High Noon, informally, is the when time the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. It is traditionally regarded as a time for high drama, as in the 1952 movie High Noon. At High Noon in New Zealand on Saturday, 1st February 2020, it will be 23:00 GMT. It will be the moment the UK inflicts upon itself, perhaps the greatest self-harm in its long history. It will break its 46 year membership of the EU.
Being an English born New Zealander, what should I do as this momentous and disastrous hour approaches? I have not finally decided how I should spend the dying minutes of this great European ideal which has done so much for a continent wrecked by war in the 1940s. As well as so many times since the end of the Roman Empire.
Perhaps, I should sit at home and listen to some music as the UK hammers home the final nail in its own coffin. I could select some music from BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. That sounds a good idea! The Proms are a quintessential British event and there is a range of music from which to choose. The Royal Albert Hall is an iconic edifice, where many great musical events have taken place. The Royal Albert Hall and the Proms make two very good choices. Maybe.
When the sun is five or ten minutes from its apogee in New Zealand on that Saturday, I could listen to that most English of hymns, Jerusalem. It is sung at the Royal Albert Hall. It is a wonderful piece of music. It was only late last year declared by the BBC, as the UK’s favourite hymn.
But regardless of that accolade, it is not suitable. The hymn’s lyrics talk of dark satanic mills. The mills, ancient and modern, satanic and otherwise have largely gone now. They have gone, as industries have gone to the wall driven by poor investment decisions, no decisions and poor labour relations have driven them out of business and their workers out of jobs. Jerusalem is also unsuitable because it talks of England being a green and pleasant land.
That is no longer the case, it is an unpleasant land. It is riven with class resentment; it seethes with xenophobia, overlapping into racism in many areas. Jerusalem speaks of the country being not only pleasant but green. It is no longer as green as it was. Not because of the dark satanic mills but the ugly scars from where the mills have been pulled down and ugly scars left on the landscape. These scars can be seen today on Google Earth in places such as Hartlepool, Redcar, just over the Welsh border at Llanwern and many others. Industrial facilities have been pulled down leaving nothing but the ugly scars and impoverished angry people.
No, not Jerusalem, but I am also British born, so I must listen to something else. I could look again at the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall for something British, rather than just English. How about Land of Hope and Glory, I ask myself? It is a great tune and easy to whistle. But the lyrics are a problem.
There is no glory in Britain today. The glory is nostalgically and falsely remembered. The British remember their glorious history. They were taught a history of successive British military victories from Crecy in 1346 to the Falklands in 1982. Not much, or nothing of humiliating defeats or foolhardy adventures such as Fontenoy or Singapore. Coupled with glory, in the song, is hope.
What hope is there to be as Britain casts itself off from its best and closest friends into a harsh and cruel world? There can be little or no hope in the long term future. There may be less hope than was left in Pandora’s box.
What would the founding fathers of closer European integration make of this sad, declining retro-viewing nation? They who, in the late 1940s had this wonderful European dream now thwarted by a right wing group of upper class toffs who told outrageous lies of a better future to ordinary decent people. They must be spinning in their graves.
Land of Hope and Glory won’t do either. But yes, I was born in England. Yes, I was born in Britain but I was also born in Europe. I could spend the last 10 minutes or so of Britain’s membership of the EU listening to the European anthem; it is available from the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, the glorious Ode to Joy by Beethoven and the wonderfully uplifting lyrics by Friedrich Schiller. Accompanying Beethoven’s music are the inspiring words that so encompass the European dream. Some selected excerpts from that anthem are worth quoting:
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
more full of joy!
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
An abiding friendship,
Join in our song of praise;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
Indeed Britain must creep away from the circle yet they are too foolishly proud to do it tearfully. They are going to do it full of hubris as they go into the dark.
On the Saturday, 1st February, as the last pip of the time signal fades away before the mid-day news, the UK will have left the EU. This will mark a victory. It will be a victory for a small cabal on the far right wing of the Conservative Party. This cabal has been positioned to the right of all Conservative prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher, of the last 69 years. They have worked tirelessly and relentlessly over the last 46 years, to hold back Britain’s progress in a greater and better Europe.
As that resonates inside my head, I will return once more that great London music chamber, the Royal Albert Hall, and to the proms, one more time. I will go to the proms of 2010 and listen to Judi Dench sing, Send in the Clowns by Stephen Sondheim. I will listen to her sing:
Don’t you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you’d want what I want
Sorry, my dear!
But where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don’t bother, they’re here
But do you think I will listen to the music of Beethoven, the lyrics of Schiller and the music and lyrics of Sondheim? No, perhaps I’ll cry. The cabal have won and they have put an intellectual clown in charge. They sent in a clown.