is good and ‘timely’, so you may see it out early next year. It won’t of course be ‘patriotic’ in the usual sense; the word in the title is meant to fool ‘patriots’ into buying it. And then to school them in what true ‘patriotism’ should consist of: i.e. wanting to make your country better. Bloomsbury by the way are good to work with, unlike a number of publishers I’ve entrusted my babies to. They tell me the hardback will be £20. So save your pennies up.

I’ll be finishing it after our holiday in Värmland (on the Norwegian border). We’re off on Monday, after the England-Ukraine game. I feel sorry for Sweden, by the way, who played out of their skins last night, but lost in the final seconds of extra time, so dashing my hopes of a quarter-final match between my two nationalities. But that might have tested my own dual ‘patriotisms’.

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Swedish Politics Part II

This looks like a fair summary to me.


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Matt’s Fall

It is well known that one of the most reliable markers for distinguishing between Brexiters and Remainers in 2016 was their levels of education. That’s a more diplomatic way of putting it, than by referring to levels of ‘intelligence’. The better (or longer) educated you were – unless it was at Eton – the more likely you were to have voted to stay in the EU. It was mainly the un- and public school-educated who voted the other way. (Not all, of course.) 

Which had a crucial effect on Britain’s politics in the months thereafter. In brief, it meant that when Johnson came to form his new government in 2019, with only Brexiters or turncoats to choose from, most of the more highly-educated and experienced members of the Conservative Party were lost to him, driven out by him in many cases; leaving only youngish, unprincipled and probably stupid Brexit-loyalists to choose from. Which is why we got Matt Hancock, Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel and the rest of that ‘fucking useless’ crew (Johnson’s words, applied to Hancock, according to Cummings), plus of course Boris himself, to bugger just about everything up in the last year or so; including Brexit itself and the pandemic.   

But of course that thought merely makes me an ‘élitist’.

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